The Curious Case of Magdalena Rybarikova

There are players on both the ATP and WTA Tours who are naturally talented; as we know, some don’t work as hard as others, and their results attest to that. Others are not as naturally gifted athletes, but push themselves to the limits and work themselves hard every day to maximize every bit of their potential. However, there are a small, select few that don’t fall completely into either group. You can argue their games have stagnated, that they haven’t improved in their time as professionals, or that they aren’t making full use of their skill set. Nonetheless, every so often, the draw goes right and they come out in the winner’s circle.

Magdalena Rybarikova is one of those players.

Rybarikova, like her contemporaries, had a solid career on the junior circuit. She reached the final at the junior Wimbledon event in 2006; en route, she defeated familiar WTA names in Ksenia Pervak, Alisa Kleybanova and Tamira Paszek before falling in three sets to Caroline Wozniacki in the finals. Rybarikova’s senior breakthrough came in 2009, again on grass; she won her first title in Birmingham, defeating among others, Zheng Jie, Urszula Radwanska and Li Na (with a bagel!) in the final.

She has never won a match in the main draw of the women’s singles event at Wimbledon.

She’s won two WTA titles on hard courts, both in the United States. She defeated Rebecca Marino to win Memphis in 2011, and defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova to win in Washington, D.C. in 2012. She made the third round at the US Open twice, in 2008 and 2009.

She has never won a match in the main draw of the women’s singles event at the Australian Open.

With up and down results like these, what has made the Slovakian successful and enabled her to win not just one but three WTA titles in her career? Many higher-ranked and arguably more accomplished peers including Shuai Peng, Tsvetana Pironkova, and Christina McHale are still title-less, so how has Rybarikova done it?

There’s something about Rybarikova that just exudes nonchalance. Perhaps it’s her all-court game, a breath of fresh air when she’s playing well. Perhaps it’s her calm demeanor; you usually can’t tell if she’s winning or losing, and she is rarely phased by anything on court. Or perhaps it’s her ability to fly under the radar for almost her entire career, as countrywomen Daniela Hantuchova and Dominika Cibulkova have taken the headlines. Her best career win came in 2011 at an ITF $100,000 event in Prague, where she defeated Petra Kvitova, ranked No. 10 at the time, in the final.

Despite all that, consistency has been the biggest thing that’s been lacking in Rybarikova’s career. Having peaked at a career-high of No. 40 in 2009, Rybarikova’s years on the WTA have ranged from solid to dreadful. She ended 2007 ranked No. 279, and finished the next year inside the top 60 at No. 58. In 2010 however, she finished back down at No. 104 before finishing 2011 at No. 72. In July of last season, Rybarikova’s ranking plummeted back to No. 122, but a quarterfinal in Baku and the title in Washington D.C. firmly cemented her back in the top 100.

A talented player, Rybarikova has no business languishing around in the third and fourth tier of women’s tennis; while not a world beater, she has the skills to be solid. Something else Rybarikova’s lacked in her career is a big win at the WTA level; one where all parts of her game click and her talent shines through. Perhaps a win over Venus Williams in the quarterfinals at the WTA event in Florianopolis, her second straight quarterfinal after losing in the semifinals of Memphis, on Thursday evening could help her do just that.

Eugenie Bouchard eager for her next tennis transition

By Melissa Boyd

Dec. 3, 2012 — Eugenie Bouchard has been on the Canadian tennis radar for almost as long as she has been swinging a racquet. Labeled early on as the potential ‘next one’ to follow in the footsteps of Carling Bassett-Seguso, Helen Kelesi, and Aleksandra Wozniak, Bouchard has begun carving her own path to greatness thanks to a breakout season in 2012.

The 18-year-old native of Montreal made history in July when she was crowned girls’ singles and doubles champion at Wimbledon, becoming the first Canadian ever to win a Grand Slam singles title. Bouchard actually won 19 consecutive matches this summer with her Wimbledon triumph sandwiched between titles at the ITF junior event in Roehampton and the $25,000 pro Challenger in Granby.

“Winning Wimbledon was a really tough tourney. It was a junior (event). I had the pressure all week. People expected me to win because I was playing women younger than me. So it was a big mental test and I was really proud that I was able to come through,” said Bouchard in an interview last week with a select group of reporters.

Many in attendance on Court 1 at SW19 were impressed with Bouchard’s poise and maturity in posting a convincing win over Elina Svitolina in the Wimbledon girls’ singles final on one of the biggest stages in tennis. She put her mental toughness on display at the Rogers Cup in Montreal when she out-toughed Shahar Peer, one of the best competitors in the women’s game, to earn her first Top 50 victory.

Perhaps the most impressive stretch of Bouchard’s year came during the Fall indoor season when she put her aggressive style of play on full display, reaching the final at the Saguneay Challenger and the following week winning her first $50,000 Challenger in Toronto. Bouchard suffocated her opponents with her offense-first mentality, losing just a handful of games en route to the title in Toronto and dominating Melanie Oudin in the Saguenay semifinals. The run secured her place in the Australian Open qualifying draw which will be her first Grand Slam as a pro.

“I had great coaches when I was young and they taught me to take the ball on the rise. I think that’s it really important in the women’s game,” said Bouchard. “Of course you want to hit fast, but you want to hit it early as well … Hitting it fast takes time away from your opponent.”

With 2012 now in her rear view mirror and the tennis world at her fingertips, Bouchard is ready to make the transition to becoming a full-time WTA pro in 2013. She is fully aware of the challenges awaiting her if she wants to prove that her 2012 campaign was no fluke.

“The top players in the world have a little something extra,” said Bouchard. “They don’t make mistakes and they don’t give you any free points, you have to earn them.”

Even though her career is just getting started, Bouchard is already turning heads off the court as much as she is impressing on it. Their obvious physical likeness and similar game styles have people drawing comparisons between the Canadian and her idol Maria Sharapova. Not to mention that Bouchard was recently chosen by Sharapova to wear her line of Nike tennis clothing. She is the whole package and her bubbly personality is a hit with fans. Even though it’s early, it’s hard not to get wrapped up in the excitement surrounding Bouchard and she knows that the onus is now on her to deliver on those expectations and send a message that the future is now.

“There is pressure from everyone around me, but I already put a lot of pressure on myself,” said Bouchard. “It’s nice to know that people think I am going to be good because that’s what I believe too, but I have to focus on what I have to do to become that player.”