French Open 2023 results: Aryna Sabalenka loses to Karolina Muchova in Paris semi-finals

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Karolina Muchova hits a return against Aryna Sabalenka in the 2023 French Open semi-finals
Karolina Muchova’s win means there is a first-time Grand Slam singles finalist playing in the French Open women’s final for a fifth successive year
Venue: Roland Garros, Paris Dates: 28 May-11 June
Coverage: Live text and radio commentaries of selected matches across BBC Radio 5 Sports Extra, the BBC Sport website and app

Czech player Karolina Muchova became one of the lowest ranked players to reach the French Open women’s final as she edged a thriller against Belarusian second seed Aryna Sabalenka.

Ranked 43rd in the world, Muchova won 7-6 (7-5) 6-7 (5-7) 7-5 after saving a match point at 5-2 in the decider.

Muchova, 26, will play Polish top seed Iga Swiatek in Saturday’s final.

Defending champion Swiatek, 22, won 6-2 7-6 (9-7) against Brazilian 14th seed Beatriz Haddad Maia later on Thursday.

Sabalenka’s exit means Swiatek will remain world number one, a position she has held for 62 consecutive weeks, after she beat 27-year-old Haddad Maia.

Sabalenka, 25, served for the match in the decider but was overcome with tension as Muchova kept her composure to win an epic in three hours 13 minutes.

“I don’t really know what happened,” said Muchova, who is the fourth lowest-ranked woman to reach the final after Swiatek, Jelena Ostapenko and Renata Tomanova.

“It is unbelievable. I tried to keep fighting and it worked. I’m so happy.”

Muchova covered her face with a towel as she sat and contemplated the magnitude of her achievement, a stark contrast to when she sobbed on her chair at Roland Garros last year after having to retire injured from her third-round match.

Swiatek will be the overwhelming favourite to lift the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen for a third time, having reached the final without losing a set and only dropping 23 games in her six matches.

Against 27-year-old Haddad Maia, the 2020 and 2022 champion faced moments of uncertainty but ultimately had enough quality to come through her toughest test yet.

After losing serve to love in the opening game, Swiatek quickly recovered to break back and won the final four games to wrap up the first set.

Haddad Maia, playing in her first major semi-final after never previously going past the third round, moved 3-1 ahead in the second set and pushed Swiatek with her consistent returning.

While Swiatek broke back for 3-3, Haddad Maia’s level remained high and it needed a tie-break to separate them.

Haddad Maia saved a match point with a winner down the line, but was powerless to stop the second which sparked a manic celebration from the relieved Swiatek.

On reaching a third final in four years, she said: “It’s really amazing.”

Muchova keeps nerve as Sabalenka loses hers

Before play started on women’s semi-finals day, many expected Swiatek would be trying to set up another final against Sabalenka when she walked out on Court Philippe Chatrier.

The pair have been the two dominant players in the world this year, already contested the Stuttgart and Madrid finals on clay, and both moved serenely through the draw to the last four.

But, in an unexpected twist, Australian Open champion Sabalenka came unstuck against the unheralded Muchova, who fell down the rankings after being ravaged by injuries.

Muchova reached the Australian Open semi-finals in 2021 before the physical problems stalled her progress, but has reminded everyone at Roland Garros of her undoubted talent.

Playing with her usual nous and variety, Muchova posed questions for Sabalenka throughout and showed her resilience to hang in when it looked as though she was heading towards defeat.

Sabalenka had started stronger in the decider, Muchova fighting off four break points for 1-1 before the Czech lost serve to trail 4-2.

Knowing two holds of serve would be enough to see her through, Sabalenka moved 5-2 ahead but was unable to close out victory when Muchova saved a match point with a crunching forehand.

But, serving for the set, Sabalenka became tight – an old failing that resurfaced at the worst possible time as she aimed to reach back-to-back Grand Slam finals.

A poor game allowed Muchova to restore parity, more nerves creeping in for Sabalenka when she served for a 6-5 lead.

Last year, Sabalenka used a psychologist in a bid to rectify the issue of producing costly double faults and, after stopping working with a specialist in pre-season because she wanted to “take responsibility” herself, had stemmed the flow in a successful year.

However, the problem returned against Muchova and heavily contributed to ending her participation in a tournament where she had skipped open news conferences to protect her mental health and faced questions about her stance on Belarus’ involvement in Russia’s war in Ukraine.

From a commanding position of 40-15, the Belarusian produced back-to-back double faults, hit a heavy backhand long and then made another error to hand momentum to her opponent.

Muchova, with the crowd now behind her, retained her composure and served out to love before taking the warm acclaim of the Chatrier crowd.

“I was serving for the match, after that game she stepped in and started playing a little bit more aggressive,” said Sabalenka, who also confirmed she has received a UK visa to play at Wimbledon after saying last month that she was still waiting for it.

“I lost my rhythm. I wasn’t there. It’s a very tough match for me to lose.

“It’s been great couple of weeks with some challenges, emotional challenges, but I think I get through it. I think I’ll be stronger.”

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