PARIS -- Kirsten Flipkens has had the best seat in the house for Karolina Muchova's run to her first Grand Slam final at Roland Garros. Since the Australian Open, the 37-year-old Belgian doubles player has served as an advisor and mentor for the crafty Czech, helping guide Muchova back toward the top of the game.
"We played against each other three years ago at the Australian Open," Flipkens said in Paris. "After that match I thought, Damn, this girl is really talented. She can really go far in every tournament she plays."
Flipkens retired from singles last year at Wimbledon but has continued her doubles career on the Hologic WTA Tour. At this year's Australian Open, Muchova asked Flipkens if she could help her if they were playing the same tournaments. Already well settled with her coach, Emil Miske, Muchova wanted to tap into Flipkens' experience and insight to help her prepare for matches and manage life on tour.
Flipkens did not hesitate to say yes. But she also needed to know just how ambitious the soft-spoken 26-year-old Czech was.
"She's always been clear about that," Flipkens said. "'If my body is fine, I know I have the capabilities to go to the Top 10 and win a Grand Slam.'"
Flipkens was relieved to know Muchova was shooting for the upper echelons of the game.
"Everyone has seen her playing, everyone knows she has a really nice game style and not a lot of weaknesses in her game. It was just a matter of getting the body in one piece."
"Beginning of the year she was ranked 150. She was just a rough diamond that needed to get polished. I think it's important for her to have good structure on and off the court. Everything is falling into place."
Muchova is now a win away from crossing off both her goals of winning a Slam and securing her Top 10 debut after Paris.
"What I've learned throughout my own career is that the tennis player only needs to think about the tennis ball and that's it," Flipkens said. "For everything else you have to try and take as much weight off the shoulders of the player.
"Sometimes it's stupid things, but it helps in the end. It's all in the details. The further you go in the tournament, the less time you can spend on things that don't really matter."
Whatever Muchova's team is doing to manage Muchova's body and energy levels in Paris paid off incredibly in her physical win over No.2 Aryna Sabalenka in the semifinals. Despite cramping in the third set and falling behind 5-2, Muchova stayed mentally focused, saving a match point to seal a stunning three-set win.
As Muchova now prepares to take on No.1 Iga Swiatek, the challenge for the team is to make sure her sole focus on Saturday is the tennis ball in front of her. Not since Svetlana Kuznetsova in 2009 has a player defeated the World No.1 and No.2 en route to a major title.
"She's playing the best player in the world tomorrow," Flipkens said. "For me, it's clear that Kaja has nothing to lose, she can go on court and play her game and enjoy it as well. I know that if she enjoys it she will play her best tennis.
"It's going to be a tough match but she got a big confidence boost yesterday against Sabalenka, to know that she is a great player and she's capable of beating everyone. If we can get her ready mentally and physically, then I am really looking forward to a pretty exciting match."
With her win over Sabalenka, Muchova is an astounding 5-0 vs. Top 3 opponents in her career. The last player to pull that off since the WTA rankings began? Martina Navratilova.
Can she make it 6-0 on Saturday?
“The further you go in a tournament, the higher ranked players you're playing and the less weaknesses there are," Flipkens said.
"But nobody is a machine. Nobody is a robot. So we'll see.”