It took two hours and 36-minutes and 12 match points but Sofya Zhuk was finally able to claim the biggest victory of her career against world number 17 Magdalena Rybarikova in the second round of the 2018 BNP Paribas Open. This was just her third top-50 victory, and all of them came this year as the Russian continues to rise in the rankings with her excellent displays. Furthermore, Rybarikova was the highest-ranked player Zhuk has ever faced throughout her career.
Zhuk recovered from a mid-match wobble and showed excellent composure especially after recovering from a heartbreak which saw her miss 11 match points while serving for the match, though the Russian eventually closed out the win to reach the third round, where she would face fellow wildcard, Danielle Collins.
Zhuk steals the tight opening set
It was a terrific start to the match for the Russian youngster as she claimed 12 of the first 15 points after just seven minutes of play. She was handling the variety of shots coming from Rybarikova well and had excellent placements off her serve as well. Rybarikova finally got onto the board with a spirited love service hold with her net approaches proving to be a great help, though she was still unable to find a breakthrough on the return.
Both players stayed solid and were dominating their service games, while Zhuk continued to ride on her momentum and did not face a break point throughout the set. The world number 136 ultimately breezed through to take the first set 6-3, although she faced several troubles trying to close out the set due to nerves which made her play more passively.
Rybarikova fights back and sends the match into a decider
Everything seemed to be going in Zhuk’s way especially after the first set which led to a rise in her confidence level, and Rybarikova found herself in deep trouble having faced multiple break points in the opening game of the second set. However, the youngster failed to convert her chances and soon became an error machine. Nonetheless, she was able to fend off a break point and claim an inspiring service hold with Rybarikova finally reaping some rewards for her efforts.
Things got complicated after the players had a quick exchange of service breaks, but it was the Slovakian who had the last laugh after she was able to impressively consolidate the break to love for a commanding 5-2 lead, edging closer to the finishing line. Serving to stay in the set, Zhuk completely lost the plot and was unable to handle the craftiness of Rybarikova’s play, ultimately losing the second set 2-6.
Zhuk converts on her 12th match point, earns the biggest win of her career
Being the more experienced and higher-ranked player, Rybarikova had everything going in her way and seemed on course to complete the comeback victory. The world number 17 missed two break points in the third game, and with the benefit of hindsight, that proved to be costly. Zhuk then took a formidable 3-1 lead, regaining her composure to put up a fantastic display although Rybarikova was able to produce an immediate reply, earning three games on the trot.
Coming up with impressive defensive skills, Zhuk fended off Rybarikova’s serve-and-volley tactics and the Slovakian was yet again broken on an unforced error at the net, gifting the Russian with the golden opportunity to serve out the match. In what could be the most dramatic game of the tournament, Zhuk blew 11 match point opportunities, where all but one were caused by her errors.
Rybarikova, having broken straight back in the marathon 20-minute game, was then surprisingly pegged back yet again. Zhuk amazingly recovered from the heartbreak and her tough mentality saw her earning yet another chance to serve out the match. This time, she was finally able to get over the finishing line, converting her 12th match point to seal the biggest win of her career.