Abu Dhabi: Elena Rybakina breaks Liudmila Samsonova curse, plays No. 7 seed in final

After losing her first four matches against Samsonova, Rybakina finally earned her first win over the Russian in Abu Dhabi.

by Dzevad Mesic
Abu Dhabi: Elena Rybakina breaks Liudmila Samsonova curse, plays No. 7 seed in final
© Getty Images Sport - Christopher Pike

World No. 5 Elena Rybakina has finally clinched her first win over Liudmila Samsonova as the Kazakh beat the Russian to progress into the Abu Dhabi Open final.

Rybakina, the top seed in Abu Dhabi, overcame No. 8 seed Samsonova 6-0 4-6 6-2. For 24-year-old Rybakina, this was her first win over 25-year-old Samsonova, who beat her in their first four meetings. 

For the Abu Dhabi title on Sunday, Rybakina will be fighting against No. 7 seed Daria Kasatkina, who edged out sixth-seeded Beatriz Haddad Maia 6-3 4-6 7-6 (2). When Rybakina and 26-year-old Kasatkina meet in the Abu Dhabi final, they will be clashing against each other for the fifth game. 

Through their first four meetings, the head-to-head stands at 2-2. In their last meeting that came half a year ago in Montreal, Rybakina saved a match point en route to edging out Kasatkina in a thriller 5-7 7-5 7-6 (8).

Elena Rybakina
Elena Rybakina© Getty Images Sport - Minas Panagiotakis

On Sunday, it will be either Rybakina or Kasatkina lifting a maiden Abu Dhabi title.

How Rybakina defeated Samsonova?

Rybakina came out firing against Samsonova and determined to make a statement early on, breaking the Russian three times in the first set and not allowing a single break point to win the opener in a very dominant way.

After basically not showing up in the first set, Samsonova bounced back at the start of the second set as she broke Rybakina in the first game before also serving out the following game for a 2-0 lead. In the fourth game, Samsonova saved two break points before breaking Rybakina again in the following game for a 4-1 lead.

Down by two breaks in the second set, Rybakina didn't quit as she managed to get one break back in the sixth game. After getting the first break back, Rybakina had a chance to get the second break back as well but she missed out on a break point in the eighth game as Samsonova opened a 5-3 lead. With a chance to serve out for the second set in the 10th game, Samsonova got the job done after realizing her first set point to force a decider.

But Rybakina didn't panic after losing the second set as the Kazakh bounced back by breaking Samsonova in the fourth game for an early lead in the third set. With Rybakina 5-2 up and Samsonova serving to stay in the match, the top-seeded Kazakh collected her second break of the set to complete a three-set win over the Russian.

Elena Rybakina
Elena Rybakina© Getty Images Sport - Christopher Pike

How Kasatkina beat Haddad Maia in a thriller?

Throughout the first set, a total of 11 break points were seen as Kasatkina broke Haddad Maia in the first game before getting broken back instantly in the second game. Soon more break points came as Kasatkina saved three consecutive break points in the fourth game before breaking Haddad Maia in the fifth and seventh games for a 5-2 lead. 

After losing four consecutive games, Haddad Maia managed to get one break back in the eighth game. But Haddad Maia's struggles on serve continued as Kasatkina earned her fourth break of the first set in the ninth game to seal the opener.

Up by a set, Kasatkina also started the second set with an early break and a 2-0 lead. Just when it seemed that Kasatkina was pulling away from Haddad Maia, the Brazilian responded by earning back-to-back breaks and winning four games in a row to go 4-2 up in the second set.

After serving out the seventh game to end Haddad Maia's run of four games, Kasatkina had two break points in the eighth game but failed to realize as the Brazilian opened a 5-3 lead. Serving for the second set in the 10th game, Haddad Maia opened 40/0 in her game before converting her third set point to send the match into a decider.

After winning the second set, Haddad Maia claimed an early third-set break for a 2-0 lead and also had a break point in the third game to go up by a double break - but she didn't realize it. After managing to serve out the third game, Kasatkina also got the break back in the fourth game to tie the third set to two games apiece. 

In the next two games, Kasatkina and Haddad Maia traded breaks as they were leveled to three games apiece through the opening six games of the decider. In the remainder of the set, both players had a chance to claim a break but didn't convert their chances - Kasatkina didn't realize any of her three break points in the eighth game while Haddad Maia missed out on two break points in the ninth game and two more in the 11th game. 

In the third-set tie-break, Kasatkina and Haddad Maia were tied to two points apiece before the Russian won the next five points to edge out the Brazilian after two hours and 59 minutes of play.

Daria Kasatkina
Daria Kasatkina© Getty Images Sport - Christopher Pike

“Bia is a huge fighter, one of the biggest on tour. Her level of giving everything on the court is just incredible. She didn’t give me anything for free. I had to earn this myself," Kasatkina said after beating Haddad Maia.

It remains to be seen if Kasatkina can upset Rybakina in the Abu Dhabi final on Sunday.

Elena Rybakina Liudmila Samsonova