The breakthrough week by qualifier Liudmila Samsonova will extend all the way into the final of the inaugural bett1open, as the Russian stunned former World No.1 Victoria Azarenka 6-4, 6-2 in their semifinal clash on Saturday.
Samsonova, currently ranked World No.106, stormed into her first career WTA singles final with a comprehensive display of power tennis, eliminating No.7 seed Azarenka in just an hour and six minutes.
"It’s all incredible for me, it’s so new, and I’m very happy for it," Samsonova said, after her win. "It’s unbelievable for me."
Samsonova claimed her second Top 20 win of the season and of her career by slamming 24 winners (11 of which were aces) while hitting only six unforced errors in a display of grass-court excellence. She also saved all three of the break points she faced in the tilt.
The 22-year-old Russian is the fifth qualifier to reach a singles final on the WTA this season -- but the first to do it at a WTA 500-level event. Samsonova, who is projected to reach the Top 100 and beyond in Monday's singles rankings, called it "the most important [week] of my life up to this moment."
Samsonova got off to a quick start, breaking Azarenka handily in the very first game of the match. Two-time Grand Slam champion Azarenka had three break points at 2-1 to pull back level, but two huge serves and a powerful forehand by Samsonova got the qualifier out of that predicament -- a harbinger of things to come.
Azarenka did not drop serve again in the set, but those three break points would be the only ones she would see in the entire match, as Samsonova dominated with her delivery from there. Azarenka did well to stave off two set points en route to a hold for 5-4, but the Samsonova forehand helped the qualifier cruise to a service hold in the next game as she took the one-set lead.
Huge groundstrokes by Samsonova powered her to a commanding 4-0 lead in the second set, and Azarenka had to save two break points to prevent herself from falling behind 5-0.
Azarenka found some stellar serves and winning backhands in the back half of the set, but she could not stop the Samsonova surge. The Russian eventually held at love to reach the biggest match of her career -- her first WTA singles final, where she will meet former Top 5 player Belinda Bencic of Switzerland.
"I’m sure it’s going to be a tough match because [Bencic] plays very good on this surface, and she’s a good player," Samsonova said. "I will try to do my best and focus on my game, and we will see."
No.5 seed Bencic booked a spot in her second final of the season on Saturday, after she moved past Alizé Cornet of France, 7-5, 6-4, in their Berlin semifinal clash.
"Of course it gives me a lot of confidence," Bencic said, after her win. "It’s always great to have this confirmation on grass that it’s working well."
World No.12 Bencic improved to 3-1 against Cornet after her one-hour and 47-minute victory placed her into the fourth grass-court final of her career. Bencic won the 2015 Eastbourne title for her best-ever grass-court result on tour.
"I always try to play as many tournaments on grass as possible because I just love the surface," Bencic said.
Bencic, who also reached the Adelaide final earlier this year, fired 29 winners to just 19 unforced errors in her victory over World No.63 Cornet. The Swiss player converted all four of the break points she held during the match.
A bevy of deft play by both resulted in the first break of the day going to Bencic, as she broke for 3-2 with a winning pass. Cornet would rebound on return, breaking back for 4-4, but Bencic reclaimed her advantage by edging ahead 6-5 and clinching a chance to serve for the set.
That game would be a true tussle, as Bencic had to withstand four break points before advancing to her first set point. Cornet then fended off three set points before missing a return long to hand Bencic a fourth chance to close out the set. After a nearly 15-minute game, Bencic finally wrapped up the set with an error-forcing forehand.
A love break by Bencic in the first game of the second set was echoed by Cornet further down the road, when the Frenchwoman eventually broke back at love for 4-4. But Cornet dropped serve in the very next game with three double faults, ceding a 5-4 advantage to the Swiss. Bencic made no mistake serving out the match at love to charge into another final.