INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- Karolina Muchova had already accomplished a number of significant career milestones before this year. The 26-year-old Czech was an Australian Open semifinalist just two years ago. Wins over a reigning World No.1? She's done it.
Four years ago in Seoul, Muchova won her first (and only) title. Then in 2021, she broke into the Top 20.
And yet, the crafty Czech had yet to play a match at the BNP Paribas Open before this year. It was an odd statistic to unearth, a vacancy in her career CV that served as a reminder of the ill-timed injuries that have plagued her promising career and frustrated fans of her creative game style.
"The tournaments where I have a day off, it helps a lot," Muchova told WTA Insider. "When you play every day, play Top 20 players, it's hard for everyone.
"With me, the injuries that I had are coming back a little bit, so we have to be cautious. In the past I was like, 'Just let me go,' then I go, and I would have terrible injuries. Even if I won, I wouldn't play for a month. I'm a hardhead. I don't like to give up. I always want to play so [my team] need to hold me back."
So far, Muchova's Indian Wells has gone smoothly. Now ranked No.76 after back and abdominal injuries derailed her last season, Muchova has tallied wins against Yulia Putintseva and two-time champion and former No.1 Victoria Azarenka to advance to the third round, where she will face No.23 seed Martina Trevisan.
Muchova's strong showing through the first week of Indian Wells comes off a promising set of performances in February. In Dubai, she narrowly lost to No.5 Caroline Garcia in a high-quality duel, losing 6-7(3), 7-5, 6-4. A week later, she plotted a path to the quarterfinals in Dubai, her deepest run at a WTA 1000 since 2021 Madrid.
Muchova withdrew ahead of her quarterfinal matchup against No.3 Jessica Pegula with an abdominal injury, but her two weeks in the Middle East boosted her confidence.
"I think even at the end of last year I had matches that were three-setters or close matches, and I always lost," she said. "Even in Australia, it was a super-tiebreak there, Caro Garcia in Doha. I needed that little spark to turn it. But I feel with every match I'm better and better."
Muchova's shot-making and court vision has made strides with each match. From tweeners to impossible stick volleys, a Muchova in full flight is a reliable highlight-reel generator. Gifted with preternatural anticipation and racquet control, Muchova's ability to improvise remains second to none.
"It's not that I plan to play the point like that," Muchova said. "I think since I was a kid I'm very creative. Sometimes it's too much. Sometimes it's a trick shot, sometimes it's something terrible and I'm like, what am I doing? I try to find the balance, but I don't think of it. It's just instinct."
Helping her hone her instinct and court vision is another one of the tour's hot-shot masters, Kirsten Flipkens. When the two are at the same tournament, the Belgian has been helping Muchova warm up and offering her perspective from the stands.
"She's been around for quite a while," Muchova said. "It started when I was still working with David [Kotyza] because she's a great friend of his. She would warm me up and help me out.
"She's super chill, and also she has a good eye. Our games are similar with the slices, so she has good thoughts and I appreciate it. Four eyes are better than two. To get something from my coach and what she sees, it's nice."
For now, Muchova is focused on getting her ranking up to the point where she can comfortably gain direct entry into WTA 1000 and WTA 500 events.
"A little bit cautious with the plan, but I want to play the big tournaments and focus on those and then whatever my body lets me play I'll play.
"I'm at their level, or at least closer to getting there. It shows me that I have to play matches. I really miss playing. I need to play more to get the good feeling on the court, but I think I'm on the good way."