Aryna Sabalenka was on the cusp of setting up a dream French Open women's final against World No.1 Iga Swiatek until things went horribly wrong for the Belarusian in her shock semi-final defeat to Karolina Muchova. The World No.2 squandered a match point while serving for a spot in the Roland Garros final at 5-2, before losing the next five games straight to crash out in shocking scenes.
The unseeded Muchova defied all odds to book her spot in the Roland Garros decider, where she will face two-time champion Swiatek, who beat Brazil's Beatriz Haddad Maia 6-2 7-6 (9-7) in the other semi-final. While it was a stirring comeback from the Czech underdog Muchova, the match was another sorry example of the mental demons that have plagued Sabalenka throughout her career.
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Sabalenka dumped the sports psychologist who had helped her address several shortcomings in her game, particularly the yips on her second serve that had led to a litany of double faults. Unfortunately for the World No.2 those same issues resurfaced against Muchova as the Belarusian suffered an almighty choke.
The Australian Open champion snatched the key break in the third set to move 4-2 clear but her serve deserted her as the match reached its conclusion after more than three hours. Having coughed up a number of double faults in the opening two sets, the problem reared its ugly head again in the 11th game of the decider, with Sabalanka committing two double faults in a row.
Aryna Sabalenka 'choke' leaves viewers in shock
Muchova capitalised to break her opponent and take a 6-5 lead that had looked improbable moments earlier, before sealing the match on her own racquet to book a spot in her maiden grand slam final. It was Sabalanka's dramatic collapse that stole the headlines after the match though, with viewers describing the "choke" from the Belarusian as painful to watch.
that choke from sabalenka is awful, even 2017 FO final wasn't that bad
— 🇲🇽 ᴇsᴀʀ (@STANWAWRlNKA) June 8, 2023
Huge, huge disappointment for Sabalenka. Had an absolute shocker from match point up. But what a match.
— José Morgado (@josemorgado) June 8, 2023
If Sabalenka loses this match she definitely needs to call her sports psychologist back and apologize. This is an awful display 😂 #RolandGarros
— Big Dom John (@TheOnlySxSation) June 8, 2023
2 straight double faults when leading 40-15 is certainly not ideal. And another horrible unforced error. Sabalenka is shook.
— H.Y. (@itnw0628) June 8, 2023
Sabalenka is playing horrible. Cant believe this
— Diego Padre Simeone (@dondiegopadre) June 8, 2023
Aryna Sabalenka refuses to dwell on negatives
Sabalenka admitted that while it was a "tough" match, she didn't want to dwell on the negatives. The Belarusian - who could have climbed to World No.1 if she won the tournament - vowed to come back a stronger player for the experience.
“It was a tough match. She (Muchova) played unbelievable tennis. Still, I had a lot of opportunities, and I didn’t use them.” Sabalenka told reporters. “Of course, I’m very disappointed with this tough loss, but that’s okay.”
“I definitely have to learn something from this match and come back stronger. “I don’t look at this tournament as a negative tournament.
"I think I have made a great improvement on the clay court, and it’s my best result here (at the French Open). I’m trying to stay positive no matter what happened on the court. I’ll come back stronger.”
The defeat was Sabalenka's first in 13 grand slam matches this year, denying fans a dream final against Swiatek, who proved too good for Brazilian surprise packet, Haddad Maia. The world No.1 showed rare signs of frustrations but managed to hold it together when it mattered to prevail as the clock ticked past 9pm.
The 14th seeded Haddad Maia had played four consecutive three-set matches to fight her way to the semi-finals but ultimately met her match in the world's top-ranked women's player. Swiatek took the first set relatively comfortably, before battling through a thrilling tiebreaker to claim victory.
The Polish superstar will go into the women's decider as the overwhelming favourite as she chases a fourth career grand slam singles title and a third Roland Garros crown. Swiatek has reached the final without losing a set and has dropped just 23 games in her six matches on the road to the decider.
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