Karolina Muchova has stunned world No.1 Ash Barty on Wednesday at the Australian Open to reach her first Grand Slam semifinal.
The world No.27 from the Czech Republic trailed 6-1 2-0 before staging a remarkable turnaround to win 1-6 6-3 6-2 on Rod Laver Arena.
The match hinged on a medical timeout, during which Muchova’s departure from the court led to a near 10-minute break in play.
Barty, aiming for her second straight AO semifinal, had been dominating until that point. When Muchova returned, the tenor of the match completely changed.
"I started feeling a bit lost by the end of the first set. Ash started very good, she played almost like no mistakes, it was very tough. And I was a bit lost on the court, and my head was spinning (with dizziness) so I took a break,” explained Muchova, who won 12 of the final 15 games.
“They just checked my (blood) pressure because I was a bit lost, you know? I was spinning. So they cooled me down a bit with ice, and it helped me.
"(When I returned I) just tried to put a ball in and go for it. Played a bit faster, going to the net. I think that was the key by the end.”
Muchova will face one of two Americans – either Jennifer Brady or Jessica Pegula – for a place in the final.
In the warm, sunny midday conditions that Barty loves, the Australian completely dominated the opening set.
She won an 18-stroke rally with a forehand winner for 0-30, before going on to break Muchova for a 2-0 lead. And 2-0 become 5-0 in just 16 minutes, with Barty having won 20 of the first 26 points.
Barty was not doing anything spectacular; she was simply playing within herself, executing her solid, intelligent brand of tennis. She was also getting more than 90 per cent of her returns in play, always forcing the Czech to play an extra ball.
Muchova, a Wimbledon quarterfinalist in 2019, could barely find the court, registering just one winner and 10 unforced errors in the first five games.
Although she got on the board in the sixth game, she could not stop Barty, who on set point used a series of low, fizzing slices to set up a forehand which forced an error.
Barty jumped out to a 6-1 2-0 lead, but after Muchova held serve in the third game she called for the trainer, had both her pulse and temperature checked, and departed the court.
When she resumed play she suddenly looked far more reliable and potent in all areas of the court, using the variety she is noted for and frequently coming forward.
Barty, by contrast, became passive and error-prone; up until the timeout she had committed just seven errors, but by the end of the second set that number had ballooned to 25.
Muchova had won six of the last seven games, then broke serve early in the third to led 2-0.
She never looked back.
She broke again to take a 5-2 lead, and although she faced three break points when serving for the match, she saved them all with forcing play – her forehand especially stood up in those moments – before slotting an ace up the T on her first match point.
"It was tough. It was the first time for me so I just tried to not think about it, to think just about another ball, focus on that,” Muchova said of serving for the biggest win of her career.
“I'm happy that I handled it well."