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.