Muchova has Sakkari's number again

 - Chris Oddo

Crafty Czech extends unbeaten tour-level record against the world No.8

Karolina Muchova, 1er tour, Roland-Garros 2023©Julien Crosnier / FFT

A rematch of last year’s second-round battle - and third overall tour-level meeting - between Maria Sakkari and Karolina Muchova was one of the most heavily-anticipated clashes on Sunday’s ticket in Paris.

Sakkari herself helped promote the tussle on Saturday by calling the crafty 26-year-old “probably the toughest unseeded player that anyone could have in the first round”. 

In the end it was déjà vu for Muchova, who edged past the No.8 seed for a 7-6(5), 7-5 victory on a sunny afternoon in Court Suzanne-Lenglen.

Story of the Match

Momentum squandered was the story of a seesaw opening set, as Sakkari hustled out to a 3-0 lead in 10 minutes, but she couldn’t take further advantage of Muchova’s plodding start as errors leaked into her game, allowing the Czech to level up at three apiece. 

The back-and-forth continued: Sakkari had two break points for 5-3, but failed to capitalise as Muchova deftly held, swooping in to punch a volley winner for 4-all. 

Soon Muchova moved ahead, breaking for 6-5, but faltered while serving for the set. Even the tiebreak flip-flopped a few times before Muchova converted her second set point as Sakkari’s shanked forehand sailed long, ending the stanza in 68 minutes. 

The second set followed a similar script with Sakkari staking herself to a 2-0 lead before Muchova hit back, drawing level. It stayed that way for the rest of the set, with Sakkari saving two match points to hold for 5-5. 

Muchova broke critically in the final game, converting her fourth match point to reach the second round at Roland-Garros for the third consecutive year.

Key Stats

Sakkari’s failure to put first serves in the box was a key contributor to her downfall. She produced two love holds to open the contest, but made just 40 per cent of her first offerings in set one and was therefore constantly under pressure in the second half of the set. 

Though she managed her second serve well, Sakkari’s inability to put her first serve where she wanted it forced the Greek into more reactive patterns and never allowed her to switch into overdrive against her opponent. 

She made just 48 per cent of her first serves over the course of the encounter. 

Maria Sakkari, 1er tour, Roland-Garros 2023©Julien Crosnier / FFT

Eventually, errors became more of a factor in the second set, further playing into Sakkari’s demise. She hit nine winners against 11 unforced errors in the opening set, but missed the mark more often in set two, committing 24 unforced errors against just seven winners. 

In a close match with ultra thin margins, it made all the difference.

Sakkari drops to 15-2 lifetime in first-round matches when seeded at Grand Slams.

Muchova continues her giant-killing ways on the sports' biggest stages. Five of the Czech's eight top-10 wins have come at the Grand Slams.

What the players said

Muchova on defeating Sakkari two years running in Paris:

"It's a little of déjà with this match with Maria," Muchova said on court after the victory, referring to her 7-6(5), 7-5(4) win over Sakkari in round two in Paris last year. "It was a very tough match, she is a great player. It was almost the same score, so I'm glad we didn't play a tiebreak and I managed to hold the nerves and finish it in two."

Muchova on working with Kirsten Flipkens:

"She's helping with tactics. She's been on tour and she's a great player herself, so she gives great advice and I really appreciate it."