PARIS -- Karolina Muchova's look of bemusement and confusion, when asked about the origins of her all-court, creative game style, speaks for itself. 

"I think it was always a little bit inside of me," Muchova said. "Since I was a kid I liked the great game in everything. I was very competitive, and I liked different things.

"Even if we look back on videos when I was really young, you would still find me going to the net and playing drop shots. So it was, I would say, always there."

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Traditional tennis aficionados will find Muchova's game a visual delight, and it will be on display Saturday when she plays her first major final at Roland Garros. Ranked No.43 after injuries knocked her out of much of the 2021 and early 2022 seasons, Muchova made good as one of the most dangerous unseeded players at a Slam. 

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She paved her own path here in Paris by ousting No.8 seed Maria Sakkari in the first round before beating another former semifinalist, Nadia Podoroska, in the second round. She then tacked on a trio of straight-set wins over 27th seed Irina Camelia Begu, Elina Avanesyan and 2021 runner-up Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. 

She was hardly done.

On Thursday, Muchova played her part in one of the most memorable major semifinals in recent years. Deploying her guile and all-court game, she upset World No.2 Aryna Sabalenka with a 7-6(5), 6-7(5), 7-5 win, saving one match point along the way. Down 5-2 in the third, Muchova kept her cool and held her nerve, an effort that won over the Parisian crowd.  

French Open: Scores | Order of play | Draw

All this on what she considers her least favorite surface.

"She’s old-school," Martina Navratilova said. "Classic tennis all around. No massive weapon, but her biggest weapon is her variety. 

"She’s got a nice slice, she slices it better than most, and you’re not going to get a lot of offense off the slice. And then quite often she throws in the drop shot. You just don’t know if she’s going to go for it or hit the drop shot. 

Muchova bests Pavlyuchenkova at Roland Garros; makes second major semifinal

"She’s comfortable anywhere on the court, and tennis is about making your opponent hit shots they don’t want to hit."

Muchova's acrobatics have landed her frequently on the monthly list of hot shots. In February in Dubai, she constructed a point that involved an impossible retrieval, an improvised flick volley before a tweener that left jaws gaping. 

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"When I was a little older, I was looking up to Roger Federer," Muchova said. "I liked his aggressive game and coming to the net and slices. For sure I took something from that and from other players as well.

"I like that game, and then we tried to work on it to make it better. So yeah, it works on big stages and against great players."

Muchova has enjoyed a number of memorable second-week runs at the Slams. There was her breakout at 2019 Wimbledon. In her tournament debut, she defeated countrywoman Karolina Pliskova 13–11 in the third set on her way to the quarterfinals. She followed that up with a surprising run at the 2020 Australian Open, where defeated No.1 Ashleigh Barty to make her first major semifinal. 

"I think with her it took even longer because she had so many injuries," Navratilova said. "She didn’t play much on the junior tour because she grew kind of late into her body and then with all those injuries, she didn’t get the match experience that most players have at her age. So it takes a while. 

Before her semifinal heroics, Muchova's run in Paris had been far more matter-of-fact. She defeated two seeds and a former finalist but had lost just one set. Her matches had been tidy and clinical. Considering how her sometimes fragile body has let her down in the past, Muchova felt fresh as she prepared to face Sabalenka. It showed in her physical and heady effort over 3 hours and 13 minutes.

She says the daily work she does with longtime coach Emil Miske has been about refining her instincts. Her goal these days is not to second guess herself. Go with her gut instincts. Execute the first option that comes to mind. It may not always be the right shot, but commitment is still better than indecision.

Navratilova suggests that possessing a diverse skill set can initially be challenging, as it requires a careful understanding of when and how to use each shot effectively. However, once this is mastered, it provides a pleasant dilemma. With experience, everything begins to fall into place.

"When you’re a baseliner, it’s much more simple, right?" Navratilova said. "You hit a backhand, a forehand, maybe five slices and two drop shots in match – that’s that. When you have that many options [like Muchova], it just takes longer to develop. And it’s nice when it comes together."