Swiatek: I really respect Muchova

Reigning champion and Czech first-time Slam finalist locked in for Saturday's women's decider

Iga Swiatek, semi-final, Roland-Garros 2023 © Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
 - Courtney Walsh

It is a measure of the respect Iga Swiatek holds for Karolina Muchova that she has kept a close eye on her rival for the Roland-Garros title even when the Czech was off centre stage.

Swiatek has been a phenomenal No.1, winning two Grand Slam titles, including Roland-Garros 12 months ago, among several other significant tournament triumphs since ascending to the top in April 2022 (she owns three major trophies overall).

An ingredient of her success is her humbleness. She is the world's best player. But the Polish champion is mindful of the importance of continuing to improve. 

Just as Swiatek did with her world No.1 predecessor, Ashleigh Barty, she has recognised in Muchova a player with great variety who possesses an array of tools she can learn from.

Befuddled by the slice backhand of Barty, who she became friends with, she practised regularly with the Australian to strengthen her experience and enhance her defence.

Karolina Muchova, demi-finales, Roland-Garros 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Swiatek, who is the first woman since Serena Williams in 2015-2016 to win 13 straight matches in Paris, has also regularly sought out Muchova as a training partner. 

“I feel like I know Karolina's game… because I played many practices with her since 2019 and I also watch her actually more than most of the players,” Swiatek said. 

“I really respect her and she is, I feel, a player who can do anything. She has great touch. She can also speed up the game. She plays with… freedom in her movements. And she has a great technique.”

From off-Broadway to centre stage

So much has changed since Muchova, who is the fifth Czech woman to reach the Roland-Garros final, defeated Swiatek in three sets in a clash in Prague in 2019.

Swiatek had broken into the top 100 for the first time a fortnight earlier and had to qualify for the tournament. Muchova, who moved into the top 100 a few weeks later, was a wildcard.

The Polish champion had just started working with her sports psychologist Daria Abramowicz and recalls the entire situation was so different to now and “really funny”. 

She played Muchova after winning a qualifying match earlier in the day and can remember feeling stressed and exhausted as her new mentor tried to calm her with “weird coaching”.

Iga Swiatek, Daria Abramowicz, Roland-Garros 2023, practice© Christophe Guibbaud / FFT

But that “weird coaching” has helped Swiatek to become a world beater. And in an interview with Australian television, she downplayed the loss when saying she was “just a rookie”.

She is a rookie no more. And Muchova has enjoyed her own successes as well. Now they will play for the prestigious Roland-Garros title on Court Philippe-Chatrier on Saturday.

As Muchova said after her stunning triumph over Aryna Sabalenka, in which she won 20 of the last 24 points when rallying from a 2-5 deficit in the third set, it is “a dream come true”.

From injury nightmares to Grand Slam dreams

An Australian Open semi-finalist in 2021, Muchova has enjoyed some fine moments in her career but has also been forced to overcome career-threatening injuries.

The Czech first broke into the top 100 in May, 2019 and had moved into the top 20 by 2021, only to slip to a ranking of 235 following last year’s US Open as the injury toll mounted.

Muchova’s talent has never been in question. While the world No.43 is the fourth lowest-ranked woman to reach a Roland-Garros final, she has significant wins over the world’s best.

Aside from her remarkable victory against Sabalenka, the 26-year-old defeated Barty in three sets when the Queenslander was ranked No.1 in an Australian Open quarter-final in 2021.

She also defeated Naomi Osaka when the four-time major champion was No.2 in Madrid in 2021. Overall, Muchova is 5-0 lifetime against top-three opposition.

Karolina Muchova, Aryna Sabalenka, Roland-Garros 2023, semi-final© Julien Crosnier/FFT

Competing with top players is nothing new. Even when unranked and an emerging talent, she would feel competitive in club matches against Czech champions Petra Kvitova and Karolina Pliskova. 

Twice a Wimbledon quarter-finalist and the Korean Open champion in 2019, Muchova left Roland-Garros in distress last year after badly injuring an ankle against Amanda Anisimova.

She said: “Some doctors told me maybe you'll not do sport anymore.”

Seeking to become the first Czech to win a major since Barbora Krejcikova in Paris in 2021, Muchova feels the injury adversity she has overcome has made her a wiser woman.

“It's up-and-downs in life all the time. Now I'm enjoying that I'm on the upper part now,” she said.

“In the past, it was not easy. That’s actually what makes me appreciate this result even more now, because I know what I have been through in the past.”