Qualifying begins: 26 June
The Draw: 30 June
Pre-event Press Conferences: 1 & 2 July
Order of Play: 2 July
Championships begin: 3 July
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Martina Navratilova had tipped her compatriot Karolina Pliskova to lift the Venus Rosewater Dish nine days hence, but instead the No.3 seed found herself dumped out of The Championships in the second round for the fifth successive year.
The world No.87 Magdalena Rybarikova came into this match on scorching form, having won 14 of her 15 matches on grass this summer. The 28-year-old Slovakian forced her way back from a set and a break down to win 3-6, 7-5, 6-2 in two hours and 17 minutes. She will face the world No.35 Lesia Tsurenko for a place in the second week.
Rybarikova’s performance was all the more remarkable given that just four months ago, in mid-March, she was ranked 453 having been forced off the tour for six months as a result of surgeries to her right knee and left hand (she plays right-handed).
Having been ranked as high as 31 back in 2013, she had no expectation of re-entering the top 100 this year, but with the advent of the grass court season she won Challengers at Surbiton and Ilkley, and made the semi-finals at Nottingham.
Moreover, while it will be no surprise to learn that one of these players was making her Centre Court debut, actually Rybarikova was the one with the relevant experience. She could call on lessons learned during her straight sets defeat to Eugenie Bouchard on the hallowed turf in the first round here 12 months ago.
Incongruously, it was Pliskova who had never trodden the sacred territory before – remarkable for a player who is currently the best in the world. She tops the Race To Singapore, which reflects the most up-to-date form of the women’s tour, as a result of her win at Eastbourne last week.
Afterwards, Pliskova denied that leading by a set and a break constituted control of the match, although puzzlingly she also said she was “close to winning”.
“I played one bad game overall in second set, and otherwise I don’t think I did something wrong,” declared Pliskova. Asked about the fact that she can still become No.1 unless Simona Halep makes the semi-final or Angelique Kerber reaches the final, she was sanguine.
I played one bad game overall in second set, and otherwise I don’t think I did something wrong
“For me the tournament is over. I’m not going to pray for someone losing or winning. I’m just going to take off and wait. I have a lot of time to prepare till my next tournament in Toronto. I will make sure I prepare well, but for me now it's vacation time.”
Navratilova has remarked how puzzling it is that Pliskova has made so little impact on grass before this year. But observers have likened the No.3 seed’s game to two-time Wimbledon champion Lindsay Davenport’s, and as of this year she has been coached by David Kotyza, who steered Petra Kvitova to two Wimbledon crowns.
The first set was a doughty battle. Once Rybarikova had got past a 13-minute, seven-deuce hold in her opening service game, she stayed with her opponent right up to 4-4, but then her own mistakes coupled with a pair of killer winners from Pliskova saw the defences breached; and when Pliskova served out to love, it must have felt to Rybarikova as if this intensely close set had slipped through her fingers in the blink of an eye.
But even a break down in the second, Slovakia’s No.2 (behind Dominika Cibulkova) would not surrender. She drew on all the confidence of her excellent grass form and levelled.
If the Czech was frustrated by her own failure to capitalise, it did not show for a moment – she was as always a study in poker-face impassivity.
That habitual characteristic of giving so little away, with no taste for drama of any kind, is perhaps a contributory reason why the tennis public is still getting to know her – that and the fact that she had not been beyond the third round of any Slam when she was runner-up to Kerber at last year’s US Open, with her semi-final win over Serena Williams there bringing her to the attention of many.
So it was all the more startling when uncharacteristic errors from the Czech saw the second set escape her grasp. In the decider she broke back after finding herself an early break down, but instead of overhauling her opponent it was Pliskova who was herself worn down. The Slovakian ultimately won at a canter, taking it with a backhand crosscourt winner on her first match point.
So on a day when forecast thunder showers failed to materialise in SW19, instead it was the quiet storm of Magdalena Rybarikova who reigned on Centre Court.