Brilliant Bencic back from the brink to win title

SWISS star Belinda Bencic looked dead and buried when it came to her Abu Dhabi title chances, but somehow found a way to save three championship points and defeat Russian Liudmila Samsonova 1-6 7-6 6-4. In the inaugural Abu Dhabi Open, Bencic fought back from a disappointing first set, as well as three break points and then three match points in the second set, to dig deep and defeat Samsonova in the WTA 500 event.

Samsonova had got the better of Bencic in their previous three meetings – all in 2021 – with the world number 19 triumphing in three set epics. Though the Swiss Top 10 talent was on fire in 2023 having already collected a title and was coming off a win in last year’s Billie Jean King Cup, Samsonova took control early and raced to a 6-1 lead.

During the second set, Bencic faced three break points in the crucial eleventh game of the match, with both players breaking once earlier in the set. She saved all three and then got it to a tiebreaker where again she was on the ropes. Samsonova had championship points when leading 6-4, and then again at 8-7, but by digging deep, Bencic came out on top 10-8 in that tiebreaker to force a decider.

Building on the momentum of the second set, Bencic was able to break twice during the deciding set, and while Samsonova also broke the world number nine once, Bencic’s supreme 78 per cent first serve success rate off a 74 per cent clip was enough to get the job done. In a match that lasted two hours and 48 minutes, Bencic took home the win, 1-6 7-6 6-4.

“It’s been a really tight match, and I’m happy to turn these match points around,” Bencic said post-match. “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.”

The title saw Bencic claim the eighth trophy of her WTA Tour career, as she edged closer to world number eight, Daria Kasatkina. Samsonova’s boost of four ranking places from her previous career-high of 19th saw the Russian move into the Top 15 for the first time.

Meanwhile in Austria, it was better news for another Russian as Anastasia Potapova won in an hour and 16 minutes over Croatian Petra Martic, 6-3 6-1 in the WTA 250 event. Both players served four aces for only two double faults, but Potapova’s 68 and 56 per cent success rate off her first and second serve points was far greater than Martic’s disappointing 59 and 27 per cent, having improved on that area throughout the Linz tournament.

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