PRAGUE, Czech Republic - Wildcard Karolina Muchova ticked off another milestone in her irresistible rise through the rankings, sealing a place in her maiden final with a 6-2, 7-5 defeat of Bernarda Pera in one hour and 32 minutes in the J&T Banka Prague Open semifinals.
Playing just her seventh WTA main draw, Muchova had only one quarterfinal to her name prior to this week - in Doha in February, where she had beaten Samantha Stosur and Hsieh Su-Wei. Today, she faced an opponent with some remarkable parallels in her career record: both players first turned heads on their Slam debut with an upset of a Top 20 seed (Pera at the 2018 Australian Open over Johanna Konta, Muchova at the 2018 US Open over Garbiñe Muguruza); both players' previous biggest final was also on clay in the Czech Republic at the ITF W80 event in Olomouc (Pera was the 2017 champion and Muchova the 2018 runner-up); and both were shooting for their maiden WTA final today.
Muchova also ensures that the tournament's streak of at least one home player in the final continues. Since returning to the WTA Tour in 2015,every edition of Prague has featured at least one Czech in the title match - and Barbora Strycova has a chance to make it two later today, for what would be the seventh WTA final between players representing the Czech Republic, when she takes on Jil Teichmann in the second semifinal. Muchova's run also vindicates former World No.5 Lucie Safarova's generous decision to pass up a farewell wildcard in singles in favor of a younger, in-form compatriot.
The World No.106 was simply inspired in a first-set masterclass in which her multifaceted game clicked in every way: she would deliver seven clean winners, of which four were exquisitely executed dropshots. Relentlessly targeting the less lethal, more erratic Pera backhand, Muchova sped through 12 of the first 14 points, breaking the American twice en route to a 5-1 lead. Though the home player stumbled when serving the set out, a brilliant backhand winner down the line followed by another slew of Pera mistakes from that wing saw Muchova over the line on return.
Pera would open the second set by taking her frustration out on the ball. Pounding her groundstrokes with renewed ferocity, the World No.105 took advantage of two uncharacteristically poor dropshot attempts to power to a 2-0 lead. This set the scene for a sequence of riveting multi-deuce tussles as the contest caught fire.
Clinging on for dear life, Muchova was able to withstand Pera's aggression on return to stave off five points to fall behind a double break, showing off some spectacular reflexes in the process; Pera, swinging freely on her forehand, fended off two break-back points to hold for 3-1 despite Muchova coming up with a crowd-pleasing behind-the-back, through-the-legs defensive trick shot.
But two games later, Muchova would conjure perhaps her finest dropshot of the day, a forehand dink from well behind the baseline, to level the score anyway. And, after a spell of dominance behind the serve, it was another touch of Muchova magic that proved decisive.
With Pera serving at 5-6, 0-15, the wildcard hustled up to a dropshot from her 24-year-old rival, flicked over a counterdrop and then leapt up to hoist a breathtaking lob-volley over Pera's head, her 23rd winner of the day. One aired forehand and miscued backhand from the American later, and Muchova's place in the final was sealed.