Belinda Bencic came back to defeat an opponent she had never previously beaten to win the Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open, her second Hologic WTA Tour singles title of the year.
No.2 seed Bencic saved three championship points in the second-set tiebreak before overcoming No.8 seed Liudmila Samsonova 1-6, 7-6(8), 6-4 in Sunday’s 2-hour and 48-minute final. Bencic won the eighth WTA singles title of her career.
"It’s been a really tight match, and I’m happy to turn these match points around," Bencic said after her win. "I just really tried hanging in there and scramble for every point, and just do my best.
"I’m really happy to walk away with the title here and I think I played some really good matches, but they were also tough. I proved to myself that I can really fight hard and just stay in the matches and somehow turn it around."
By the numbers: Switzerland’s Bencic is now the tour leader in match-wins this season with 12. She passes Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka, who has won her first 11 matches of 2023.
Bencic also joins Sabalenka as the only two-time titlists so far this year. She adds the Abu Dhabi crown to her Adelaide International 2 title from last month.
To make that happen, Bencic had to earn her first win over Samsonova in four attempts. Samsonova defeated Bencic in the 2021 Berlin final to win her first career title, and she picked up two more wins against the Swiss player that year, at Luxembourg and the Billie Jean King Cup Finals.
Bencic also ended Samsonova’s undefeated record in WTA singles finals. World No.19 Samsonova had been a perfect 4-0 in championship matches on tour before this result.
Key moments: Samsonova was near-flawless in the first set, with 16 winners to only five unforced errors. But Bencic held on through a tense second set to make her move, saving three break points at 5-5 with some of her most powerful serves and groundstrokes of the day.
In the second-set tiebreak, Samsonova held championship points at 6-4, 6-5, and 8-7, but Bencic withstood each of those chances, controlling the rallies before forcing errors. Then, on Bencic's second set point at 9-8, Samsonova misfired a backhand into the net.
In the third set, Bencic forced another error with a forehand service return to claim the pivotal break at 3-2, and she held on from there to earn victory. Samsonova finished the match with 20 more winners than Bencic, but Bencic had 19 fewer unforced errors than her opponent.
Stefani and Zhang win doubles: Luisa Stefani and Zhang Shuai had their own comeback to win the Abu Dhabi doubles title earlier on Sunday, edging Shuko Aoyama and Chan Hao-ching 3-6, 6-2, [10-8] in an hour and a half.
Former WTA Doubles World No.2 Zhang collected her 13th WTA doubles title with the victory. Zhang is twice a Grand Slam champion in women's doubles, partnering Samantha Stosur to titles at the 2019 Australian Open and 2021 US Open.
Stefani is up to seven WTA doubles titles in her career. She continues her comeback since injuring her ACL at the 2021 US Open and being off tour to recuperate for a full year.
Since her return in September of last year, Stefani has collected four WTA doubles titles. She also won her first Grand Slam title last month, partnering her fellow Brazilian Rafael Matos to win the Australian Open mixed doubles trophy.