Magical Rybarikova sparkles against ailing Mladenovic in Birmingham

Magdalena Rybarikova came from behind to beat Kristina Mladenovic in the second round of the Nature Valley Classic in Birmingham, 3-6 6-2 6-1.

The match was very tense from the beginning with three of the first four games going to deuce. Mladenovic was the player that made the first breakthrough in the match as she broke in the sixth game off a delightful drop shot, which is one of her trademark shots. Rybarikova started off a bit tentative and a bit unsure as to how to approach the match against a player that can put forward a lot of the variation in her shots as the Slovakian can. The Frenchwoman, who has struggled for form in the last twelve months and was looking to make a deep run here in Birmingham, needed a total of seven set points over two games to win the set and that little bit of momentum and increase in level from Rybarikova really looked to have helped her grow into the match and start the second set with a bit more confidence.

“Thank you. Well, yes, I would say I was playing much better in the second and third set, but I think Kristina was serving very well in the first set and I couldn’t somehow read the serves. And even at the end of the first set, I knew she was going to serve a lot of wide, but I couldn’t hit the right return at that moment. Then she deserves to win the first set. She was better. Then I think I was playing much better.”

“I think the first set, I was little bit passive. I didn’t go for it that much. Especially, as I said in the beginning, the returns weren’t that good I think, and, yeah, she went for it. She was playing her game. As I said, she deserved to win the first set. The second set I think I relaxed a little bit more. I was calmer, and in my head, everything brighter I would say. I was just taking my time, and then in the third set, everything worked for me.”

Not many could have really prepared for the change in momentum in the second set and particularly how one-sided the match turned into in the 3rd set. Mladenovic started misfiring early on in the rallies, but also had to deal with the fact that Rybarikova was asking more questions in the forecourt and forcing Mladenovic to come up with special passing shots. The change in tactic was something that really encouraged the Frenchwoman to try to find different ways to win and at times it really do hinder the level of her play. In the midway stages of the 2nd set, Mladenovic looked to be ailing from injury and started feeling her right wrist out at times and her level gradually got worse as the match went on. Missing easy forehands at the beginning of rallies and losing confidence point by point, Mladenovic really had not much more to give from the beginning of the 3rd set onwards and at one stage lost 12 of 15 points, with the momentum firmly in favour of Rybarikova.

The slice dropping to the feet of Mladenovic, and Rybarikova returning to the kind of service numbers she was able to produce in her previous match, were two standout features to her game. When Rybarikova feels she is serving at a high percentage that frees her game up from the baseline and helps her build confidence, which is how she managed to lose just one point on serve in the 3rd set.

The Slovakian continues to dominate the head-to-head against Mladenovic. All have been great battles, but Rybarikova now is 3-0 in their meetings and gets into her fourth quarterfinal at this tournament over the course of her career. It really is a welcome quarter-final for Rybarikova, who has many big points to defend during the grass season, none bigger than the semi-final points looming at Wimbledon.

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