Australian Open: Czech star Muchová upsets No.1 seed, home favourite Barty in Melbourne

Karolína Muchová, photo: ČTK/AP/Andy Brownbill

Czech tennis player Karolína Muchová has scored a major upset at the ongoing Australian Open. The No. 25 seed mounted a stunning comeback to oust World No.1 Ashleigh Barty – who had the homecourt advantage. After besting the Australian, Muchová next faces Jennifer Brady of the US on Thursday. Whoever wins the match in Melbourne is set to make their maiden major final.

Karolína Muchová has yet to lose a match in 2021. Going into the quarterfinals on Wednesday, she was at a record 7-0, riding high on wins against her compatriot and practice partner Karolína Plíšková, the No.6 seed, and Elise Mertens of Belgium, seeded no.18.

Muchová’s match against the home favourite Ash Barty in the quarterfinals got off to the roughest of starts. The Australian took the first set by a commanding 1-6. But the Czech rallied, winning the next two sets handily, 6-3 and 6-2.

Ashleigh Barty,  Karolína Muchová,  photo: ČTK/AP/Andy Brownbill

A reporter from Czech Radio’s flagship station Radiožurnál caught up with Muchová shortly after the win, which already makes this the 24-year-old’s most successful Grand Slam tournament ever.

He asked whether the heat in Melbourne – literally, not figuratively – was getting to her, as in the land “down under” it is now summer, with temperatures of around 30 degrees Celsius, as opposed -5 or so back in the Czech Republic.

“I didn’t feel very well in the match, so I tried to put on the ice at every break. That helped me, and I felt better after it. After the match, of course, I felt relief, joy, all emotions at once. But I also just wanted to be off the court and lie down or whatever, to get some peace.”

In the opening set, Barty took a 5-0 lead in just 16 minutes, winning 20 of the first 26 points. Down at 2-1 in the second set, Muchová took a near-10-minute medical timeout. She felt dizzy, she says, and medics checked her vitals as they worked to cool her down.

“In the middle of the first set, I started to feel pretty bad, my head was spinning. I wanted to call for a medic earlier, but I’m really reluctant to do it. In the end, I found myself thinking I was going to pass out.

Karolína Muchová,  photo: ČTK/AP/Andy Brownbill

“So, they took me off the court and cooled me down, which helped. Even though I still didn’t feel my best, it worked out. I tried to play shorter exchanges so that I wouldn’t run so much – because it was really hot.”

When play resumed, Barty struggled to regain her rhythm, and Muchová broke the World No.1’s serve for the first time. The Czech then went on the offensive, playing the net especially well, and rode that momentum into the final set – ending Barty’s bid to become the first Australian woman to win the title in Melbourne since 1978.

Karolína Muchová now plans to take it easy ahead of Thursday’s decisive match against the Jennifer Brady. If she is down in early play, odds are the Czech will rally: comebacks have proved a staple for her in the Grand Slam tournament.