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Getting To Know... Magdalena Rybarikova

This quietly determined young Slovak reveals a secret hankering for adventure in the desert.

Published August 06, 2009 05:17

Getting To Know... Magdalena Rybarikova
Magdalena Rybarikova

BAD GASTEIN, Austria - Along with Russia, France, China and Spain, Slovakia is one of a handful of countries that can boast three players in the current Top 50 - not bad for a nation of fewer than 6 million people. And while 20-year-old Magdalena Rybarikova currently ranks as the Slovak No.3, she has something that her top-ranked compatriot Dominika Cibulkova doesn't - a singles title to her name on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour.

That win came on grass at the AEGON Classic at Birmingham in June, with fine wins against Chinese stars Zheng Jie and Li Na along the way. But maybe it wasn't such a surprise, given the 5'11" (1.8m) right-hander was runner-up to Caroline Wozniacki in the Wimbledon juniors in 2006. Having improved her ranking from No.279 to No.58 over the course of 2008, Rybarikova's ranking subsequently reached a new high of No.40, and she is trading around that mark at the moment.

Sonyericssonwtatour.com spoke with Magdalena after her recent quarterfinal run at the Nürnberger Gastein Ladies, before the three-time Tour hardcourt semifinalist set off to the US to launch her North American campaign at next week's Western & Southern Financial Group Women's Open in Cincinnati.

What's your background in tennis?
MR: I started to play when I was eight in my home town of Piestany, where there are lots of tennis courts, and when I was 15 I left to train at the national tennis centre in Bratislava. My coach now is Mojmir Mihal and my fitness trainer is Ladislav Olasz.

Tell us about your family.
MR: My mom's name is Maria and my father, Anton, is a business manager. My sister Nada is 22 and studying law at university. My brother Filip is 21 and works for a building company in Bratislava. And we have an Irish setter - her name is Sindy.

Piestany is Slovakia's most famous spa town. Do you enjoy 'taking the waters'?
MR: For sure. Actually, I still go back there at the end of every season to relax and recover my body with the various treatments.

Do you feel different after your tournament win?
MR: I played very well at Birmingham and it was definitely the best moment of my career so far, but three days before Wimbledon I got a shoulder injury and I lost in the first round. After that I had to pull out of Budapest and only started to play five days before the start of Prague, where I lost again in the first round. It's not that I don't like clay, but it's not my best surface, so I am happy to have reached the quarters in Bad Gastein. But I haven't really built on the momentum of the title as I would have liked. I'm looking forward to the hardcourt season for a fresh start.

What do you feel you need to do to take your game to the next level?
MR: I need to keep working hard on all the physical stuff. Sometimes I have problems in tough three set matches - I can get a bit tired, so my endurance can be improved. And I need more muscles!

You are part of a strong Fed Cup team, with Cibulkova and Daniela Hantuchova. What's it like being part of that environment?
MR: I enjoy Fed Cup a lot, the mood is good, especially playing at home. The pressure of the situation is also good experience for Tour tournaments. This year we only just missed out on returning to the World Group but I think we have a great chance next year with this team. Obviously we know each other's games very well but I have never played Daniela or Dominika on Tour. That could be tough - a different kind of pressure.

What's the best thing, and the hardest thing about life on Tour?
MR: I like to play tennis, I like to be at tournaments, but at the same time I don't really like being 'here' one day, 'there' the next. I don't enjoy the travel, the flying or being in the car. I miss my friends, and of course my family - although that was worse when I was younger. And I miss the food at home.

This might be a silly question, but do you have a favorite tournament?
MR: I love to play on grass, so I always loved Wimbledon, but, I would have to say Birmingham now. I also really like the US Open.

If you could play one of the retired greats, who would you like to take on?
MR: I really liked the way Martina Hingis played tennis - she was very smart on the court. I respect the fact she was a Grand Slam champion at such a young age. And she was born in Slovakia. He's not retired and I won't get to play him, but I'm a big fan of Roger Federer too.

If you could steal a shot from another player, what would it be?
MR: It's not a stroke but I admire Safina's fighting spirit. She's a big fighter and has worked really hard to get to No.1.

Do you have any superstitions?
MR: I have a toy bear, a lucky teddy that I have carried with me for three years. It was a gift, but I won't tell you who from!

The photo of you on your player bio on Sonyericssonwtatour.com is quite glamorous, slightly retro. Do you enjoy off-court activities like that?
MR: The shots were taken for a newspaper in Slovakia earlier in the year and it was a very nice experience. It was great to be pampered by professional make-up artists and stylists. They chose the look but I was really happy with it. Generally, though, I'm more low key. I'm not a big party-goer, you don't usually find me at discos or bars. I like going to the cinema, having coffee with my friends, chatting on the internet.

What are your tennis goals at present?
MR: At the start of the year I said I wanted to be Top 20, but that will be very hard to achieve now. I'm playing in some tough tournaments and I have points to defend, and the season is more than half over. Maybe Top 30 is still within reach this year, and perhaps Top 20 next year. Then Top 10. Of course, ultimately I hope to be No.1 and win a Grand Slam, but I'll have to work hard and gain more confidence. I'm only turn 21 in October, so I'm not old. I have time.

If not tennis…
MR: I might have studied archaeology… I like the Indiana Jones movies!

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