Slovakia’s Magdalena Rybarikova is thoroughly enjoying the grass court section of the women’s tour, following up her Surbiton win with a performance of real grit to overcome world No.43 Alison Riske, from the USA, 6-2, 6-7(5), 7-5 in a match that kept the Nottingham Open centre court crowd totally engrossed for two hours and 35 minutes.
Rybarikova was up against a player who also enjoys grass and was the beaten finalist in Nottingham last year and who has twice reached the semi-finals in Birmingham on the same surface. The Slovakian, who has been as high as No.31 in the rankings but his now down at No.117, won the Birmingham title in 2009, beating China’s Li Na, and her game is suited to the vagaries of the grass.
Throw in a gusting wind and you had difficult conditions for a match that saw both players happy to come to the net and volley – a rare sight in the modern game.
For Rybarikova, the win built on her Surbiton success that saw her defeat Britain’s Heather Watson in the final and having recovered from a knee injury that means she has been using a protected ranking, she said: "It is amazing that I am playing the quarter final (against American Kristie Ahn) after winning Surbiton because I am really tired. Alison is great on grass and it is her best surface and we practise together so I cannot be more happy.
“The wind was crazy and more difficult than it was at Surbiton and while it wasn’t a beautiful match I tried to change things with the back hand slice. It could have been easier because I had a match point in the second set and I didn’t give up or lose my confidence. I didn’t play for seven months because of my knee and it is a dream comeback playing with the protected ranking and winning Surbiton. I still don’t know if I am going to be in the Wimbledon main draw but we will see. I would love to play.”
With a game to suit grass one of the great mysteries is why Rybarikova has lost eight out of nine times in the Wimbledon singles first round. The only success came in 2015 when she reached the third round and she said: “I did have tough draws and last year I played against Eugenie Bouchard in the first round with a lot of pain from my knee. I love to play on grass at Wimbledon and got to the third round two years ago and I have to believe I can beat good players on the grass. Every player is beatable on grass – except for Serena Williams!”
Britain’s Johanna Konta also had to negotiate the strong wind to defeat her doubles partner Yanina Wickmayer and set up a quarter-final with former Wimbledon junior champion Ashleigh Barty. Konta, the world No.8, proved to be the more consistent player and the top seed is eager to see how well her Australian opponent performs on the grass.
Konta said: "I am really looking forward to the match with Ashleigh. I have never played her before so I don’t know too much about her, but I do know that she is a very talented player. She’s very creative so I’m looking forward to that challenge. It’s another great opportunity for me to compete on the surface. With every player it’s about accumulating as much time on the grass as possible. As it is quite a short season in the lead-up to Wimbledon, everyone is trying to have as many matches as they can."
Maria Sakkari of Greece beat American Christina McHale 1-6, 7-6(3), 7-5 while Lucie Safarova had to save two match points before edging past Chinese Taipei’s Su-Wei Hsieh 1-6, 6-3, 7-6(7). In the men’s competition, second seed Marius Copil recorded a straight sets win over American Reilly Opelka 6-3, 7-6(2) and will face another American in the last-eight when he takes on Bjorn Fratangelo.
Sam Groth overcame Britain's Brydan Klein 6-3, 6-4 to earn an all-Australian clash with John-Patrick Smith in the last eight.