Karolina Muchova may have been a late-bloomer by the Czech Republic's historically high tennis standards, but the 24-year-old's persistence has finally paid off.
Muchova's all-court game came together in 2019, where she began well outside the Top 100, made her Top 100 debut after making her first WTA final in Prague, made her first major quarterfinal at Wimbledon by defeating her compatriot Karolina Pliskova, and took home her first WTA title in the fall in Seoul.
Thanks to a strong finish in the fall, which included a semifinal in Moscow and the WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai, the Olomuoc native finished the season right outside the Top 20 at No.21.
Muchova sat down with WTA Insider at the 2020 Qatar Total Open to reveal her strong athletic genes, why despite having been a top Czech junior prospect she's seemingly come out of nowhere in the last two seasons, and why the only "Plan B" that's ever on her mind is brunch.
WTA Insider: How did you come to play tennis?
Muchova: My father (Josef Muchov) played professional soccer in the first league in Czech. My brother and I did many sports when we were kids. I had courts 50 meters from where we lived. So I just picked up the racket and I played pretty good so I stuck with that. I was doing more sports, but then when I was about 12, I couldn't make it anymore with the time and I chose tennis over handball.
WTA Insider: At what point did you think you could become a professional tennis player?
Muchova: Honestly I don't really remember it, but I'm always very passionate about stuff I do. So when I said it's gonna be tennis, I was obviously going to school, but I was just always in my head was like, I'm gonna do tennis.
I never had a Plan B, which I don't know if it's good but I was going for tennis. Thankfully it worked out.
WTA Insider: How do you think having a professional athlete as a parent impacted you as a sportsperson?
Muchova: Well when we were kids, as I said with my brother, we were just moving. We were doing many, many things. I think he taught us how to move. We were looking up at him, going for football matches to cheer on him. It definitely gave me a lot.
WTA Insider: You've mentioned that you had to deal with a lot of injuries when you were younger and that hindered your development when you were younger.
Muchova: I completely missed juniors. On one side, I was doing school which was a pretty tough high school. On the other side, I was doing tennis but had little injuries.
I was growing up super fast. I was really, really small. When I was 16 I was tiny. And then [the growth] was super fast. So it was everything, my knees, my back.
From the club I didn't get such support. When I was a kid, I was like second or third in the Republic, so everyone is interested and wants to help you. But then I was injured and then nobody's calling you. I was disappointed in that. That was kind of hurting me, you know?
I always had it in my head. I saw players who I had beaten playing really good and I was like, I can also do that. But then I tried and again, I was injured. There was one point when I was already thinking, like, can I really still do it? Is my body going to let me play? But I never stopped.
When I healed, I started again from start and it was hard because I was going to some ITFs and I lost to girls I thought I should beat even though my rank was worse than theirs. I thought my game is better and I lost, so it was very tough to always build from the bottom. But yeah, I made it to the level where I could afford to take a physio with me, which really helped me.
I still take the physio with me on every tournament and now I can play. I still need to work a lot to be healthy.
WTA Insider: Was your family supportive of your decision to pursue a career?
Muchova: They're very supportive. There were some tough times, before my first U.S. Open when I did some big prize money like two years back. It was tough because I borrowed some money to play, so then I get some pressure from family.
But I'm a bit phlegmatic. I don't know if that's good. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's not. But I was still really believing in myself that I can do it.
I don't know what would happen if it wouldn't work out. But as I told you, it wasn't an option.
WTA Insider: You mentioned your breakout run at the 2018 US Open, where you were ranked outside the Top 200, qualified for your first Slam main draw, and made the third round, defeating Garbiñe Muguruza and Dayana Yastremska, and losing to future No.1 Ashleigh Barty. How big was that tournament for you?
Muchova: Well, it really helped me with the confidence. I already felt like I can do it. I can compete. I didn't know if I can beat them, but I know I can compete with them and maybe beat them. It's always tough to play the best players. There, it happened. I played good. Maybe I was a bit lucky.
I got some prize money and I invested in me because you have use it to get it. You have to invest. I could afford a physio, better coaches, I changed clubs and went to Prague. Many things happened and I think it was the right decision which helped me.
WTA Insider: What is the significance of moving to Prague? Why did you move to Prague?
Muchova: Because everyone is in Prague. Every tennis player is in Prague. I was practicing in a small city 20 minutes from Olomouc, where I'm from. There are no tennis players anymore. From the start, I didn't want to move to Prague. But there are better players. There's an airport, which is much easier than a 12-hour flight and still four hours to get home. In Prague there's a good club where I have everything.
I didn't feel so comfortable with that but now I'm super happy about it. I really like Prague now. It's good.
WTA Insider: What's your signature win so far?
Muchova: That's tough. I think I played pretty good in Zhuhai. Also in Moscow, maybe against Kuznetsova. I had many matches. I had confidence. I felt really good. So there I think I played my game.
WTA Insider: How are you enjoying life on tour?
Muchova: On one side it's a bit tough. It's many new things for me. But I cannot complain. I mean, life's good. If I would think about it three or two years ago, I would take it.
I'm very grateful for where I am. I need to not fall asleep and keep working because it's ups and downs. I'm looking forward to some good matches again this year.
I think for the last year, I really worked on some style and volleys and it was a big improvement. By the end of the year, I played really good. I felt good with my game still. There are some things I can improve, actually many things. But I played pretty good.
This year, I'm a bit struggling because I also had some injuries. I didn't put much in practice yet and I didn't have good matches this year. I think now I have to practice and get some confidence again.
I'm so slow, you know? Every start of my year is super slow. I'm just trying to get back into my game now. I'm a little bit looking for it.
WTA Insider: What do you like to do off-court?
Muchova: I like to go out with my friends, just chill. I like music a lot. I play some instruments. I play acoustic guitar.
I just like to be with my friends and family and chill and go to brunches.