Magdalena Rybarikova is an unfamiliar name and with good reason.
The 26-year-old Slovak is ranked 65th in the world, she has never made it into the second week of a grand slam and her run at Wimbledon this year was ended in the third round by the unheralded Belarusian, Olga Govortsova. Magdalena Rybarikova: you are unlikely to remember the name.
Yet Garbiñe Muguruza is unlikely to forget it in a hurry. When Muguruza renewed her relationship with grass in Birmingham last month, Rybarikova thumped her 6-3, 6-1 and the 21-year-old Spaniard was probably anticipating another speedy exit at Wimbledon. She moved on to Eastbourne, hoping for better, and the world No20 was on the wrong end of an upset against Britain’s Johanna Konta in the third round. Muguruza was just another in the long line of Spanish players who could not adapt to grass; that queue would stretch all the way from the front gates of the All England Club to Southfields tube station.
And now look. When Muguruza won her quarter-final in straight sets against Timea Bacsinszky on Tuesday, she became the first Spanish woman to reach the last four at Wimbledon since Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario 18 years ago. She is in wonderful form after successive wins over Bacsinszky, Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki, all of whom were seeded higher than Muguruza. Agnieszka Radwanska will be wary of her on Thursday.
If Muguruza reaches the final, she could become the first Spanish woman to win Wimbledon since Conchita Martínez in 1994. She was born in Venezuela but her father is Spanish and she declared her allegiance to Spain last year.
Muguruza eyed grass with suspicion the first time she encountered it. She struggled to deal with the speed and remembers thinking she never wanted to see the green stuff again after her first experience on it ended in defeat to Australia’s Casey Dellacqua in Birmingham three years ago. “The bounce of the ball was weird,” Muguruza said.
So it is a surprise that this is Muguruza’s first semi-final at a major. Her breakthrough moment was a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Serena Williams on the dust of Roland Garros last year and she has been a French Open quarter-finalist in the past two years. Yet Rafael Nadal honed his game to become the king of clay and the winner of two Wimbledon titles, and it is felt Muguruza has the weapons to reign here. After beating Bacsinszky, she spoke about her admiration for four former Wimbledon champions. She is intent on combining the power and aggression of the Williams sisters with the focus and intensity of Maria Sharapova and she appreciates the talent of Martina Hingis.
Against all expectations, Muguruza is learning to love grass. Radwanska, a beaten Wimbledon finalist three years ago and a semi-finalist a year later, will hope Muguruza’s love affair at SW19 is just a brief fling.
Her guile and varied approach will mess with Muguruza’s equilibrium and test the strength of her commitment to the surface she once loathed.
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