US Open | Muchova mugs Muguruza
Be wary of the wily qualifier is a dictum all seeded players need to embrace, and it continues to be proven true at the US Open in the women’s draw, where seeds are tumbling thick and fast.
On Wednesday night in New York it was the turn of Garbiñe Muguruza, who fell at the hands of the artful qualifier from the Czech Republic, Karolina Muchova.
In the latest finish to date at the 2018 US Open in Louis Armstrong Stadium, the 22-year, playing in her first Grand Slam and just her third career WTA Tour-level match, kept her more experienced opponent off-balance for much of the 2 hour, 27 minute match, and ended the night a surprise 3-6 6-4 6-4 winner.
It’s the first match for me on such a big stadium so I was feeling nervous. Somehow I got used to it, I don’t know how Karolina Muchova
Two-time Grand Slam champion Muguruza has played only a few good tournaments in 2018, in Doha, Dubai, Monterrey and Roland Garros, and will not be adding the US Open to that list as she lost to world number 202, the worst defeat for the Spaniard since New Haven in 2012 and her third in four matches as well, hitting an early exit at Wimbledon and Cincinnati before heading to New York.
Muchova has won five matches so far in the Big Apple, qualifying for the main draw and earning a chance to win more points in the third round clash against the 18th seed Ash Barty.
It took Muchova five games to come to grips with the occasion, playing the World No 12 on one of the grandest stages in tennis, and Muguruza won 9 of the match’s first 10 points on her way to a quick 5-0 advantage.
When the Czech did find her footing, she delighted the Armstrong crowd with an entertaining display of shotmaking from all over the court.
Muguruza did not enjoy the show, as the Czech’s unpredictable game presented a unique second-round puzzle that she ultimately could not solve.
After finding her form late in the opening set, Muchova won the first three games of the second set, completing a stretch in which she won six of seven games.
A down-the-line winner secured an early break for 2-0, and she took a 4-1 lead behind a combination of net approaches, 21 of 37 for the match, well-timed drop shots and baseline blasts.
Muguruza responded and showed her champion pedigree by re-asserting herself and out-rallying her opponent to level the set at 4-4 and moving 2 games away from the straight sets win.
It wasn’t to be for her, though, wasting a game point at 4-5 and getting broken to drop the set, having to overpower her rival in the deciding set in order to stay in the tournament.
Instead of that, she squandered 2-0 and four break points in game three that could have sealed the deal for her, allowing the Czech to survive that game and break back in the very next for a 2-2.
Both players served well in the following five games and Karolina made the crucial break in game 10 to upend her much higher-ranked rival and enter the third round on her Grand Slam debut.
The depth of the WTA Tour is on full display when its No 202-ranked player can orchestrate a three-set victory over the World No 12.
“It’s the first match for me on such a big stadium so I was feeling nervous. Somehow I got used to it, I don’t know how,” the 22-year-old said in a courtside interview.
Asked how she found the belief to defeat a player of Muguruza’s stature, she couldn’t find an answer.
“I don’t even know. I was surviving but I think the (fans) helped me a lot.”
Muchova displayed an adept ability to mix up her play, slogging it out from the baseline before picking the right moments to charge the net.
Muguruza, a traditional baseliner, tried to change her tactics to regain the initiative but Muchova kept her at bay with a selection of passing shots and lobs every time the Spaniard ventured forward.
Overall, Muchova hit 8 aces and 41 winners as she rallied from a break down in the deciding set to seal victory and claim the biggest win of her career as the clock ticked past 1am at the Louis Armstrong Stadium.
On Arthur Ashe Stadium, 36-year-old Serena crushed Carina Witthoeft, 6-2 6-2, and will next face her sister at the earliest stage of a tournament for 20 years, the third round, after 38-year-old Venus beat Camila Giorgi, 6-4 7-5 earlier in the day.
The only time they have met earlier in a tournament was in the second round of the 1998 Australian Open, which was the first time they played each other professionally.
Tomorrow’s encounter will be their 30th meeting in total and their 16th at Grand Slam level.
Serena leads their head-to-head record by 17 wins to 12 overall and by 10 to 5 at Grand Slam tournaments, including the last 5 in a row.
Venus won their most recent meeting, at Indian Wells in March, while Serena won in their most recent match at a Grand Slam tournament in the final of last year’s Australian Open, when she was eight weeks pregnant.
“The last time we played, at the Australian Open, it was two against one, so at least this time it will be fair,” Venus joked.
Serena said that the sisters bring the best out of each other.
“I know when I play her, I have to play some of my best tennis,” Serena said. “She does, too.
“It propels us to continue to play that for the tournament. It sets a tone for us. I feel like throughout our careers we have pushed each other to be the best that we can be.”