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Garbine Muguruza vs Magdalena Rybarikova Wimbledon preview: Muguruza must end Rybarikova’s dream run to make a second Wimbledon final

Brendan O'Neill in Tennis 13 Jul 2017

Will Garbine Muguruza end the dream run of Magdalena Rybarikova in Thursday’s semifinals to make her second Wimbledon final?

Muguruza vs Rybarikova semifinal tennis is live from Wimbledon on Thursday at 1pm BST. Watch and bet on tennis live from Wimbledon at bet365 > live streaming > tennis

Slovakia’s unseeded Magdalena Rybarikova has ousted two contenders for the Wimbledon title and made it to a first Grand Slam semifinal – can her crafty game trip up former finalist Garbine Muguruza too?

For the seventeenth major tournament in a row, women’s tennis sees a first-time Grand Slam semifinalist in the final four of one of the game’s biggest events. At Wimbledon 2017, it’s the turn of Magdalena Rybarikova, the Slovak who has grappled with serious injury problems and come out the other side much stronger. 

Rybarikova has often been seen of something as an underachiever, with a career-high ranking of world no. 31 back in 2013, a handful of top-10 wins and two WTA Tour titles in Washington, D.C. in 2012 and 2013 not seeming like enough return on her obvious talent. The Slovak’s best surface was grass, but she had lost in the first round of Wimbledon in eight of her nine main-draw appearances (the exception was 2015, when she made the third round). 

Rybarikova’s last first-round defeat at Wimbledon, to Eugenie Bouchard in 2016, was the last match she would play for seven months as she underwent surgery to her left wrist and right knee. Many players never recover from an injury-enforced absence like that, but Rybarikova was clearly determined not to be one of them. The Slovak returned to competition with a ranking of world no. 200 in February, dropping to world no. 453 in March, but in her first five tournaments back, she won ITF $60k and $80k events and made semifinals at two $25ks. Playing the French Open on a protected ranking, Rybarikova beat nineteenth seed Coco Vandeweghe in the first round before losing to Mariana Duque Marino, but it's on grass that her really brilliant run came: She won the Surbiton $100k title, beating Heather Watson in the final, before making the semifinals of the Aegon Open in Nottingham, losing to Johanna Konta, and winning another $100k title in Ilkley.

As a result, Rybarikova came into Wimbledon as the most in-form player on grass courts and for once managed to translate her form elsewhere to the All England Club. She beat world no. 3 Karolina Pliskova and thrilled the Centre Court crowd with a dazzling display of all-court tennis in the second round before going on to beat Lesia Tsurenko and the equally in-form Petra Martic, who is also on the comeback after injuries, to make the quarterfinals. There she faced Vandeweghe again, but this time on the big-serving American’s preferred surface – her turf, if you will. It made no difference. Rybarikova was as dialed in as she has been all tournament, defending superbly but also moving on to the front foot and bamboozling the American with her sheer variety off the ground. Poor serving didn’t help Vandeweghe’s case and neither did her attitude. Even a three-hour rain delay and a move from No. 1 Court to Centre couldn’t put Rybarikova off her stride and she closed out a 6-3, 6-3 victory to make a first Wimbledon semifinal.

‘I was really not that nervous. I was very surprised because I was always thinking before when I was home, like, how nervous I would be when I was watching the other players to have match points and to get into the semifinal,’ Rybarikova said.  ‘I was really not that nervous. Maybe that's why I also made it.’

Pliskova and Vandeweghe were among the women who were hotly tipped to do well at Wimbledon, and both fell to Rybarikova’s quietly sparkling tennis. Could fourteenth seed Garbine Muguruza be her next victim?

Magdalena Rybarikova  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)6x5x4x3xNobody was talking about Muguruza coming into the tournament, which was for obvious reasons – the Spanish player had achieved little since winning her maiden Grand Slam title at the French Open in 2016, and lost in the second round of Wimbledon last year. But whether it’s the absence of her usual coach Sam Sumyk (and the presence of Conchita Martinez as her coach) or the liberating feeling of having the pressure to defend her Roland Garros title off her shoulders after falling in the fourth round to Kristina Mladenovic, I’m not sure Muguruza has ever played better than she has this fortnight. Rolling smoothly through the draw without dropping a set in the first three rounds, she was fantastic in a gritty 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory over top seed Angelique Kerber in what was one of the best matches of the tournament. Then against Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarterfinals, she got even better. Kuznetsova didn’t play a bad match, but one loose service game in the first set cost her and in the second, she just couldn’t quite find the answers to the barrage from Muguruza, who served brilliantly, stayed committed to her aggressive game plan even when she couldn’t quite execute and maintained her competitive intensity from the first ball to the last, looking every inch the player that stormed her way to the French Open title in 2016.

‘I'm not changing a lot of things,’ Muguruza said afterwards. ‘I think today was tough with the conditions, to be able to hit super clean, make a lot of winners. I have to maybe work more the point, especially with those kind of players that are very good defensively, they're very solid.’

Rybarikova is certainly talented defensively – and she’s been too solid for Muguruza in the past. The Spanish player is 2-2 against the Slovak, beating her twice in 2013 but losing on a fast indoors hard court in Paris the same year. More significantly, Rybarikova won their only semi-recent meeting, which also happened to be the only one on grass, at Birmingham in 2015 when Rybarikova won 6-3, 6-1.

‘She's amazing player. She's going to be favorite. Again, I'm here to enjoy the match. We'll see what's going to happen. I played her a few years ago on grass. I won that match, but Wimbledon semifinal is a little bit different,’ Rybarikova said. 

 ‘I saw her playing today. She was playing really well, very aggressive. I was very impressed the way she played. I just have to enjoy this match. Right now what is happening, it's just a dream. I'm so, so grateful for this opportunity to be in the semifinal.’

There’s nothing more dangerous than a player who feels like they have absolutely nothing to lose. It remains to be seen whether Rybarikova’s nervelessness can survive a huge occasion like a Wimbledon semifinal, but you wouldn’t want to rely on her getting tight, not on the evidence of her campaign so far. And while Muguruza is a much bigger server with much more powerful groundstrokes, Rybarikova has proven so good at frustrating bigger hitters, throwing off their rhythm with her excellent use of the slice backhand – something Muguruza’s opponents haven’t really thrown at her so far this week, and a brilliant tactic on grass – and general variety. This is not to say that I think Rybarikova is going to win. Muguruza, with her experience, her weapons and her current form, should win. But it’s not going to be easy for the Spanish star to make her second Wimbledon final – not at all. 

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