Samsonova Wants To Keep Improving On Clay

Liudmila Samsonova (photo: Porsche Tennis Grand Prix)

WASHINGTON, April 27, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

After Liudmila Samsonova enjoyed a breakout on grass last year by winning her first WTA tour-level title in Berlin and reaching the Wimbledon round of 16 – plus gaining a couple of indoor semifinals – the Russian’s goal for this season was to improve on clay.

“I grew up in Italy on clay court so last year was … strange (laughs),” Samsonova told the WTA Insider last week, after reaching her second career clay-court semifinal in the WTA 500 Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart. “You played all your life on clay courts. It was about confidence.”

Samsonova, 23, a native of Olenegorsk, north of the Arctic Circle – but who lived and trained near Courmayeur in the Italian Alps and played for Italy from 2014-18 – has always felt comfortable playing on clay.

With her successful week in Germany still being talked about, Samsonova has reached a career-high ranking of No. 26, jumping five spots from last week’s No. 31. She reached the semifinal round with three consecutive straight-set wins, over French qualifier Chloe Paquet, World No. 7 Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic and German wild card Laura Siegemund.

“My personal ambition was I want to play better on clay courts,” she added. “To play better on clay courts you have to improve the game. My game was working indoors and on grass. But I could be better and I have the possibility to be good. To player better on slower surfaces, that was my goal.”

In Saturday’s Stuttgart semifinal against World No. 1 and top seed Iga Swiatek, Samsonova became the only player to win a set from a No.1-ranked player since Coco Gauff won a set against Ashleigh Barty in Adelaide back in January. She won the opening set against Swiatek before going on to lose in three sets, 6-7 (4), 7-4, 7-5, in three hours and three minutes.

Before the match, Samsonova said: “The feeling is amazing. I’m so curious to see … what’s happening. I’ve never played a World No. 1. I think Iga is a level up right now, of everybody in everything. When you put together everything, the puzzle, it’s working. She’s so good at the moment.”

Now, with her confidence level boosted by her semifinal run in Stuttgart, it’s on to Madrid and the Mutua Madrid Open, which begins Thursday. Samsonova opens against a qualifier. Then, she could face World No. 4 and third seed Aryna Sabalenka in the second round and No. 15 seed Victoria Azarenka in the third round. No. 5 seed Pliskova looms as a possible opponent in the quarterfinals, and World No. 2 and second seed Paula Badosa is a likely semifinal competitor.

Wimbledon defends player ban during annual spring press briefing

During its annual spring press briefing, Ian Hewitt, chairman of the All England Club, and Sally Bolton, the AELTC chief executive, were asked to explain Wimbledon’s decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players for the upcoming Championships. They said they didn’t have a choice and came to what was “an extremely difficult decision and painful decision.”

Meanwhile, men’s World No. 1 Novak Djokovic officially will be able to defend his 2021 Wimbledon title after the AELTC confirmed that mandatory vaccination will not be required of players participating in this year’s tournament.

Guess who’s coming to Madrid? Rafael Nadal.

On Tuesday afternoon, Rafael Nadal announced he’s planning to return to the ATP Tour next week in Madrid at the Mutua Madrid Open, a tournament he’s won five times.

Despite a lack of ideal preparation following a stress fracture in his ribs, which Nadal disclosed after winning the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells in early March, he is eager to play in Spain at home.

Mutua Madrid Open women’s draw revealed

The women’s singles draw for the 20th anniversary of the Mutua Madrid Open features World No. 1 Iga Swiatek and No. 2 Paula Badosa at the opposite ends of the 64-player field. Swiatek has won three straight WTA 1000 events and four Tour titles overall, and compiled an impressive 23-match winning streak.

However, on Wednesday morning, Swiatek withdrew from the tournament citing a shoulder injury. She was to have played her first-round match against a qualifier on Friday.

“Basically, it’s not like we have some drama because everything is okay,” Swiatek said during a Media Day news conference in Madrid, quoted by the WTA website. “You can see in Stuttgart that basically I’m doing fine. We just thought that this is the best decision for me to recover properly because I didn’t really have time to recover after all these tournaments. After each of them I had like two days to chill out and then I had to come back to work and adjust to so many different things in every place.

“So basically, right now I feel like this is the best decision for us to get ready for Rome and have the peak of my form in Roland Garros.”

The top eight seeds are: 1. Swiatek, 2. Badosa, 3. Aryna Sabalenka, 4. Maria Sakkari, 5. Karolina Pliskova, 6. Danielle Collins, 7. Garbiñe Muguruza, 8. Ons Jabeur. All are currently ranked in the Top 10. Sabalenka is the defending champion.

Alcaraz climbs into the Top 10 after Barcelona triumph

Spanish NextGen ATP star Carlos Alcaraz made history this week after becoming the ninth-youngest player to ascent into the ATP Top 10 since the inception of the ATP Rankings in 1973.

The 18-year-old Alcaraz won his third ATP singles title of the season Sunday after capturing the Barcelona Open Blanc Sabadell. He defeated fellow Spaniard Pablo Carreño Busta in the title match.

The last player to reach the Top 10 at Alcaraz’s age was none other than Rafael Nadal, who also won Barcelona as an 18-year-old in 2005. Nadal defeated Alcaraz’s coach, Juan Carlos Ferrero, in the final.

After his Barcelona triumph Sunday, Alcaraz told the ATP Tour website: “I’ve always been a normal guy. I’m not scared of fame; I’m not going to change the person I am. I’m happy to know that at 18 years old I’m in the Top 10, and to do it [at] the same age as my idol Rafa is impressive.”

Badosa moves up to No. 2 in WTA Rankings

While current World No. 1 Iga Swiatek garnering most of the headlines by winning her fourth consecutive WTA title at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart last week, which extended her lead in the WTA Rankings to 2,136 points, Paula Badosa achieved a new career-high ranking of World No. 2 following her semifinal run that began the European clay season.

Badosa became the fourth Spanish woman to be ranked in the WTA Top 2. She joins Arantxa Sánchez Vicario, Conchita Martinez and Garbiñe Muguruza. She’s two points ahead of former No. 2 Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic, whom she nudged ahead of in the rankings.

Now, it’s on to Madrid and the Mutua Madrid Open, where Badosa was a semifinalist last year and is seeded No. 2 in the 2022 edition of the tournament in Spain’s capital city. She will open against No. 25 Veronika Kudermetova and could face No. 21 Simona Halep in the second round, and No. 14 seed Coco Gauff in the third round. A possible quarterfinal opponent is either No. 8 seed Ons Jabeur or No. 11 seed Belinda Bencic and should she make it to the semifinals, possible competitors include No. 3 seed Aryna Sabalenka and No. 5 seed Karolina Pliskova.

News and noteworthy

Roger Federer will return to the ATP Tour at the ATP 500 Swiss Indoors in Basel, Switzerland at the end of October following the Laver Cup in September. Federer hasn’t played since Wimbledon last year, losing to Hubert Hurkacz in the quarterfinals. Federer has won Basel, his hometown tournament, 10 times.

• World No. 11 Emma Raducanu‘s first opponent in the Mutua Madrid Open – her second career WTA clay-court event – will be Tereza Martincova of the Czech Republic. The two met recently in the Billie Jean King Cup with the Briton prevailing 7-5, 7-5.

Tuesday was a busy day for Raducanu, who also announced she was splitting with her coach, Torben Beltz, after five months. In the past year, the 19-year-old Raducanu has already worked with Nigel Sears and Andrew Richardson before connecting with Beltz.

“I want to thank Torben for his coaching, professionalism and dedication over the last half a year,” Raducanu said in a statement. “He has a huge heart and I have enjoyed our strong chemistry during the time together.”

Until she names a new head coach, in Madrid Raducanu will work with the LTA’s head of women’s coaching, Iain Bates, who becomes her fourth coach in the past year.

“Quotable …”

Dominic Thiem of Austria, ranked 93rd, who lost in the first round of the ATP 250 Millennium Estoril Open against No. 58 Benjamin Bonzi of France, 6-3, 7-6 (9) in Estoril, Portugal on Tuesday.