BIRMINGHAM, Great Britain - Former champion Magdalena Rybarikova and two-time runner-up Barbora Strycova set up an intriguing semifinal encounter at the Nature Valley Classic with a pair of straight-set victories in Friday's quarterfinals.
The unseeded Slovak ended the run of Slovenian qualifier Dalila Jakupovic in the first quarterfinal played on Ann Jones Center Court, 6-2, 6-4 while Strycova edged a tight opening set against Lesia Tsurenko before the Ukrainian was forced to retire with an injury in the second set at 7-5, 3-0.
Rybarikova, the 2009 champion when Birmingham was an International event, will face Strycova, who's reached the final twice since the event was elevated to Premier status in 2014 and 2016, will square off for the fifth time in Saturday's semifinal.
"[Winning here] was a huge moment obviously because I remember [Maria] Sharapova was here, Li Na was here that year," the Slovak said.
"I would never say I could win this tournament. I was very young and kind of didn't know what to expect. It was my first final and I managed to win. It was a huge moment for my career and then I realized I had quite a good game for grass."
After trading breaks with the qualifier early in the opening set, Rybarikova moved ahead by winning the last four games, and later made a break in the first game of the second set stand up for the duration.
"I think I was playing well and I was sticking with my plan, but that was the key today," Rybarikova said after the match.
"If I gave her a lot of rhythm, then that's the game that she likes, so that's why I was changing the rhythm. I was playing lot of slice - more patient, yes, in some moments, but when I had a ball to kill, I'd kill it. I think I just played pretty good match today.
"She started to play more aggressive and I think she was more loose because she had nothing to lose. It's always tough to serve it out, and I was getting pretty tight in the last game, but I was pretty pleased with how I was playing until then."
After having seen Jakupovic save nearly a half-dozen match points in her first round victory over No.7 seed Elise Mertens, the Slovak needed to be wary as three match points slipped away as Jakupovic served to stay in the match.
Last year's Wimbledon semifinalist saved two break points in the final game which would've seen the Slovenian level the match, and finally booked her spot in the last four in 70 minutes.
"Everybody expected if I'm No.19 in the world, I'm supposed to win, but I don't think it's like that," she said. "It's like the first round against [Karolina] Pliskova, I was the outsider and I won the match. You have to always be prepard for everything."
Overall, the Slovak served seven aces and saved six of the seven break points she faced in the victory, and will look to score her first meeting this decade against the World No.24.
The Czech has won the last three meetings, all at WTA level, and Rybarikova's lone win came on the ITF Circuit in 2007.
"I think everything is tricky about Barbora because she is really very talented, extremely talented player. She knows what I know. It's little bit different. It's going to be someone similar to me. It's not going to be easy. I lost to her I think twice last year," the Slovak assessed.
"It's going to be definitely tough match because she serves well. She returns well. She feels great on the grass. She played twice the final here. She feels very good here. I hope it's going to be entertaining for the people and for us maybe. Hopefully, it's going to be a good match."