Liudmila Samsonova defeats Kaia Kanepi to win Citi Open women’s title


Liudmila Samsonova waved the Citi Open trophy for a moment on Sunday before hoisting it triumphantly with a big smile – perhaps because of nerves or the fact that she had just won a match in three sets in unforgiving heat.

Or maybe Samsonova was simply lacking in practice. The 23-year-old Russian’s previous match before arriving in Washington was on June 19 in Germany due to Wimbledon’s decision to ban Russian players from its tournament this summer. Samsonova has had just one month of training, with no match play, to prepare for the hard-court North American swing that leads to the US Open.

Hats off to the training ground, then. Samsonova beat 37-year-old Kaia Kanepi 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 on Stadium Court at Rock Creek Park Tennis Center with a strong display of her punching power and steely focus in a match that brought together a lot of people – pleasant line clippers.

With long, whip-like functioning limbs and impressive vertical reach, she also served up 10 cracking aces that topped out at 117 mph.

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The title in Washington is the second of Samsonova’s career; she won her first at the German Open in June 2021. It’s been a fruitful week for Russians coming out of the Wimbledon ban: world No. 1 Daniil Medvedev won the singles title at an ATP tournament in Los Cabos, Mexico on Saturday, and Daria Kasatkina is playing for the title at a WTA tournament in San Jose on Sunday night.

“I think we’re all very angry about the situation,” Samsonova said. “I mean, it was a really tough month what was going on. I think we have a lot of time to work, so I think we use it very well.

Samsonova called her win a “dream” after a turbulent few months. She started working with a new coaching staff in April and struggled to secure a visa for the United States as her old one expired in July.

She found out she would be allowed to travel to Washington just two weeks ago.

“No, it’s amazing. I was not expecting it at all. … I was training for a month,” she said. “It was very tough for me. So, yeah, I’m so happy with this week. It’s unbelievable.”

Even without the circumstances surrounding her win, winning the trophy would have been another promising benchmark on what has been a steady rise for Samsonova, ranked 60th in the world, over the past few years.

Although born in Russia, Samsonova moved to Italy as a baby and spent most of her life there, opting to represent the country until 2018. Moving on to play for player-rich Russia successful tennis player, gave him the sense of the little fish. , the freedom of the great pond. Only four Italians were ranked in the top 100 entering Sunday’s final while eight Russians filled the list, with much, much more effort to enter.

Samsonova has enjoyed the relief from the pressure, although her tennis really took off in Germany last year after changing coaches. She won her first trophy in the first finals appearance of her career and made her top-100 debut shortly after.

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

She owned a win over No. 37 Kanepi in Sunday’s final at Wimbledon last year and wanted to start strong against the veteran. When those hopes flew out the window, Samsonova refocused and focused on resolving Kanepi’s serve.

Break points were not easy to find for the first hour of the afternoon. Both players kicked the ball throughout the first set looking for an advantage. Samsonova had a tad more success moving Kanepi around the pitch to gain minimal footing in matches – never pushing to a break point – but whenever the Estonian was in a vulnerable position, she erased mistakes with line-breaking groundstrokes or an ace.

It was Kanepi who finally converted the first break point of the match in the 10th game to steal the first set.

Samsonova showed no drop in concentration or physical play, and with the second set tied at 3, Kanepi started to get tight. She sent a forehand into the net at 30-30 to give Samsonova her first break point of the match, and on a nine-stroke rally to the next point she put in a long backhand.

The Russian didn’t need to do much but hold on and stay consistent afterwards. She played five straight to win the second set and start the third with a solid hold.

Kanepi, a campaigner playing for her first trophy since 2013, entered the match leading the tournament with 30 aces. While her serve held firm – she had five aces to Samsonova’s 10 – she tensed as the match wore on, calling for a medical time-out early in the third set, and the rest of her game went downhill. collapsed.

Samsonova broke her to take a 4-3 lead and then finished the match with ease. All that remained was to lift the trophy.

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