Samsonova’s Goal Is To Have Fun, Play Her Best Tennis In D.C.

Liudmila Samsonova (photo: Ben Solomon/Mubadala Citi DC Open)

WASHINGTON, August 1, 2023 (by Michael Dickens)

Liudmila Samsonova of Russia picked up Monday afternoon in Washington, D.C. where she left off last year. She won on Stadium Court. The defending women’s champion of the Mubadala Citi DC Open, who is ranked 18th and seeded eighth – and also is seeking her fourth career tour-level hard-court title – dropped just four games against 49th-ranked American wild card Danielle Collins to win 6-1, 6-3 in 74 minutes in the tournament’s opening match at William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center in Rock Creek Park.

Samsonova, who has now won six straight matches in the nation’s capital city, struck 17 winners and outscored Collins 61-37 in their first career meeting. She saved both break points she faced. The victory improved her overall win-loss record to 17-16 this season, including 9-8 on hard-court surfaces. Next, she’ll face either No. 32 Sorana Cirstea of Romania or No. 36 Petra Martic of Croatia.

“I’m so happy the way I played today,” Samsonova said in her post-match news conference. “It was tough, because it was the first match here, like defending champion, never easy to go on court. But I think I played a great game today.”

Samsonova was asked what it’s like coming back as the reigning champion. She said: “I’m trying to manage the situation, to try to learn how to arrive to a tournament as a defending champion, how to manage all the situations.

“So, for me, everything is quite new. I’m trying to do my best to enjoy, to have fun, and to play my best tennis.”

Svitolina reprises Wimbledon victory over Azarenka

Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina, playing in her first hard-court match since Miami last year, continued a sting of solid performances in her post-maternity career. In Monday evening’s headliner, the former World No. 3 beat former World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, 7-6 (2), 6-4, in an hour and 48 minutes on Stadium Court. The victory is Svitolina’s second over Azarenka in the past month and follows up her Wimbledon triumph, in which she won 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (9).

“It was a tough match from the start until the end,” Svitolina said in her post-match news conference. “Lots of tense games. So, yeah, I’m really happy I could win the match in two sets.”

Svitolina, who received a main-draw wild card, hit 21 winners and broke Azarenka nine times in 11 tries. She outpointed her foe 68-63. The 27th-ranked Svitolina will face No. 5 seed Daria Kasatkina of Russia the next round. Kasatkina defeated No. 29 Elise Mertens of Belgium, 6-3, 7-5.

Also advancing in the women’s WTA 500 event:

• No. 6 seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, who won by injury retirement over 26th-ranked Anastasia Potapova of Russia, after leading 6-5 in the opening set.

• No. 34 Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine, playing at a career-high ranking, saved a trio of match points against 44th-ranked wild card Bianca Andreescu of Canada and pulled out a third-set tie-break en route to a 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5) that lasted two hours and 43 minutes. Next, she plays No. 2 seed Caroline Garcia of France.

• Qualifier Lauren Davis, ranked 54th, upset No. 40 Sloane Stephens, a former Washington champion, 7-6 (8), 3-6, 6-1, in an all-American battle on John Harris Court.

Shang wins for third straight day

Juncheng “Jerry” Shang of China won his third match in three days to move into the second round of the men’s ATP 500 event.

After stringing a pair of qualifying wins together over the weekend, the 18-year-old lefty born in Beijing but living and training in Bradenton, Fla., defeated No. 155 Emilio Gomez of Ecuador, 6-3, 6-3, in one hour and 24 minutes on Court 5, which has the smallest seating capacity of any of the five courts being used this week at Rock Creek Park. In their first tour-level meeting after Shang had beaten his opponent twice on the Challenger Tour, he outpointed Gomez 65-51. It was Shane’s first main-draw win in an ATP 500 event.

The victory advanced the 149th-ranked Shang into the second round against 43rd-ranked American wild card Ben Shelton, who is seeded 14th – and it’s finally earned him a chance to play on Stadium Court after earlier matches on outer courts John Harris Grandstand and Court 4.

Also advancing to the second round of the men’s ATP 500 event were: Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland, American Michael Mmoh, Russia’s Alexander Shevchenko and Aslan Karatsev, Yosuke Watanuki of Japan, 2022 runner-up Mackenzie McDonald of the United States, Liam Broady of Great Britain, Gregoire Barrere of France, Radu Albot of Moldova and Gaël Monfils of France.

Doubles star power packs Grandstand

Great Britain’s Andy Murray doesn’t play doubles often but when he does it’s something special. Murray and fellow Briton Daniel Evans, who received a wild card into the men’s doubles main draw, eliminated the more experienced team of No. 2 seeds Austin Krajicek of the United States and Mate Pavic of Croatia, 6-3, 6-4, in an hour and 17 minutes on a packed Grandstand under sun-splashed skies. It was Murray’s first foray into doubles this season.

The victory by the British duo came after a highly-entertaining match won in a match tiebreaker by Hubert Hurkacz of Poland and Frances Tiafoe of the United States over Americans Christopher Eubanks and Sebastian Korda, 2-6, 7-6 (9), 10-7, in 91 minutes. The Polish-American duo saved a match point at 8-9 during a second-set tie-break and it gave them new life.

Around the Mubadala Citi DC Open

• Just 20 minutes into his first-round match, Wu Yibing of China collapsed and was assisted off Court 5 after retiring against Yosuke Watanuki of Japan. Wu was ahead 4-1 in the first set and as he returned to his bench to sit down, he collapsed forward over the back of a folding chair after making a wobbly step in approaching it.

It was the second health incident in a match in the past month for Wu, 23, who needed a medical time out after becoming ill at the end of the first set of his first-round loss to France’s Tiafoe at Wimbledon.

The 90th-ranked Hangzhou native was helped to his feet, then eased down onto the court while an umbrella provided shade as he was attended by medical staff. Soon, he walked off the court with assistance.

The win by illness retirement advanced No. 90 Watanuki to play No. 3 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime in the second round.

• Meanwhile, a left thigh injury has forced 95th-ranked American Sofia Kenin to withdraw, prior to her first-round match against 80th-ranked qualifier Magdalena Frech. Replacing Kenin in the women’s draw is 59th-ranked lucky loser Peyton Stearns of the United States.

• Finally, Washington, D.C. native Treat Huey, a career doubles specialist, was honored at the start of the evening session in the Stadium.

Looking ahead to Tuesday

By the numbers

This is American Jennifer Brady‘s first WTA event in nearly two years following an extended period out with right foot and right knee injuries. She last appeared at the Western & Southern Open in 2021. Brady is playing this week using a protected ranking.

“Quotable …”

“Just see that I’m working on things in matches and that it’s improving. Of course, again, you always want to go in and thinking you’re going to win the tournament. But also for me, it’s important to see that I’m improving on little things and things are getting better and I’m able to think my way and work my way through matches and have a really good attitude, especially this week.”

– Top seed Jessica Pegula of the United States, from her pre-tournament press conference on what she’s personally focusing on this week.