Every week Baseline will select a “Player of the Week.” That athlete may not always win the highest category tournament that week, but perform the best compared to their recent playing history.
To understand Magdalena Rybarikova’s journey in 2017 takes going back to where it started in February: Altenkirchen—a town of about 6,000 people in western Germany. There, she opened her season playing a $25,000 event that paid her $1,144 before taxes for reaching the semifinals.
The former world No. 31 was down to No. 200 following wrist and knee surgeries, and while it wasn’t glamorous, an ITF Pro Circuit event was a start, and not as easy start at that.
“Eight years ago, playing at that level, it was much more different and the girls didn’t play that well. Right now, they really play quite well,” Rybarikova told WTA Insider last week. “I lost easily there [in the semifinals], but my body was destroyed. I had a few tough matches along the way, but I was happy with how I played. I was positive and really glad to have no pain.”
It was not about making the semifinals, winning the title or even losing in the first round, which the Slovakian said “wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world.” It was about playing pain-free, and beginning the road back to where she once was, despite the total prize fund in Altenkirchen being significantly less than the check a first-round loser receives at Wimbledon.
Only one player in that draw would end up in the Wimbledon main draw: Rybarikova.
Despite falling as low as No. 453 in the rankings as her 2016 points fell away, the 28-year-old would win four ITF Pro Circuit events to fight her way back into the Top 100. And while she made some noise in Paris by upsetting No. 19-seeded CoCo Vandeweghe, the best was still yet to come.
Turning to grass, she won two ITF Pro Circuit $100,000s and reached the semifinal in Nottingham.
Now, for the very first time Rybarikova advanced to the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam, upsetting third-seeded Karolina Pliskova in the second round, 3-6, 7-5, 6-2.
Serving up a *massive* upset….— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 6, 2017
Magdalena Rybarikova downs No.3 seed Karolina Pliskova 3-6, 7-5, 6-2 in the shock of the tournament so far pic.twitter.com/KLMrognL27
In a sense, Pliskova’s set and a break lead was daunting. But in another, Rybarikova had already overcome plenty after a seven-month-layoff. Why not embrace it and leap over yet another hurdle?
"It's special,” Rybarikova said. “I had two surgeries and hadn't played for seven months, and right now I am in the third round in Wimbledon and I just beat Karolina Pliskova."
That wasn’t all, though. Rybarikova and her funky grass-oriented game would then cruise past world No. 35 Lesia Tsurenko in just 66 minutes, advancing as far as she ever has at a major at 28 years old.
But playing tennis like she has, showing insane determination in winning an amazing point against Pliskova...
...It makes you wonder how far Rybarikova can go. Her run isn't over yet. On Manic Monday, she ousted unseeded Petra Martic, who is ranked lower than the Slovakian at No. 135 despite making her first Slam fourth round in Paris.
And while Rybarikova is not one of the favorites to eventually win the title in London, a player who has won 17 of her last 18 matches certainly has confidence.
No matter what happens next, Rybarikova is a long way from Altenkirchen.
Follow Andrew on Twitter: @andrewikesports
—GRAND SLAM WEEK: Watch Wimbledon Primetime on Tennis Channel, and catch up on the other 2017 Grand Slams on Tennis Channel Plus
—Watch encores from the 2017 French Open and Australian Open on Tennis Channel Plus, including matches like the AO Final showdown between Serena & Venus Williams