TORONTO, Canada - Magdalena Rybarikova finds herself facing a World No.2 in the second round of her second straight tournament, but the circumstances couldn’t be more different for the Wimbledon semifinalist.
“Suddenly I’m No.33. Before Wimbledon I was like No.87,” she told WTA Insider after a straight-sets win over fellow surprise Grand Slam semifinalist Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. “But I just want to enjoy playing. I have Simona Halep next, which will be extremely difficult because she plays very well. I’ll be the underdog, but I hope to enjoy the match and that we both stay injury-free.
“We’ll see because grass is my most favorite surface and I feel much more confident there. I like playing on hardcourts too, but she’ll be the favorite and I hope I can play a good match for the crowd.”
The former BNP Paribas Open quarterfinalist may be downplaying her hardcourt expertise, but despite her whirlwind two weeks in London - where she knocked out future WTA World No.1 Karolina Pliskova en route to the final four - the Slovak star brought a relaxed attitude to the Rogers Cup, relieved to be away from the national spotlight for a few weeks.
“I came back home and had a lot of things to do, photoshoots and interviews. It was the first time that everything was that big. On one side, it was nice to get all that support, but on the other, I’m not the girl who likes to be in the lights.
“It was tiring for me, so I was happy to had to leave for another tournament, I have to say; it gave me a little bit of a break. It was a very warm welcome home, and I definitely enjoyed it, but I’m happy to be back on tour again.”
It was an odyssey getting there; Rybarikova’s six-week-old ranking didn’t guarantee her a spot in Toronto’s main draw, so she battled through qualifying, dealing with an upper left leg injury during a tough loss to Varvara Lepchenko. Still, the Slovak got in as a lucky loser, replacing Bank of the West Classic champion Madison Keys.
“I had some issues with my leg that still aren’t 100%. But I had a day off, so I was able to take some painkillers. I hope it’ll be better tomorrow. I’ve had this injury since Wimbledon, and I’m trying to do the best I can to make it better.”
Ranked as high as No.31 back in 2013, Rybarikova is two spots shy of her career-high, but with her results this season, but the veteran has arguably already proven capable of better than her previous best.
“All the players say that they want to be stronger than before. It’s weird to think, for me, because I just wanted to get back into the Top 100 and be healthy. I believed that I could get there if I stayed healthy. I didn’t expect things to happen so fast, because I was aiming to make the main draw at the Australian Open, and now I have a chance to be seeded at the US Open.
“I feel lucky and pleased with my game, especially with my health, so I’ve been able to practice and prepare well. The old injuries are gone; I have a little something different now, but I don’t think it’s serious like before.”
It’ll certainly be a serious match against Halep, whom she beat in their last encounter three years ago in New Haven, but a very different opponent than the likes of Pliskova or even Lucic-Baroni.
“It’ll be a completely different game. Lucic-Baroni plays extremely fast, and Halep tries to play more rallies. She runs very well, and she tries to also mix up the rhythm. It’s going to be very difficult because when she’s healthy, she’s obviously one of the best players in the world. She’ll be a favorite even to win the tournament. It’ll be on her to win, so I hope it’ll be a good match.”
For all the differences, some things remain the same for Rybarikova, who feels thoroughly unaffected by the Rogers Cup’s yearly switch between Montréal and Toronto.
“Both tournaments are very good, and they’re actually very similar venues. I like both, but here is a little bit difficult because the hotel is really far away. That’s been a bit of a struggle, to spend an hour in the car. At least the hotel is in the Downtown area, so that’s very nice because all the restaurants are there. Montréal is also a nice city with a nice venue, so it’s hard to pick a preference. I mean, I don’t speak French at all, so maybe I feel more comfortable here!
“A few years ago, I got a chance to explore the city, and it was really beautiful. As a tennis player, we don’t have too much time to explore, because then we get tired after two practices. I’m glad when I can get a good dinner, and so we’ll look for good restaurants. So far, all the places I’ve been have been great.”
Rybarikova takes on Halep in the first night match on Centre Court Wednesday night.