Liudmila Samsonova burst onto the scene in 2021 with an outstanding run to the Berlin title. A qualifier ranked outside the Top 100, Samsonova knocked off Marketa Vondrousova, Veronika Kudermetova, Madison Keys, Victoria Azarenka and Belinda Bencic to win her first Hologic WTA Tour title.
Her Berlin debut foreshadowed what was to come. Fifteen months later and the 23-year-old has become near unbeatable.
On Sunday, Samsonova notched her third title in two months by winning the Toray Pan Pacific Open without losing a set. She has now won 18 of her past 19 matches and 16 of those wins came in straight sets. On Monday she will rise to a new career-high ranking at No.23 and move inside the Top 20 on the Race to the WTA Finals Leaderboard.
The secret to Samsonova's success? Her sports psychologist, Claudia Gambarino. At the suggestion of her coach Danilo Pizzorno, Samsonova began working with Gambarino in July.
"I think [the mental] was the part where I had more difficulties, to play all the weeks on the same level," Samsonova said last month at the US Open. "I think I had the tennis level, I had the physical level already, but I didn't have the mental level to do it consistently."
Before she started talking to Gambarino, Samsonova had failed to win back-to-back matches in her last six tournaments. Since then, she is 18-1, with titles in Washington D.C., Cleveland and Tokyo.
"I'm understanding very well during the match what is happening," Samsonova told WTA Insider after her win in Tokyo. "I'm not getting nervous. I'm always very calm and I'm trying to understand what is going on on the court and what will be the solution to make me play better. That's the difference."
"We are talking every day. It's the work that pays off."
Samsonova joined the WTA Insider Podcast by phone after her Tokyo triumph to discuss the evolution of her game and how she's maintained her focus during this sizzling run of form.
Listen to the full interview below:
The key to her winning week in Tokyo:
"You know, this time was a little bit different. I was very, very focused on my game, every time. Every match I was so focused on finding solutions, just playing my game. I was not thinking about the result or the score. That was very important for me. I was in the final today, but in my mind I was playing the first round. It was amazing."
On the importance of her coach Danilo Pizzorno:
"I think [Danilo] is a genius, a tactical genius. Seriously. It's not because he's working with me. I think in the WTA there is no one with the experience and the level of coaching as him.
"It was five years ago when I started working with him. I was working with him at the Piatti Academy and then when I split with Piatti, I contacted him and we started working again. All the technical, the shots, my forehand, my backhand, my serves, it's because of him. He built me."
On the potential of qualifying for the WTA Finals:
"Please, I don't want to hear it! Because I know it's going to be a drama. I'm going to lose first round and first round [laughs]. No, I'm joking.
"I'm going to go to San Diego and Guadalajara, these are my last tournaments. I will try to keep working on my game again. I don't want to think about the ranking right now. This stuff in the past stopped me. It was tough for me to keep improving if I thought about the rankings. So I don't want to think about this. I just want to enjoy and play my game."
On what brings her the most joy right now:
"When I see my opponent is completely lost, this is the most enjoyable thing. When I find the solution in this match and I'm going to push it there until the end, that is the most beautiful thing."