Muchova shocks Sabalenka to reach French Open final, Swiatek eyes title
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Muchova shocks Sabalenka to reach French Open final, Swiatek eyes title

Karolina Muchova battled back from the brink of defeat to reach her first Grand Slam final. (Photo: AFP)
Karolina Muchova battled back from the brink of defeat to reach her first Grand Slam final. (Photo: AFP)

PARIS - Unheralded Karolina Muchova saved a match point as she stunned world number two Aryna Sabalenka to reach the French Open final on Thursday, while Iga Swiatek hopes to stay on course for a third Roland Garros title.

The 43rd-ranked Muchova will play her first Grand Slam final after knocking out Australian Open champion Sabalenka 7-6 (7/5), 6-7 (5/7), 7-5, ending the Belarusian's 12-match winning run at majors.

She will meet either top-ranked Swiatek, the 2020 and 2022 French Open winner, or Brazil's Beatriz Haddad Maia on Saturday after overturning a 5-2 deficit in the final set to topple Sabalenka.

"I don't really know what happened. It's unbelievable, I tried to keep fighting and it worked. I'm so happy," said Muchova.

She added Sabalenka to an impressive list of victims in Paris which included eighth seed Maria Sakkari in the first round and 2021 runner-up Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the quarter-final.

Only three women ranked lower than Muchova have made the final before in Paris, including the then-teenaged Swiatek who was 54th when she claimed her maiden Grand Slam title in 2020.

Muchova saved two break points in the fourth game of the opener and then broke Sabalenka at 4-4 to leave herself serving for the set.

Sabalenka saved a set point as she broke back and then moved 5-4 ahead in the tie-break, but Muchova stood firm and the Czech seized her second chance by ripping a superb backhand down the line.

Muchova broke for a 2-0 lead in the second set only for Sabalenka to reply right away. The second seed nudged in front with a break for 4-3 but this time Muchova was quick to level.

Sabalenka took charge in another tie-break and conjured two set points, double faulting on the first but converting the second with a powerful overhead.

Suddenly the momentum was with Sabalenka who broke for 4-2 in the decider after seeing four break points come and go in the second game.

Muchova appeared doomed to wilt under the barrage.

However, she saved a match point in the eighth game before incredibly racing away with the last five games to claim a famous win after three hours and 13 minutes.

- Swiatek heavy favourite -

Two-time champion Swiatek looks to reach a third French Open final in four years later on Thursday when she takes on Haddad Maia.

Swiatek is bidding to become the first woman to successfully defend the title in Paris since Justine Henin in 2007 after dispatching Coco Gauff in a rematch of last year's final.

"I'm pretty happy to be in the semi-final again at Roland Garros. It's a great achievement no matter how the tournament is going to finish," said Swiatek, who has yet to drop a set.

Haddad Maia, the 14th seed, is the first Brazilian woman to reach a Grand Slam semi-final since 1968 following her upset of Ons Jabeur, last year's Wimbledon and US Open runner-up.

World number one Swiatek is 26-2 in five visits to Roland Garros but lost her only previous match with Haddad Maia on the hard courts of Toronto last August.

"Obviously surface is different, so we'll see. I've never played against her on clay. Again, as before any other match, I will kind of focus on myself and what I want to do on court," said the Pole, also the 2022 US Open champion.

Haddad Maia follows in the footsteps of seven-time major winner Maria Bueno who was the last Brazilian woman in the semi-finals of a major at the US Open 55 years ago.

The 27-year-old left-hander had never got past the second round of a Grand Slam before this French Open.

"It's a very tough one," said Haddad Maia of facing Swiatek for a spot in Saturday's final.

"I'll leave everything on the court. I have nothing to lose. I will try to go for it."

Swiatek has conceded only 15 games this tournament, needing a mere five hours and 32 minutes on court. In contrast, Haddad Maia has been out there nearly 13 hours.

The Pole must reach the final to prevent Sabalenka from becoming the new world number one.

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