Tennis

Washington | Samsonova beats Kanepi to take WTA 250 honours

Liudmila Samsonova came from set down to beat Kaia Kanepi from Estonia to capture the Citi Bank Open title in Washington, DC, on the Stadium Court at Rock Creek Park Tennis Center on Sunday, her second career WTA title.

I think it was the hardest match of the week, because Kaia was playing amazing. She was serving so well. I had some troubles to find the solution on the return. It was a tough mental game today, and I’m so happy that I found the solutions. Liudmila Samsonova

The 23-year old Russian, ranked 60, took the WTA 250 honours, 4-6 6-3 6-3, after an hour and 46 minutes, firing 10 aces and connecting on 81.4% of her first-serve points in the process.

“No, it’s amazing. I didn’t expect it at all,” said Samsonova, whose only prior tour trophy came at last year’s German Open in Berlin on grass. “I was practicing one month. It was very tough for me. So, yeah, I’m so happy about this week. It’s unbelievable!”

Samsonova, who had a 6-week layoff ahead of Washington after being among the Russian and Belarus players not allowed to play at Wimbledon due to the invasion of Ukraine.

“I think we are all very angry about the situation,” Samsonova said. “I mean, it was a really tough month what was going.

“I think we have a lot of time to work, so I think we use it very well.”

Samsonova called her victory a ‘dream’ after a turbulent few months, having started working with a new coaching team in April, and then facing difficulties obtaining a visa into the United States because her old one expired in July.

“It was the first time that I had, like, four people working for me, and this helped me a lot,” she said last week. “It improved my game, my physical [fitness], everything. And then, of course, the hard work and believing more in me. That was the key.”

She only found out she would be allowed to travel to Washington 2 weeks ago.

Liudmila Samsonova came from a set down to beat Kaia Kanepi (R) in the Washington WTA 250 final match

© Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Her 37-year old opponent, Kanepi, is a former Top 15 player who was bidding to end a 9-year WTA title drought, not having won a tournament since the 2013 Brussels Open, but Samsonova had won their only prior meeting in last year’s first round at Wimbledon.

Samsonova also had dispatched 3 of the top 6 seeds this week, ousting reigning US Open champion Emma Raducanu, and 5th seed Elise Mertens before eliminating Kanepi, the No 6 seed.

When Samsonova delivered an ace at 113 mph to hold for 4-all, the match was 25 minutes old, and neither player had generated a break point but, by the end, the Russian had won 35 of her 43 first-serve points.

Kanepi though, took the only break point of the opening set when Samsonova sent a forehand wide in the 10th game, but then Estonian faded in the second, as the Russian broke for a 4-3 lead when the 6th seed struck a backhand long, and then left the court for medical treatment.

After a 5-game run, Samsonova broke again for good measure in the 9th game to force the decider, in which Kanepi netted a forehand to surrender a final break in the penultimate game, and the 23-year old lifted the trophy, using her powerful serve, which had reached 119 mph at times, to finish off the contest.

“I think it was the hardest match of the week, because Kaia was playing amazing,” Samsonova said in her post-match press conference. “She was serving so well.

“I had some troubles to find the solution on the return. It was a tough mental game today, and I’m so happy that I found the solutions.”

Although born in Russia, Samsonova moved to Italy as a baby and spent most of her life there, choosing to represent the country until 2018 before switching to play for Russia to help relieve the pressure on her.

Liudmila Samsonova and Kaia Kanepi were evenly-balanced in a final dominated by power-hitting

© Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The final was big-serve, quick-strike tennis between two women with similar playing styles on a humid, 90-degree afternoon, that was not at all conducive to lengthy exchanges or a lot of running, and with portable electric fans placed next to the player chairs to offer a bit of respite to Kanepi and Samsanova during changeovers.

Although Kanepi started the stronger of the two, never facing a break point through 3-3 in the second set, and even holding a break point for a 6-4, 4-2 lead, Samsonova swatted that chance away with an excellent serve stay level.

The match turned there, and Samsonova converted her first break point of the day in the very next game, forcing an error with a rally forehand, and then won the final 4 games of the second set to tie the match.

In the third, Kanepi coughed up a double-fault and 3 unforced errors to hand a love break for 5-3, and Samsonova grabbed her chance, firing more rocket serves in the last game to clinch the title.

Samsonova came out on top with 27 winners to 18 unforced errors, while Kanepi’s 16 winners were outpaced by her 19 unforced errors.

Nevertheless, this season Kanepi has climbed back into the Top 40 for the first time since 2014 and, on Monday, she rises 6 more places to No 31, while Samsonova jumps 18 spots to No 42.

Jessica Pegula (L) & Erin Routliffe won the Washington doubles on Saturday, beating Anna Kalinskaya & Caty McNally in the final

Citi Open/Twitter

Saturday’s doubles final was won by No 1 seeds Jessica Pegula and Erin Routliffe, who saved a championship point before edging No.4 seeds Anna Kalinskaya and Caty McNally 6-3, 5-7, [12-10].

Kalinskaya and McNally held their championship point at 9-8 in the match-tiebreak before Pegula and Routliffe claimed four of the next five points to squeak out a win after 1 hour and 37 minutes.

Pegula won her third career WTA doubles title, all of which have come this year, and with three different partners. Routliffe claimed her second career WTA doubles title this week.

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