Muchova 5-4 Sabalenka* More power off from Muchova and Sabalenka, coming in, botches her putaway at the net. She does make 15-all, but now Muchova approaches the net, inviting the pass, and Sabalenka can’t; then, from 15-30, she comes in again, twice, and both times finishes points, one with a forehand volley and one with a flowing forehands into the corner, both times having opened the court with clever angles, and that’s the break! Muchova will now serve for the first set!
Muchova* 4-4 Sabalenka Sabalenka gets to 0-15 and then smokes a return down the line; Muchova responds well, finding a really good length, but then whams a forehand into tape for 0-30. She needs to steady here and does, making 30-all in short order, and looks to be enjoying the contest confident that she belongs; again, she finds great length, it prompts Sabalenka to drop a little short, and she comes in to stroke a forehand winner into the corner then quickly closes out. This is an absorbing contest, and if it comes down to a few points in a breaker, Muchova has a serious chance of causing an upset.
Muchova 3-4 Sabalenka* Has anyone ever hit the ball harder than Sabalenka? There’s Serena, obviously, and in the game now Rybakina and Ostapenko. But I’m not sure any of them go as hard and as flat as often. But hang on, Muchova digs one out from behind her in the backhand corner, forcing Sabalenka to play another shot, and her overhead goes out! 30-all and another mini-chance, quickly extinguished with a service winner and a netted volley running in. However, prior to missing the putaway, Muchova played an excellent point and will be pretty happy with how things are going.
Muchova* 3-3 Sabalenka Muchova is doing a pretty good job of landing her first serve and Sabalenka hasn’t quite found her timing on the return yet. She gets to 40-0 and even when she nets a slice, Chrissy praises her for changing the pace, then Saba slaps into the net and we’re back level. This is shaping up into a decent contest.
Muchova 2-3 Sabalenka* Sabalenka thrashes away as Muchova scurries and slides to hither and yon, doing a good job without ever looking likely to threaten the serve. A hold to 15, and the no2 seed looks extremely imposing.
Muchova* 2-2 Sabalenka Yup, Muchova plans to mix things up, serve-volleying on the first point of the game – Sabalenka nets her return – before caning an ace down the T for 30-0. She does then go wide with an inside-out forehand, but a cunningly-placed forehand, looping into the corner, takes her close to 2-2 … then Sabalenka collars her second serve, humping a winner cross-court for 40-30. She’ll have known she needs to land her first effort if she’s to compete here – when Sabalenka has a go at another, she hits long and that’s deuce – but even when she does, to the forehand, the ball comes scorches straight back past her, raising the first break point of the match. Muchova, though, responds well, sending down another ace … only to net on the forehand immediately afterwards … only to respond well again, targeting the backhand to come in which works nicely. Deuce it is, Muchova sends to the backhand corner and spiriting a fine flick cross-court with soft wrists and hands – Sabalenka’s volley falls wide, just – then closes out. On the one hand, she won’t want many tight holds like that but, on the other, she’ll feel good that she saw it out.
Muchova 1-2 Sabalenka* Muchova gets to 30-all and in the circumstances this is a chance. Muchova, as we thought she might, slows down the pace of things, forcing Sabalenka to generate her own power – if she wants to. Which she doesn’t – instead she comes in slices a gorgeous drop, then on game-point monsters consecutive forehands, illustrating the conundrum of facing her perfectly: how do you beat someone who can hit it harder than you, who also has a better touch than you?
Muchova* 1-1 Sabalenka A solid start from Muchova,b ut then at 40-15 Sabalenka runs in and from mid-court slices a lovely backhand winner cross-court to the forehand corner. She’s playing with almost indecent confidence, but when she spanks a forehand from the back it drops fractionally long and Muchova is on the board. Meantime, Chrissy notes that Saba is kinder to herself now, allowing points she doesn’t win to pass without chastising her behaviour. On which point, to learn how to practise self-compassion – and other helpful behaviours – check out the work of Dr Shefali Tsabary.
Muchova 0-1 Sabalenka* (*denotes server) I love the simplicity of Sabalenka’s serve – there’s so little movement, it’s just toss, set, bend, whack. She starts nicely too, a big topspin forehand winner giving her 40-15 and the game sealed with an ace.
And … play.
Absolute sake dept: Chatrier, though buzzing, is a long way off full. What is wrong with people?
Sabalenka goes to No1 in the world if she wins the competition or if Swiatek loses today. She’s yet to lose a set in the competition, and her last two wins, over Sloane Stephens and Elina Svitolina, were extremely impressive.
As I alluded to earlier, Muchova recently had seven months off with an abdominal injury, so being out there now must be gravy – Hawksmoor’s bone marrow gravy, no less.
Muchova wins the toss and, as per the present vogue, opts to receive. The idea is, I imagine, to put an opponent under pressure while settling oneself.
The wind’s kicking up a little which might help Muchova – she’ll be looking for points of difference – but on the other hand it might help Sabalenka, who can hit either with it or through it.
Here come our players!
What I will say is that there’s more chance Muchova beats Sabalenka than Haddad Maia beats Swiatek, partly because Sabalenka is still Sabalenka – her new-found confidence isn’t yet fully entrenched – but also because Muchova has more to offer that might cause trouble. Haddad Maia has nice hands and serious power, I just don’t think she’s enough of either to see off Swiatek.
Watching a further interview with Muchova, she won’t share her tactics but does seem to fancy herself. My guess is she tries to keep Sabalenka moving so that she can’t plant her feet and whack, which’ll mean drops, lobs, balls to the corners and variations of pace, spin and angle.
Wow. Wow wow wow wow.
We see some VT of Muchova, who says reaching the final in Rome a couple of weeks ago – she lost to Badosa – and though she’s the kind of person who wants everything now, she’s happy to have made the semi here eventually but of course still wants more.
I’m not sure Casper Ruud will win the men’s competition, but he absolutely strolls the best tan-line contest.
Salut! And welcome to Roland-Garros 2023 – day 12!
I like these calm little moments before the storm. It reminds me of Beethoven. Can you hear it? It’s like, when you put your head to the grass. You can hear it growing. You can hear the insects, bzzzz … Do you like Beethoven?
So said Norman Stansfield in Léon and, though he wasn’t talking about our women’s semi-final matches – probably – he might’ve been. Because on the face of things, there’s no tension here as we know exactly what’s going to happen: Aryna Sabaklenka blazes through Karolína Muchová and Iga Swiatek devastates Beatriz Haddad Maia – the kind of light work best soundtracked by Mozart – then the two winners convene on Saturday for an absolute Brahms of a final.
But sport – and women’s tennis in particular – tend not to work that way. After a miserable time with injury, Muchová will feel that her time is now, and knows that not long ago, Sabalenka was a fragile thwacker liable to falter under pressure. If she plays to her maximum, she’ll fancy her chances of reminding her reborn opponent exactly who she used used to be.
Haddad Maia is a not dissimilar tigela de moqueca, a powerful hitter with hands and belief at her physical peak. It’s difficult to discomfit Swiatek, especially on clay, but the Brazilian is here because she’s hit purple patches in each of her last two matches, and she can find that level today, she’s a problem.
Most likely, of course, the favourites do enough – though neither has been seriously tested in reaching this stage. Swiatek, the defending champion, the reigning US Open champion and the world No 1, is a generational talent with disquieting equanimity and no weaknesses. Real talk, she seems impregnable on clay … except Sabalenka is in majestically murderous form, assaulting the ball like it just called her mum a rude word and fortified, since winning the Australian Open, with all the confidence that eluded her in the years prior to that.
Or, put another way, this going to be good … and what comes next might be even better. On y va!
Play: 3pm local, 2pm BST