Key events

Phew. I’m going to take a little break; Michael Butler will croon you through the start of our second semi, and I’ll be back presently.

Coming up next: Iga Swiatek [1] v Beatriz Haddad Maia [14]. Niiiiiice!

As for Sabalenka, she’ll be feeling very poorly for a very long time. She had the match not just on her racket but in her pocket, relaxed, left the door open, and had her house ransacked. When she’s calmed down, she’ll remember that she played well – it took a fine player playing the game of her life to beat her and even then she had to help her – but she’ll be hurting, bad.

Muchova is really quite calm, calmer than me, saying hi to everyone and that she doesn’t really know what happened – she just tried to keep fighting and she’s so happy. Complimented on her game and how natural it is with all its variations, she admits that she’s been told similar before, but doesn’t want it to get into her head so she stays humble. She notes that it’s a team effort, thanking those who’ve helped her get to here, and reckons it’s easy to play on a court this good in a match so big. It’s an incredible feeling to here people cheering and calling her name, and on Saturday, she’ll meet Iga Swiatek or Bea Haddad Maia in the final! My absolute complete and utter days, she’s earned it. What a player, what a competitor, what a match!

Karolína Muchová beats Aryna Sabalenka [2] 7-6(5) (5)5-7 7-5!

What a game of tennis! What a game of anything! Not long after missing seven months, a a backhand down the line and Muchova reaches her first Grand Slam final having won five games in a row – just as Sabalenka lost them – pinching a classic for the ages. That was brilliant brilliant brilliant, and Muchova’s intelligence in coming up with a plan, her skill in executing it and her moxie in coming back were stupendous.

Karolina Muchova wins
Karolina Muchova wins a classic. What a display of tennis. Photograph: Lisi Niesner/Reuters

Muchova* 7-6(5) (5)6-7 6-5 (40-0) Sabalenka Muchova makes 15-0 – she’s won 14 of the last 20 points – but unlike many of Sabalenka’s pre-Melbourne defeats, it’s not because the pressure got big on her, it’s because she assumed she’d done enough. Er, not so old mate. Muchova quickly makes 30-0 when a return goes out, then draws Sablenka to the net with a drop … which she can’t return! Three match points Muchova!

Muchova 7-6(5) (5)6-7 6-5 Sabalenka* Sabalenka belts a forehand long then gets herself a fresh racket. She’ll be raging at herself because she knows this match should be over, but she also knows how hard it is to close out, and at 15-all, Muchova comes in on a second serve to try and increase pressure … to no avail. Sabalenka looks by far the stronger player, but at 15-40 she sends down a double, then a fault … then another! A double-double – her third, while Muchova hasn’t served any – means deuce, then Saba thrashes a half-court backhand long! There’ve been so many errors these last few games and now Muchova, who looked beaten 10 minutes ago, has a point to serve for the match! And serve for the match she will because when Sabalenka frames one, she charges in, lashes a forehand winner, and what on earth is going on?! What a lesson this is for the no2 seed: give someone your little finger, they take your entire hand.

Muchova* 7-6(5) (5)6-7 5-5 Sabalenka Muchova is so, so weary, but somehow mind prevails over body and she holds to love! My days she needed that, and in co-comms Chris notes that at 5-2, Sabalenka played a slightly lazy game, allowing Muchova some impetus, and now look!

Muchova 7-6(5) (5)6-7 4-5 Sabalenka* Oh wow, Muchova moves out of court to ram a forehand winner down the line, then at 15-all Sabalenka nets and at 15-30 thwacks long … way long! I wasn’t expecting so careless a game, despite the pressure, and as I type that Sabalenka swipes a backhand wide! That was dreadful, and as the clock ticks past three hours, the match, already a classic, remains in the balance!

Karolina Muchova breaks back.
Karolina Muchova is still fighting! Photograph: Lisi Niesner/Reuters

Muchova* 7-6(5) (5)6-7 3-5 Sabalenka Muchova doesn’t have the kaiach to keep at this, quickly down 0-30. But a gift from Sabalenka hands her a foothold and a decent second serve, right onto the line, forces a drop that sits up and begs to be despatched; 30-all. But a backhand slice floated long means match point … and Muchova finds a first serve, then larrups a forehand from corner to corner, making deuce, holding on from there for her hold. Sabalenka will have to serve for it…

Muchova 7-6(5) (5)6-7 2-5 Sabalenka* Sabalenka didn’t play Wimbledon last year because Belarusians – and, of course, Russians – were banned. So she went to Florida and got herself fitter, work that’s paying for itself now. At 30-all she’s still got the strength to clobber groundstrokes, the two contacting the net-cord three times between them, before a sensational backhand, oblique and breaking the sideline, ends the longest point of the match, then an ace follows and Sabalenka is a game away!

Aryna Sabalenka celebrates a winner.
Aryna Sabalenka is a game away from Saturday’s final. Photograph: Robert Prange/Getty Images

Muchova* 7-6(5) (5)6-7 2-4 Sabalenka Muchova badly needs a first serve here because make no mistake, Sabalenka is a killer who’ll have noted her fatigue. Naturally, she sends a decent delivery out wide … only to overhit her clean-up! Is she flagging? Is this the beginning of the end? Er, no mate, Sabalenka makes consecutive errors, the second a really tame backhand that floats long; er maybe, she hits a big forehand which yields a moon ball that’s nowhere near anywhere; 30-all. So Muchova responds with her sixth ace – it’s been there almost every time she’s really needed it – only for Sabalenka to make deuce by punishing a pair of forehands, then advantage via backhand return and backhand winner. Magnificent behaviour, raising break point – she’s 3/11, Muchova 3/3 – and facing a second serve, she launches herself into the rally and her opponent can’t respond! Might that be the decisive blow? Muchova looks really tired now.

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Muchova 7-6(5) (5)6-7 2-3 Sabalenka* Muchova curls a forehand winner cross-court for 0-15, then Sabalenka nets a forehand and has momentum shifted again? 0-30! Er no, three consecutive errors from Muchova make 30-40 and is she tiring? She can be excused for it if she is, flexing legs while waiting to receive, but the rejuvenating power of a double for deuce means she’s soon hammering a forehand return … which Sabalenka sends back at her with interest for a clean winner, quickly securing the game thereafter. She looks to be lasting the better, but the line between success and failure is so thin it’s impossible to say with any certainty who’ll win this.

Karolina Muchova powers a forehand winner.
Karolina Muchova powers a forehand winner. Photograph: Clive Mason/Getty Images

Muchova* 7-6(5) (5)6-7 2-2 Sabalenka No doubt there’ll be plenty on the tour wondering if they can do what Muchova’s doing, but for it to work, it requires precision, power, composure and nerve, so all the best with that. Anyroad up, at 15-all Sabalenka opens the space for a forehand winner only to overhit it – Chrissy notes that she doesn’t need to go for lines – especially as, given the situation, she’s likely to pull things a little. We get to 30-all, though, then on game point Muchova plays a lush drop, and that’s enough for final-set parity.

Muchova 7-6(5) (5)6-7 1-2 Sabalenka* “Oh my word!” yells Chrissy when, at 30-0, Muchova is dragged over to the forehand side, responding with a leaping, stretching forehand winner down the line. “They’re motivating each other, bringing each other’s best games out … just wonderful to watch.” And she should know – on which point do check out BBC’s God of Tennis series, which is a lot of fun. One of the things I most loved was her explaining that she just responds well to pressure – imagine being able to say that of yourself – while, back in the present, Sabalenka holds to 15. There’s still nary a Rizla blue in it,but she looks the better player at the moment.

Muchova* 7-6(5) (5)6-7 1-1 Sabalenka Now then. Two errors from Muchova – prompted by good play by Sabalenka – give the favourite a sniff, and a forehand winner, whipped from centre to corner, cross-court, raise three break points. You know, though, that Muchocva won’t get feart, and she saves two then faults; Sabalenka steps in. So Muchova tries a kicker down the middle, the return lands on the chalk, is backed up with a fine forehand … and look at that! A gorgeous forehand down the line makes deuce and Muchova has serious moxie. Oh yes she does! Sabalenka earns advantage with a jazzer of a forehand, backpeddling having invited her opponent to the net … so that opponent lamps an ace down the middle … then with advantage of her own, does it again! “Staggeringly good” says our commentator, and he’s right. Karolina Muchova is forreal.

Muchova 7-6(5) (5)6-7 0-1 Sabalenka* It’s silly, but I love that both sets finished 7-6(5) because it illustrates just how close this match has been. Before this game, Sabalenka had won one more point than Muchova and at 40-15 looks to be forging ahead in the match, but a fine get forces her to spin 360, hitting an extra ball – she’s laughing as she does it – then Muchova puts a way a volley to give her something about which to think. Not for long, she quickly closes out, and now Muchova must respond, but under the pressure of being behind.

Aryna Sabalenka wins the second set 7-5(5) to force a decider against Karolina Muchova!

Sabalenka guzzles a second serve, slamming a backhand cross-court, then a big forehand sets up the overhead and though she manages to direct it at her opponent, it’s good enough because Muchova nets. Another fantastic set of glorious tennis is over … now here comes another! Don’t mind if we do!

Aryna Sabalenka wins the second set!
Aryna Sabalenka wins the second set! Photograph: Yoan Valat/EPA

Muchova 7-6(5) 6-6 (5-6) Sabalenka Oh Saba! Oh man! She wins her first point but then up 6-4, she sends down a double! One go left, but on the Muchova serve…

Muchova 7-6(5) 6-6 (4-5) Sabalenka But then Sabalenka overhits a forehand – that needed more spin so might’ve been nerves – then Muchova dumps another backhand! Sabalenka has two serves to make it 1-1…

Muchova 7-6(5) 6-6 (2-4) Sabalenka You know what? As soon as this match is finished, we get to watch another! It’s not a bad old life (sometimes). Muchova, though, is disappointed to stick a nondescript backhand into the net, and it makes me double-take because of how rarely that’s happened previously, and next point Sabalenka rocks back and carts a luscious forehand into the corner for the mini-break, consolidated with a booming serve. The decider the match – and more importantly we – deserve looks imminent.

Muchova 7-6(5) 6-6 Sabalenka* A bazzing first point of the game, Sabalenka playing a monster and Muchova forcing her to hit four more balls than she might’ve done. She holds to love, though – game point also features a variety of gets before falling to her – and we’ve got ourselves another breaker. Can Muchova stay as calm during it as she did during the first, now the final is within reach?

“It’s unkind to call Sabalenka a ‘mindless ball basher’ (in the style of say Tsonga or Berdych in times gone by),” returns James Wilson, “but Muchova rather makes her look like that today with her brilliance. Sablenka has taken major strides to fix her serve and just hammer the ball off both sides but she’s looking back to what she was this time last year – all the shots, but little variety and patience. Credit to Muchova for forcing her to revert to her 2022 vintage. A long way to go though still.”

Yup, it feels like she’s turned up assuming that if she does what she’s been doing she’ll win, rather than gameplanning for what Muchova might do. She’s played lots of pressure=points well though.

Muchova* 7-6(5) 6-5 Sabalenka Muchova has served superbly today – she’s done everything superbly – and she holds to 15, forcing Sabalenka to serve to stay in the tournament once again. P-R-E-S-S-U-R-E.

Muchova 7-6(5) 5-5 Sabalenka* Muchova does make 0-15, but Sabalenka unleashes from mid-court until her opponent can’t take any more, then disburses a violent ace out wide for 40-15 … then another down the T for 5-5! She backs herself now, which makes the quality of Muchova’s play even more impressive.

Muchova* 7-6(5) 5-4 Sabalenka Yeah, about me saying momentum had switched; perhaps not. A straightforward hold for Muchova, and now I’m wondering if we’ll look back at today as the time a new force in the game announced itself. Sabalenka must now serve to stay in the competition.

Muchova 7-6(5) 4-4 Sabalenka* I said just a second ago that no one plays perfectly for an entire match, but Muchova is playing this match perfectly, drawing Sabalenka to the net, where she misses a volley for 15-40, then taking pace off the ball before upping it when she’s ready, forcing the error! This is intense, compelling, affirming stuff.

“There’s a flies like a buatterfly, stings like a bee weak gag in here somewhere, Muchova deriving from the Slavonic word for ‘house fly’ – Mucha/Muha. Aren’t flies known for how quickly they can, well, fly? Their aeronautical design via nature is pretty sweet. A bit like Karolina’s game (I’ll get my coat).”

I believe the genus was named after her.

Karolina Muchova plays a volley return
Karolina Muchova breaks the number two seed again in this second set. Photograph: Christophe Ena/AP

Muchova* 7-6(5) 3-4 Sabalenka Yup, she has a go, but with her back half-turned as she digs out a backhand from the corner, Muchova sneaks to the net in order to despatch a volley. Sabalenka, though, makes 15-all with a drop that just about clambers over the net, and when her opponent guides an approach wide, she’s two points from a break. And, though, Muchova then levels the game, a barrage of backhands give her 30-40 … except, and yet again, Muchova finds her best gear when she needs to, working her way to the net for a put-away. Problem being she needs to do likewise immediately afterwards because she sends a forehand long, and this time Sabalenka’s power is too much, a sensational backhand return, annihilated cross-court, setting up a backhand winner. That’s the break, and I wonder if momentum has shifted here, not because Muchova isn’t playing well – she is – but because no one can play perfectly for an entire match and the world no2 has turned it up.

Muchova 7-6(5) 3-3 Sabalenka* Sabalenka has stepped it up here, landing a lot of first serves and making the match the one she wants to play rather than the one Muchova is forcing her to play. She holds to 15, sealing the deal with a lovely backhand caressed down the line, and I’d expect her to attack the serve in the next game.

Muchova* 7-6(5) 3-2 Sabalenka Sabalenka wallops a forehand to get 30-15, so Muchova slams an ace down the middle and quickly closes out.

Aryna Sabalenka celebrates winning a point
Aryna Sabalenka levels the set with a break. Photograph: Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images

Muchova 7-6(5) 2-2 Sabalenka* I talk about this a lot, but we may have reached the mythical stage of both players playing well at the same time – deploying contrasting yet complementary styles too. Sabalenka makes 40-0 in typical style, but out of nowhere Muchova fights back to deuce, hitting through her in the process. From there, though, she closes out, and this is the best match I’ve seen in absolutely tiiiiiiiime.

Muchova* 7-6(5) 2-1 Sabalenka So she tries a drop, it works, and she makes 0-15 … so Muchova redeems the situation with an ace down the T. Her timing today has been faultless, but Saba isn’t who she is for no reason and her forehand earns her the next two points for 15-40. Muchova, though, responds with a telling drop, only for two more forehands, a return and a winner, restoring parity in set two. A year ago, I’m not sure Sabalenka is capable of that, but she’s a very serious proposition nowadays.

Muchova 7-6(5) 2-0 Sabalenka* Muchova punishes a weak second serve for 15-all, then Sabalenka sends a backhand long.As Chrissy notes, she’s answering every question she’s asked, wearing the power and using her lightness of foot to keep her opponent off balance. And forcing another error, she’s got 15-40, then sticks a forehand return onto the line, and Sabalenka can’t respond! Mucxhova leads by a set and a break, and suddenly the no2 seed looks bereft of ideas!


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