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    Sunday, June 30, 2024

    Karolina Muchova is Back at Wimbledon Without Old Expectations after Wrist Surgery

    Karolina Muchova was sure she would be back on the tennis tour, and back at a Grand Slam tournament, at some point, no matter how long it might take after an operation on her right wrist. Well, mostly sure.

    Except, naturally, when at times over the 10 months away, the doubts she was trying to ignore would creep in to the subconscious of someone who in 2023 was the French Open runner-up to Iga Swiatek and made it to the semifinals of the U.S. Open before losing to eventual champion Coco Gauff in New York in a match interrupted by a climate protest.

    “Of course it was in my head a little bit. You don’t know, right? Whatever surgery it is, you never know what’s going to happen. Will you ever play again or not?” Muchova said in an interview at Wimbledon, where she is scheduled to face Paula Badosa on Court 17 in the first round Monday in a matchup between two women who both have been ranked in the WTA’s top 10. “So I was trying not to think about it, but somewhere deep in my head, it was there.”

    Muchova is a 27-year-old from the Czech Republic who was in the midst of the best season of her career when she injured her racket-wielding arm. She wore a black sleeve on it during her match against Gauff on Sept. 7, reached that career-high ranking four days later and then did not play another match until last week’s grass-court tuneup event at Eastbourne.

    Surgery — her first as a pro, Muchova said — came in February. She didn’t pick up a racket again until about two months ago.

    “A wrist, for a tennis player, is a fragile thing. So I was, for sure, a little worried about it,” Muchova said. “You just have to trust the surgeon.”

    All in all, it was a rather dispiriting process for a player with a variety-filled, all-court game who reached the Australian Open semifinals in 2021 and was a quarterfinalist at the All England Club in 2019 and 2021, before last year’s successes.

    “I always liked how she plays. I think she can play great tennis on all surfaces, with her pretty clean technique and being able to play topspin but slice, as well. Really mix up the rhythm sometimes on the court. So it’s nice that she’s back,” said Swiatek, a five-time major champion who is the No. 1 seed at Wimbledon. “I just hope she’s going to be healthy, because she seems like a player that is really enjoying herself on the court. When she’s … pain-free and injury-free, she can really play great tennis.”

    Muchova wound up withdrawing before the quarterfinals in Eastbourne because her wrist felt stiff after a victory there; her doctor advised her to rest. But after a few days off, Muchova said she was doing OK and planned to play against Badosa.

    Here’s what’s different now for Muchova: She does not feel even a bit of pressure to perform. Not right away, anyway.

    “My mindset is, for sure: Now I have zero expectations. I’m really happy to be part of the tour again,” Muchova said. “I think I can get back up to my level. I still feel I can be even better than I was before. You can always learn, even from bad things like injury or surgery. I’m hoping to come back as a better player. But I cannot just jump right back in where I was 10 months (ago). I have to take it slowly and be easy on myself.” AP


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