Belinda Bencic made her return to tennis action a triumphant one this past week – having lost to eventual winner Aryna Sabalenka at last month’s Australian Open. The Olympic champion won a trio of matches in straight-sets, but needed to save three match points and recover from a set down to overwhelm Russia’s Liudmila Samsonova in yesterday’s Abu Dhabi Open.
two in two months: bencic sealed her second wta title of 2023
Bencic  bt. Samsonova  1-6, 7-6 (10-8), 6-4
After winning the Adelaide 2 trophy on January 14, Bencic has secured her second WTA 500 title in the space of a month after holding firm under duress in what proved a dicey set two tiebreak before eventually overwhelming Samsonova over three sets on Sunday afternoon.
It was their fourth H2H meeting and this marks the Swiss international’s first win in their series, which included a Berlin final on grass and Luxembourg quarter-final during the 2021 season.
Although Samsonova started brilliantly, her level tapered off just as Bencic was getting into her rhythm and the final stats speak volumes: 20 more winners, but equally 19 more unforced errors.
Route to the final
The 25-year-old, the event’s second seed, had to beat Marta Kostyuk (6-4, 7-5), Shelby Rogers (7-6, 6-2) and Elena Rybakina’s conqueror Beatriz Haddad Maia (6-2, 6-3) en route to the finale.
Samsonova had a deceptively tough draw too: rising American Claire Liu in three sets to begin her tournament, French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova (7-5, 7-6) and her Russian compatriot Veronika Kudermetova (6-3, 6-3) afterwards, before Qinwen Zheng in the semifinals.
The 24-year-old won eight of the match’s last nine points during another three-set clash, this time a much closer affair in the final stages against a Chinese youngster who has risen to a new career-high world no. 24 after an excellent week. Her reward? R1 vs. Maria Sakkari in Doha.
Bencic, like Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka, leads the way on the WTA tour with two singles titles so far this year. I wrote this story back in August 2021 on how pressure would build, both internally and among critics, as far as fulfilling her full potential at the biggest events.
Since coming unstuck at the quarter-final stage against shock first-time titlist Emma Raducanu in Flushing Meadows to close out 2021, her fourth-round result in Melbourne last month marked her best Major finish since. For a player of her quality, that isn’t good enough.
The manner of Sunday’s victory should provide renewed hope about an ability to grit out big wins, especially when not playing her best tennis.
“I just really tried hanging in there, scramble for every point, just do my best. I’m really happy to walk away with the title, think I played some really good matches, but they were also tough. I proved to myself that I can really fight hard, stay in matches and somehow turn it around.”
Although it’s her eighth WTA career singles title against a familiar face she had never beaten before, there isn’t much time in the calendar to savour that triumph right now. Why, you ask?
There’s another WTA 500 event already underway with a stacked entry list, that’s why!
Doha, R2 matches
Top half of the draw
Iga Swiatek  vs. Elise Mertens or Danielle Collins
Victoria Azarenka [WC] vs. Viktoriya Tomova or Belinda Bencic
Coco Gauff  vs. Petra Kvitova or Shuai Zhang
Sofia Kenin [WC] or Luidmila Samsonova vs. Veronika Kudermetova 
Maria Sakkari  or Qinwen Zheng vs. Ekaterina Alexandrova or Karolina Pliskova [Q]
Karolina Muchova [PR] vs. Caroline Garcia 
Daria Kasatkina  or Rebecca Marino [Q] vs. Paula Badosa or Beatriz Haddad Maia
Madison Keys or Jelena Ostapenko vs. Jessica Pegula 
Picture source: Getty Images