Czech Karolina Muchova saved a match point before battling back from the brink against Aryna Sabalenka to reach the French Open women’s singles final.
Muchova, the world No 43, won 20 of the last 24 points to upset the second seed 7-6 (7-5) 6-7 (5-7) 7-5 in a contest lasting three hours and 13 minutes.
Sabalenka, who was bidding to win back-to-back Grand Slam titles after lifting the Australian Open trophy, appeared to have turned things in her favour but tightened up in sight of the line and Muchova made her pay.
The 26-year-old is the fourth lowest-ranked woman to reach the final here, while it is the fifth year in a row that the final will feature an unseeded player.
For the fifth-straight year, Roland Garros will have a first-time women’s singles finalist
2023: Karolina Muchova
2022: Coco Gauff
2021: Barbora Krejcikova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
2020: Iga Swiatek
2019: Ashleigh Barty and Marketa Vondrousova
A delighted Muchova said: “I don’t really know what happened. The atmosphere, it’s unbelievable. I just tried to keep fighting and it worked. I’m so happy.”
The Czech was playing in her second major semi-final having also reached the last four at the Australian Open in 2021, but injuries severely restricted her last year, with her ranking dropping outside the top 200.
Muchova has been climbing rapidly this year, though, and can break into the top 10 by lifting the trophy.
Sabalenka, who has garnered attention off the court for opting out of media duties after being grilled about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at the start of the tournament by one journalist, made the faster start but Muchova grew steadily into the match and made the first big move, breaking for 5-4.
Back came Sabalenka immediately, though, a forehand winner saving a set point and then more crunching groundstrokes earning her the break.
It was a compelling contest between the raw power and aggression of Sabalenka and the more subtle skills of Muchova, who gave a masterful display of using angles and changes of direction as well as being very willing to come to the net.
She is not averse to a winner, too, and produced one from the top drawer on her second set point at 6-5 in the tie-break, drilling a backhand down the line.
Muchova then exploited her opponent’s disappointment to break at the start of the second, and the old Sabalenka might have fallen away quickly in a barrage of errors.
But the Belarusian has beaten her biggest rivals this season with an unshakeable commitment to attacking tennis and she regrouped well.
From 0-2 she moved a break ahead at 4-3 only for Muchova to bounce back, but Sabalenka confidently served twice to stay in the match, setting up another tie-break.
Nerves were evident from both and Sabalenka double-faulted on her first set point but powered away an overhead on the second.
The second seed probed for an immediate break at the start of the decider and, although Muchova did superbly to withstand that, a break for 4-2 gave Sabalenka some daylight.
The match appeared over when she forced a first match point at 5-2 but Muchova saved it confidently, and Sabalenka then became edgy, throwing in her worst service game of the match.
At 5-5, Sabalenka, who overcame serving yips last year, sent down back-to-back double faults and Muchova seized her opportunity.
Muchova will play the winner of the match between world No 1 Iga Swiatek and Brazil’s Beatriz Haddad Maia in Saturday’s final.