The Fairy Tale of Magdalena Rybarikova

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This year’s Manic Monday gifted fans some utterly entertaining matches, as far as the Ladies’s singles is concerned. Slam Champions facing each other, grass specialists against super in-form players, Race To Singapore Top 10 players battling one another, and much more.

Aside from these big matches, on Court 18, an “outsider R16”  took place. Two unseeded players, both with a heartwarming comeback history, faced each other in order to earn their first ever Slam quarterfinal. Petra Martic, a Croatian player ranked outside Top 600 in April, was set to play against Magdalena Rybarikova from Slovakia. The Slovak player managed to come back from 2-4 in the opening set, eventually winning it 6-4. The Croatian, then, was able to react and to force a decider, winning the second set 6-2. Closing it on the first match point, Rybarikova eased past her opponent 6-3 in the final set, to play her maiden Slam quarterfinal ever in her 36th attempt. After match point, her face was lit up with one of the best smiles you’ll see on a tennis court. And if we look at what she went through earlier this year, we’ll definitely understand the reason of that smile!

In the same week that Daniela Hantuchova announced her retirement from professional tennis, Slovak tennis fans are kept warm by the fairy tale of Magdalena Rybarikova. Her last appearance at late stages of big tournaments has to be found at last year’s Indian Wells, when she managed to reach the quarterfinals. From then on, though, she had to go through multiple surgeries and physical issues that made her fall down to #423 in the WTA ranking. At first, she suffered some troubles concerning her left wrist, troubles that were so serious that she couldn’t hit a two-handed backhand and could only slice it – a slice that, honestly speaking, is gorgeous, and has been a key in this Wimbledon run. However, the love for the sport and probably the fear of undergoing a surgery kept her on court, playing some ITFs during Spring 2016. A choice that, afterwards, proved to be the worst one. Indeed, she injured her knee, too, and eventually she was forced to stop playing. Rybarikova, then, underwent two surgeries, to fix her wrist, first, and her knee, secondly, and then started her rehab.

She started 2017 together with her compatriots in the Fed Cup round against Italy. Of course, she wasn’t ready to play, though she was there to support the other women. She told reporters that in that occasion, various people asked her whether she had definitely retired from professional tennis, since it was a while she hadn’t shown around. This, together with her ranking falling down week after week, made it very hard for the Slovak to find the strength to come back.

Life, though, is a roller coaster, and after every low there is a high waiting for you to go for it. And indeed, things started to turn around for Rybarikova. She played an ITF event in Germany that gave her the answer she had been hoping for so long: she didn’t have any pain, not with her wrist, nor with her knee. She finally could play tennis matches again!

In a couple of months, she won three ITF titles–two of which were on grass–and reached the semifinals in the WTA Nottingham, losing to Johanna Konta. Thanks to the Special Ranking, she entered the main draw at Roland Garros, beating CoCo Vandeweghe in the first round, before surrendering to Mariana Duque-Marino 8-6 in the decider in her next match. Hence, Rybarikova came back into the WTA Top 100, a goal which really surprised the Slovak, who said in an interview she would hope to finish the year inside the Top 200.

The Special Ranking allowed her to enter Wimbledon, too. After a win against Monica Niculescu, in a “battle of slices”, she surprised the tennis world defeating Karolina Pliskova, coming back from a set and a break down, lighting up the Center Court with her magistral touch. The entrance in the second week was then secured with her straight set win against Lesia Tsurenko.

Funnily enough, Rybarikova’s opponent in the quarterfinals is going to be CoCo Vandeweghe, whom she beat a month ago in Paris. Clearly, on grass everything is going to be different, since this surface is perfectly suitable with CoCo powerful serve and groundstrokes. However, considering we’re dealing with Wimbledon quarterfinals, Vandeweghe is definitely a good opponent, and the ending of the match is not that obvious. Moreover, Rybarikova have some experience in facing hard-hitting opponents, since she ousted Karolina Pliskova in the second round, slowing her powerful shots down with patience and slices. A tactic that could really cause different troubles to Vandeweghe, too.

The sky is the limit, they say. Making a prediction about who is going to reach the final in Wimbledon is really a hard job, and Rybarikova’s chances are actually not that low. She probably knows that, and I’m sure tomorrow she is going to enter the court fully motivated.

Her fairy tale could continue… let’s see where it’ll end.

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