On double duty on Friday, Liudmilla Samsonova pulled off the biggest upset of the tournament when she upset World No 2 Aryna Sabalenka in the Round of 16, and then took out Belinda Bencic to reach the semi-finals of the Omnium Banque Nationale présenté par Rogers in Montreal, where she will meet Elena Rybakina, who edged her way past Daria Kasatkina in the early hours of Saturday morning via a final set breaker.
I've played three sets, tough battles, but this, honestly, physically, it's really tough. It's so late, I've never played this late. Thank you so much, and hopefully, somehow, I can recover for tomorrow. Elena Rybakina
Samsonova, the 15th seed from Russia, advanced to her first WTA 1000 quarter-final by outlasting Sabalenka, 7-6(2) 4-6 6-3, in 2 hours and 55 minutes, and then made it a first WTA 1000 semi-final when she returned to the court to beat Belinda Bencic, 6-4 6-4, later in the day.
She was due to play Sabalenka, the Australian Open champion from Belarus, on Thursday night, but multiple rain delays forced the match to be postponed overnight.
Taking on Sabalenka for the 3rd time since October 2022, Samsonova saved 11 of the 13 break points she faced, including 5 of 6 in the final set.
Samsonova, who arrived in Canada on the back of a semi-final showing in Washington, DC, last week, where she was ultimately tripped up in her title defence bid by eventual champion Coco Gauff, defeated Katerina Siniakova and Zheng Qinwen in Montreal to book her showdown with Sabalenka.
The Belarusian arrived here with a chance to claim the No 1 spot off Iga Swiatek, and she showed plenty of fight in the nearly 3-hour centre court battle, but won only 2 of 13 break points while coughing up 11 double-faults, many at key moments.
Samsonova prevailed, and moved into Last 8 to meet Bencic, the 12th seed from Switzerland, who was a 6-7(3) 6-3 6-1 winner over 7th-seeded Czech Petra Kvitova in a clash of former Canadian Open champions.
Both had little time to savour their stunning upsets with their quarter-final set for later on Friday.
“Honestly, it is going to be difficult, it’s going to be hard,” said Samsonova, who has just two wins over top-five ranked opponents and both were against Sabalenka. “I’ll try to save all the energy I can.”
Sabalenka, winner of 3 titles this season, blasted 13 aces but more than offset those with her double-faults, one of which gave Samsonova the decisive break to move 5-3 ahead in the third set, allowing her to serve out the match.
“Last year I played unbelievable in the States in general, and this year I’m going crazy,” said Samsonova.
Meanwhile, Bencic also played out her rain-delayed 3rd-rounder with Kvitova, turning the tide to advance, after rolling her ankle and falling to the ground in the 2nd game of the deciding set.
In a heartwarming display, Kvitova immediately went to Bencic’s aid with an ice pack, and helped her friend to her chair where she comforted her as she kept the ice applied until the physio arrived on Court Rogers.
The match resumed after Bencic received medical treatment, a total pause of about 10 minutes, before the Swiss went on to win in a shade under 3 hours.
33-year old Kvitova managed to take just 1 of the 11 break point chances she created in defeat, but won a legion of fans for her compassion.
Later in the day, Samsonova ended Bencic’s bid in straight sets, once again protecting her serve in staving off all 5 break points she stared down, as the 24-year-old also fired 8 aces against her 6 double-faults.
Samsonova’s opponent in the semi-final was not determined until 5 minutes before 3am on Saturday morning, when 3rd-seeded Rybakina saved a match point while overcoming No 10 seed Daria Kasatkina in a nearly three-and-a-half-hour thriller.
The Kazakh prevailed over the Russian in the final breaker after 3 hours and 27 minutes of play in their quarter-final classic.
“I’ve played three sets, tough battles, but this, honestly, physically, it’s really tough,” Rybakina said on court, after her win. “It’s so late, I’ve never played this late. Thank you so much, and hopefully, somehow, I can recover for tomorrow.”
On a day where 4 of the 5 preceding matches were 3-setters lasting over 2 hours, this final match of the day was the lengthiest by far, and ranks as one of the 10 longest matches this season.
Rybakina has now won all 4 of her WTA 1000 quarter-finals in 2023, after being 0-3 in them before this year, and she also has won 22 matches at this level this year, which leads all players this season.
Both Rybakina and Kasatkina broke serve 10 times in the closely-contested encounter, and the Russian was a game away from a straight-sets win when she served for the match at 5-4 in the second set.
She never reached match point in that game, though, and Rybakina reeled off 6 games in a row to notch up a 3-0 lead in the 3rd set.
Kasatkina then went on a winning streak of her own, taking the next 4 games to lead by a break at 4-3, and she served for the match again at 6-5, but dropped her serve once more to set up the decisive tiebreak.
In the breaker, Rybakina powered to triple match point at 6-3, but Kasatkina rebounded and levelled the score at 6-6.
A 4th match point for Rybakina at 7-6 went begging as well, as Kasatkina won her 2 service points to lead 8-7, and, suddenly, the Russian held a match point of her own.
Rybakina fired an un-returnable serve to erase that chance, and reached 8-8, when a wide Kasatkina backhand gave her a 5th match point, and the No 3 seed converted with a winning overhead.
In the top half of the draw, World No 1 Iga Swiatek found her way past Danielle Collins, after the American snatched the middle set, 6-3 4-6 6-2, to set up a semi-final meeting on Saturday against Jessica Pegula, ranked No 3, who edged her way past her doubles partner, 6th-seeded Doc Gauff, 6-2 5-7 7-5.