When Magdalena Rybarikova stepped off the court following her success at the Aegon Ilkley Trophy in June, I jokingly asked her if she could now go on and win Wimbledon.
It was a throw away comment, perhaps inspired by too many Pimms, but one that brought a smile to the face of the 28 year- old Slovakian.
Just a few weeks later though, it was a question the whole tennis world was asking.
The idea, before that moment, would have been, well, laughable.
The 28-year- old Slovakian had spent 2016 on the side-lines recovering from two separate surgeries, to her knee and wrist and as recently as March of this year, she was ranked No. 453.
But following her victory at the $100,000 ITF Women’s Futures tournament in Ilkley, she amazingly went on to reach the semi-final of the world’s most prestigious Grand Slam before losing in straight sets to the eventual winner Spaniard Garbine Muguruza. It rounded off an incredible tournament for Rybarikova as she became the surprise package of the women’s singles, defeating American Coco Vandeweghe 6-3, 6-3 in the quarter-final having upset one-time title favourite Karolina Pliskova in the second round.
Her success at Ilkley – which came thanks to a final win over Belgium’s Alison van Uytvanck – was part of a confidence building run going into Wimbledon which also saw her beat British player Heather Watson to win the Aegon Surbiton Trophy and reach the semi-final at Nottingham.
It shows how far Ilkley as a tournament has come when it is able to attract players who can reach the latter stages of Wimbledon.
Talking following her Ilkley victory she said: “Ilkley has been an incredible experience, it is a beautiful place and like something from a movie and so to win here is very special and something I really didn’t expect to do.
“Last year it was very difficult for me. I was sometimes thinking maybe I’m never going to come back, and here I am winning tournaments again.
“Maybe I just relaxed myself. I’m really enjoying to be on the court. Really I’m so grateful, and lucky.
“I started to play at the end of February. That was my first match, and then I had some tournaments in March. From there, I started winning so many but I didn’t expect that I could play so well.”
Ilkley proved the ideal preparation for Wimbledon and despite crashing out 6-1, 6-1 on Centre Court to the eventual champion Garbine Muguruza in the semis, she can still hold her head high.
But the tall Slovak was not the only Ilkley entrant to prosper at this year’s Wimbledon. Petra Martic reached the last 16, defeating 20th seed Daria Gavrilova (Australia) in the first round, while Maria Sakkari (Greece), Madison Brengle (United States) and Zarina Diyas (Kazakhstan) all reached the third round.
It prompted Aegon Ilkley Trophy tournament director Charlie Maunder to say: “It just goes to show the calibre of entrant that we attracted to Ilkley because of the increased prize- money (the men was tripled to $150,000 and the women doubled to $100,000), and for a third year we again showed a marked improvement as a tournament.”
A total of 20; Ilkley women; made the first round at Wimbledon, but times were tougher for the 12 men, with only qualifier Peter Gojowczyk (Germany) reaching the second round.