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By Richard Pagliaro | Sunday, May 2, 2021

 
Karolina Muchova

Karolina Muchova scored her third Top 5-win soaring past second-ranked Naomi Osaka 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 to land in the Mutua Madrid Open round of 16.

Photo credit: Mateo Villalba/Mutua Madrid Open 

Madrid's higher altitude can force players to confront rare air.

An ascendant Karolina Muchova arrived in Madrid ranked a career-high No. 20 transformed the red clay into a launching pad flying even higher today.

Osaka's New Role: Bikini Model & Designer

Muchova won 16 of 19 points played on her serve in the final set soaring past second-ranked Naomi Osaka 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 to land in the Mutua Madrid Open round of 16.

The 24-year-old Czech improved to 3-2 lifetime against Top 5 opponents. Muchova, who pushed Osaka to three sets at the Western & Southern Open in Flushing Meadows last August, played with the belief she could work the width of the court and exploit her edge in movement.  

"I wouldn't say surprising. I definitely appreciate it and it was tough match today, but we had some preparation," Muchova said. "I was ready to play with all I had today and to use all the weapons I could and with what I can.

"Yeah, I'm definitely happy it worked out today."




Muchova, who upset world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty en route to the Australian Open semifinals in February, has now beaten the world's Top 2-ranked players on two different surfaces this season. Muchova will meet Maria Sakkari, who beat Osaka at the Miami Open, for a spot in the Madrid quarterfinals.

The 16th-seeded Sakkari surged through nine of the last 10 games dimissing Anett Kontaveit 6-3, 6-1.

"We haven't played already but she has been playing really good this year and last year, as well. It's gonna be a very tough match," Sakkari said of meeting Muchova. "I still haven't really thought about it yet, because I have a day off. As always, I want to enjoy the day today and think about it from tomorrow. But for sure it's going to be a battle because she's a very, very good player."

Four-time Grand Slam champion Osaka dropped serve four times and never really threatened in the decisive set as Muchova stamped three love holds in her last four service games.

Muchova muted Osaka's baseline aggression by controlling the center of the court and often making the second seed move. 

"I would say it's tough playing her on clay because she hits quite a heavy forehand ball, and she uses that to dictate me around," Osaka said. "I would also say her serve is really good. I think I was a bit hesitant on that, though.

"But there is not really a big flaw in her game. I also think she's a great mover. So, yeah, she's like a really good package player."

Displaying her all-court skills and smoother movement on the red clay, Muchova frequently stretched Osaka wide and looked quicker and smoother defending out of the corners than the world No. 2.

In her maiden Madrid appearance, Muchova led nearly from start to finish. Muchova broke in the third game and confirmed the break for a 3-1 first-set lead.

The Czech won 18 of 22 first-serve points and saved the lone break point she faced building a one-set lead. Muchova, who grew up playing on clay, is fluent on all surfaces and applied her agility on the slippery surface today.

"I was trying to move her as much as possible," Muchova said. "That was the tactic. Yeah, it sounds easy like that, but, you know, she's playing really fast so it's not that easy on the court.

"In the second set especially she started to be very aggressive. Yeah, I got back with what I did in the first set in the third set, and again, tried to move her left, right, drop shots but still in a fast way. In the third set, yeah, it went my way."




Reigning US Open champion Osaka was outplayed for the first set-and-a-half.  When Osaka missed a forehand, Muchova went up a set and a break at 3-1.

The finish line was in sight, but Osaka wasn't done. Osaka pasted a forehand winner into the corner breaking back after six games of the second set.  Seventy-eight minutes into the match, Muchova blinked for the first time double faulting and planting a forehand into the top of the tape as Osaka scored her second straight break for 5-3.




The Australian Open champion served out the second set leveling the match with a five-game surge.

Throughout this match, Muchova's superior return, particularly when she drilled it down the line, was a key component.

In her Madrid debut, Muchova hit a forehand return deep down the line breaking for a 2-0 second-set lead. Muchova whipped a wide ace backing up the break for a 3-0 lead in the decider.

Redirecting a return, Muchova drew a netted error from the world No. 2 converting her third break point for a 5-1 lead while Osaka leaned on her Yonex racquet as hobbled by the hole she was facing.

Though she was sideline from the end of the Australian swing until Stuttgart last week due to a strained abdominal, Muchova moved fluidly throughout the match. Muchova closed in one hour, 49 minutes, raising her 2021 record to 10-2.

While Muchova moves on, Osaka said she'll try to learn a valuable lesson from this loss: swing with intent and try to stay on offense.

"When I was playing her in the first set, obviously I felt like I was moving side to side, especially on certain balls where I felt like I could have maybe hit through a little bit harder," Osaka said. "Yeah, I think maybe on clay court, of course I'm not a professional clay court player, but I think on clay court it's definitely a bit more important to hit when you can."


 

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