Muchova's craftiness a blessing and a curse

 - Simon Cambers

Masterful Czech spoiled for choice when it comes to shot-making

Karolina Muchova, Roland-Garros 2023, fourth round©Cédric Lecocq / FFT

There are times when Karolina Muchova makes tennis look simple.

Mixing power and touch, the Czech pulls her opponents around the court, disarming them with a drop shot, bamboozling them with a pass or outhitting them with a heavy groundstroke.

But while the world No.43 looks effortless on the surface, inside she’s dealing with an agile mind, which can make it hard to choose between the many options she has at her disposal.

“To have a clear mind? That's hard for me in every situation, not even just on court,” she said, after beating the lucky loser, Elina Avanesyan 6-4, 6-3 to reach the quarter-finals at Roland-Garros for the first time. 

“I'm trying to play the first option even though it's not the best one here and there. It happens that I play the third or fourth. You know, it's something like terrible. I always am, 'Oh, I hope nobody saw this', but there is plenty of people around. So I'm still working on this.

“Here and there I manage to take the first thing and here and there, no. It is like that sometimes. It's unbelievable shot, sometimes it's not so good. But I'm just going with it.”

Karolina Muchova, huitièmes de finale, Roland-Garros 2023©Cédric Lecocq / FFT

The late Peter McNamara - a top player turned coach - once said that Grigor Dimitrov had 10 choices for every stroke, something that made life difficult, especially when he was young.

Muchova is of a similar ilk, it seems. “I think it's like black and white,” she said. “I think it has both sides. I think it's very good and it can be a curse as well for the fact when I choose the wrong option. But I'm glad that I have -- I wouldn't call it problem, but I'm glad I -- how to say….it's not a problem, but it's a good problem to have.”

There’s something of the chess player about Muchova, whose tactical nous makes her a threat on every surface, especially clay where it’s imperative to move your opponent around, pulling them out of position.

The 27-year-old said she enjoys a good drop shot or lob but gets the most pleasure from seeing a good tactic work out.

“The most joy inside... I think when I actually plan something and then I don't change it and I go all the way and it works, that's what gives me the most pleasure,” she said.

“Of course when I hit some nice slice or drop shot, it's nice shot, but it's mostly about all those long rallies around, and then if I stick to the plan and I can keep myself focused and, yeah, that's what makes me the most happy then.”

Into the quarter-finals for the first time on Parisian clay, Muchova now plays Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the runner-up at Roland-Garros in 2021.

“We had a few matches with Nastia, I think as well on the clay…I think we played in Madrid on the clay,” she said. “She's very good player. Handy and lots of power. I think it's going to be a great match. I'll have to play my best to challenge her.”

And whatever happens against Pavlyuchenkova, Muchova is closing in on her main goal, having found her form in Rome.

“We tried to build on that,” she said. “I brought it here to Paris. Started well. Since then I'm a little bit on the roll and I'm glad that it goes this way. It was kind of our goal for me to be seeded in Wimbledon, to make the points on the clay. I think I'm getting closer at least.”