BIRMINGHAM, England — Karolina Pliskova left spectators puzzling yet again why her powerful game has never translated to grass-court glory when she lost in the first round of the Wimbledon warmup at Birmingham on Monday.
The 1.85-meter (6-foot-1) Czech with the superbly steep serve who appeared to have the world at her feet when she became No. 1 last year, was outplayed by 19th-ranked Magdalena Rybarikova 6-2, 6-3.
Rybarikova’s versatile tactics and shot-making fluidity enabled her to control the match almost from start to finish.
The outcome was less surprising only to those who saw Rybarikova beat Pliskova in the second round of last year’s Wimbledon, and who knew the Slovak won her first WTA title nine years ago on these self-same courts in Birmingham.
“I have a big respect for her, but this was not a day for her,” Rybarikova said.
“I was feeling really good. I made so many returns (of serve), and maybe I was thinking about last year at Wimbledon when I played really well there, too.”
She used plenty of slice on the lush grass, mixed up the spins, moved with sharp anticipation, and was unafraid to come to the net. She was two breaks of serve up in less than 15 minutes, and broke again in the fifth game of the second set immediately after holding serve in less than a minute in a game containing two aces.
The day began with only former Wimbledon champions Serena Williams and Petra Kvitova, and reigning champion Garbine Muguruza at shorter odds than Pliskova of winning Wimbledon starting in two weeks.
But everything seemed to be against the third-seeded Pliskova, especially when she achieved her one ace of the first set only after a line judge changed his call, and challenged a fault call in the second set only for the video replay to fail to function.
Rybarikova next plays Kristina Mladenovic, the Frenchwoman who gave the tournament a dynamic start with a comeback win over Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic.
Mladenovic, who reached the top 10 in October but who has since fallen from the top 50, appeared very out of sorts in the first set but came back to win 1-6, 6-2, 6-4, denying Siniakova a break back point for 4-4 in the final set.
Mladenovic attributed her success partly to her younger brother Luka, a professional footballer with Calais who just happened to be on holiday and tried his hand at some high-level tennis coaching instead.
“I’m lucky to have him,” she said. “He told me my first serve wasn’t working well in the first set. I was not taking my time, and was rushing. He said, `Keep fighting and stay positive.’ He was right.”
Defending champion Petra Kvitova, the two-time Wimbledon champion, opens against Johanna Konta on Tuesday.