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Beginner’s Guide: Streaking Liudmila Samsonova closes in on US Open breakthrough
The former world No. 25 narrowly missed out on a seed but is in the midst of a summer renaissance, winning her last two tournaments in Washington, D.C. and Cleveland.
Published Aug 31, 2022
WATCH: Samsonova won a 10th straight match to capture her third career title in Cleveland last week.
Word around the grounds is that the US Open courts are playing quicker than ever in 2022, something Liudmila Samsonova confirmed after her first-round victory on Monday.
“They are so fast,” she told me after defeating Czech qualifier Sara Bejlek in straight sets, “so fast that I didn’t expect it. I don’t remember this from last year, but I like them.”
The 23-year-old has found plenty to like on every court of late as she rides an 11-match winning streak into the second round in Flushing Meadows, a streak that includes titles at the Citi Open and Tennis In The Land in Cleveland.
Set to face 2021 finalist Leylah Fernandez on Wednesday, get to know one of the draw’s most dangerous floaters:
Samsonova began playing tennis at Riccardo Piatti’s academy in Italy, and even played under the Italian flag before switching to Russia as her pro career kicked off in 2019.
Enduring a bumpy transition due to the ensuing global pandemic, the heavy-hitter found immense success on grass last summer, barreling to her first WTA title as a qualifier in Berlin.
“Three years ago, when I was playing on grass and I didn't have this serve and I didn't have this power and aggressive game, I was not feeling this way,” she told WTA Insider after scoring consecutive wins over Veronika Kudermetova, Madison Keys, Victoria Azarenka, and Belinda Bencic in the final. “So I think it's the work that paid off.”
She continued that form at her debut Wimbledon, where she earned a wild card and reached the second week after defeating Jessica Pegula and Sloane Stephens.
Samsonova’s anticipated return to grass was impacted by the news that neither she nor her fellow Russian and Belarusian athletes would be permitted to play Wimbledon due to their countries’ invasion into Ukraine.
Compiling a 1-7 record after reaching the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix semifinals—which coincides to when the announcement was made—she threw herself into a training bloc that made her fit and ready for the North American hard-court swing.
I feel like, even though it’s August, it’s more like March-April, so I feel like I’m only at the beginning of my season, and I just want to play as many matches as possible. Liudmila Samsonova
“When I learned this news, I was, of course, sad, but I said to myself, ‘Ok, I need this time; I need this month and a half to prepare because I felt that my game has to improve. I think I used it very well,’” she said on Monday. “I tried to see it as an opportunity.”
An opportunity well-taken: Samsonova hasn’t lost a match since missing Wimbledon, first winning the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. and then returning to action in Cleveland where she blitzed the field without losing a set.
“I started to feel differently, mentally, and also my game was a little bit different from before. I was thinking to myself, ‘Ok, let’s see how this is all going to work.’ But it’s been amazing.”
Two days after trouncing Aliaksandra Sasnovich in the Cleveland final, she was heading to New York to play her first match at the US Open. Feeling fresh despite the tight turnaround, she emerged on Court 7 to win her 14th straight set against Bejlek—an in-form teenager who defeated former No. 10 Kristina Mladenovic en route to her maiden Grand Slam main draw.
“I know how the public is here, how the fans are, and the energy they bring. If I play against an American I know what’s going to happen, and that’s fine! But there’s a lot of good energy here. I try to see a lot of things when I’m here. It’s good to have a hotel in Manhattan because you can go everywhere and you feel free. It’s amazing in New York.”
Why It Matters
Where many of her fellow competitors are likely feeling the fatigue of a fourth Grand Slam, Samsonova is on an entirely different wavelength after her summer sabbatical, and aims to channel her refreshed perspective into another deep run at a major tournament.
“I feel like, even though it’s August, it’s more like March-April, so I feel like I’m only at the beginning of my season, and I just want to play as many matches as possible.”