Russian qualifier Liudmila Samsonova capped off a ground-breaking week by winning her first WTA singles title, powering past No.5 seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, 1-6, 6-1, 6-3, to claim the bett1open crown.
"It’s unbelievable," Samsonova told the press, after her surprising week came to a close. "I didn’t expect it. I [did] dream it, but it’s amazing."
World No.106 Samsonova used her hard-hitting play to the best effect on the grass courts of Berlin all week, and emerged triumphant in her first WTA singles final after a comeback win over 12th-ranked Bencic.
Samsonova, who notched her first Top 20 win earlier this year, picked up two more during her breakthrough week, including in the final against Bencic, where she fired 28 winners to just 15 unforced errors -- an impenetrable ratio for someone with her weaponry.
Samsonova becomes the 10th first-time singles titlist on the WTA this season, just an hour after Ons Jabeur became the ninth first-time champion in Birmingham. She is also the second qualifier to win a title in 2021, after Clara Tauson's run to the title in Lyon.
After the match, Samsonova got even more good news: she was granted the final main-draw wildcard into Wimbledon. "They just told me that I’m going to have the wildcard for the main draw, so I’m so happy," Samsonova said.
It was Bencic, though, who got off to a hot start. The Swiss gritted out a difficult hold in the first game of the match, and it paid off for her as she swept through the first set from there, opening up a 5-0 lead. Samsonova finally got on the board for 5-1, but it would not be enough as Bencic wrapped up the opener with a backhand winner down the line.
"I was so, so nervous today, even before the match, during the first set," Samsonova said. "I said ‘Okay, let’s try to put more aggressive game.' And it worked."
Indeed, the tables turned in the second set, as the Samsonova power game clicked into gear. The Russian earned her second break of the set with a powerful error-forcing forehand to reach 4-0, and it was more of the same as she eased to parity. Serving for the set at 5-1, Samsonova was pushed to deuce, but the qualifier used an unreturnable serve two points later to tie up the match.
A magical week for 🇷🇺 Liudmila Samsonova 🪄— wta (@WTA) June 20, 2021
Stunning comeback from the qualifier, who becomes the 10th first-time WTA champion this season!#bett1open pic.twitter.com/AOIaYQpFn7
Bencic put herself immediately in danger in the decider, when she let a 30-0 lead slip before double-faulting on break point in the first game. Samsonova used that miscue to take control, knocking off service winners at will to charge ahead 4-2 with few problems.
After saving a break point in that game, Bencic got a huge chance at 4-3, where she held break points. But Samsonova was not cowed by the occasion and promptly erased them with two service winners and a fierce forehand, eventually holding for 5-3.
Samsonova then reached championship point in the next game with a sterling backhand pass for a winner. The qualifier quickly wrapped up the match by forcing a netted backhand with a strong return, clinching her first title in eye-catching fashion.
"I was trying to continue to do my game, to try to be aggressive on the first shot, on my serve, on the return, and that was my focus," Samsonova said, as she recalled wrapping up the week.
Azarenka: We both brought a different level, mindset than a few years ago. It was important to play together to feel each other’s game, see what we can try, apply what works, what we can work on. Our priority is singles but it’s a great opportunity at the Olympics to team up. pic.twitter.com/jeHPzXrLqp— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) June 20, 2021
Earlier on Sunday, the doubles title went to an all-Belarusian tandem, as No.4 seeds Victoria Azarenka and Aryna Sabalenka captured the crown with a 4-6, 7-5, [10-4] victory over No.1 seeds Nicole Melichar and Demi Schuurs.
Melichar and Schuurs won 81 percent of points off of their first serves, but it was returning the top seeds' second serves where the Belarusian pair did the most damage, claiming 62 percent of those points en route to a tight win in an hour and 23 minutes.
Berlin marks the ninth WTA doubles title for Azarenka, and Sabalenka's sixth, but their first as a team, as they look forward to a possible run for a medal at the upcoming Olympics.