Samsonova Wins bett1Open For First WTA Title

Liudmila Samsonova (photo: @bett1open/Twitter)

BERLIN/WASHINGTON, June 20, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

In a week of breakthroughs and upsets, none was more unlikely than Liudmila Samsonova‘s at the bett1Open on grass in Berlin.

To go from qualifying draw to championship match in a week’s time takes a lot of luck and good fortune. For the 106th-ranked Russian from Olenegorsk, Samsonova played fearless all week. Match by match, she kept winning. After winning two rounds of qualifying, Samsonova strung together quality wins over Marketa Vondrousova, Veronika Kudermetova, Madison Keys and Victoria Azarenka to reach the title match. Her win against Azarenka represented her first victory over a Top 20 opponent.

For a while Sunday afternoon on Steffi-Graf Stadion, though, it looked like Samsonova’s winning fortunes were about to end. After all, she was going up against World No. 12 and fifth seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, who was appearing in her second final this season, and had been lights out through much of the tournament. She arrived at the final as the only seed remaining after all of the top seeds bowed earlier in the week.

However, after easily dropping the first set 6-1, Samsonova righted herself and went on to garner a 1-6, 6-1, 6-3 title victory over Bencic to win her first WTA singles title in her first WTA final. The victory improved her 2021 win-loss record in all competitions to 23-13 (including 10-8 on the WTA tour). She became the 10th first-time winner on tour and the second on Sunday, an hour after Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur won the WTA 250 Viking Classic Birmingham in England. She’s also the second qualifier to win a WTA title this season after Clara Tauson’s title conquest in Lyon in early March.

“It’s unbelievable,” Samsonova said, quoted by the WTA tour website. “I didn’t expect it. I [did] dream it, but it’s amazing.”

By winning, Samsonova will break into the WTA Top 100 and debut at about No. 75. The news got even better for the Russian when she was told after the trophy ceremony that she was being granted the final wild card into the main draw at Wimbledon, which starts a week from Monday.

“They just told me that I’m going to have the wild card for the main draw. So, I’m so happy,” Samsonova said, quoted by the WTA tour website.

Samsonova hit 14 aces and fired 28 winners, committed just 15 unforced errors and recovered nicely after losing the first five games of the one hour and 37-minute match. In the second set, she jumped out to a 4-0 lead and coasted, then got an early break at the start of the third that she built upon. Samsonova held for 5-3 thanks to a couple of service winners and in the next game reached championship point by hitting a passing shot winner from her backhand side. Then, she put it away with a forced error by Bencic on a netted backhand.

Bencic finished with six aces, 12 winners and 16 unforced errors. She converted just two of seven break points and was outpointed by Samsonova 75-68.

Azarenka and Sabalenka win doubles title

No. 4 seeds Victoria Azarenka and Aryna Sabalenka, both from Belarus, upset the No. 1 seeds, Nicole Melichar of the United States and Demi Schuurs of the Netherlands, 4-6, 7-5, 10-4. The Belarusian pair hit 22 winners and outpointed their opponents 66-61 during the one hour and 21-minute final on Steffi-Graf Stadion. It was Azarenka’s ninth career doubles title and the sixth for Sabalenka. It was their first as a team.

Playing together for the first time since 2018, Azarenka and Sabalenka faced just two break points during the final and were broken once. From 3-all in the match it-break, Azarenka and Sabalenka scored five straight points to take an insurmountable 8-3 lead. They won on their first match-point when an Azarenka backhand off Schuur’s serve was netted by Melichar.

“It’s such a pleasure to play in front of a crowd after a really difficult year with empty stands,” Azarenka said during the trophy ceremony. “It feels much more alive. Thank you to our special fans this week.

“We (Aryna and I) haven’t played in a while, so it was really nice to catch back from where we started. I’m looking forward to some good stuff in the Olympics, playing for our country.”

Indeed, an Azarenka-Sabalenka pairing for Belarus would make them a medal contender in the women’s doubles at the Tokyo Olympic Games next month. Previously, Azarenka won two medals for Belarus in the 2012 London Olympic Games, including a bronze in singles and a gold in mixed doubles with Max Mirnyi.