World No.9 Belinda Bencic of Switzerland saved three championship points to become the first ever champion of the Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open, presented by Abu Dhabi Sports Council, as she registered a 1-6, 7-6, 6-4 victory over World No.19 Liudmila Samsonova in the singles final.
In the last match of the eight-day competition, Bencic rose to the occasion at the International Tennis Centre in Abu Dhabi to take victory in the new WTA 500 event, held in partnership with Abu Dhabi Sports Council and Mubadala on Sunday.
In front of a fantastic crowd at Stadium Court, Samsonova made a fast start, converting an early break point to lead 3-0. She continued to dominate, losing just one game to secure the first set 6-1.
The second set was the opposite as second seed Bencic found her rhythm to find herself 5-3 up and despite Samsonova rallying back, the Swiss saved three championship points to win the second. Bencic then picked up where she left off, converting a break point early on before holding her serve to take the championship.
It was her first win against Samsonova having lost the previous three meetings and her second title of the year following her triumph in Adelaide.
Following her match, Bencic said: “I’m really happy with how I stayed strong and I’m super happy to finally beat Samsonova and win the title especially as it was a tough final. The third championship point that I saved was a long rally and I tried to scramble for each shot and win another point. Sometimes it’s easy to lose focus and mentally walk away but I felt really good and my team kept pushing me all the way.”
The day also saw Brazil’s Luisa Stefani and China’s Shuai Zhang come from a set down to clinch the doubles title after defeating Japan’s Shuko Aoyama and Chinese Taipei’s Hao-Ching Chan 3-6, 6-2, 10-8.
Shuko Aoyama and Hao-Ching Chan made a perfect start to the match, winning the first four games of the set. Stefani and Zhang managed to reduce the deficit, but Aoyama and Chan built on their advantage to seal the opening set. Stefani and Zhang fought back in the second set to level the tie to force a decider which proved to be a close battle with the pair coming out on top 10-8.
Stefani said: “It was a great match and happy to have won the title with Shuai Zhang who I enjoyed playing with this week. I would like to thank Mubadala and Abu Dhabi Sports Council for putting on a great tournament and the whole team involved, and hopefully I can come back again next year.”
The 2023 Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open official trophy was created by Emirati artist Jamal Habroush Al Suwaidi. The trophy encapsulates the identity and culture of Abu Dhabi along with celebrating the progression of women’s tennis and is called “Seizing the Opportunity. Jamal also designed the 2021 Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic trophies.
Bencic was awarded her winning trophy by HH Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Tolerance and Coexistence during the prize ceremony.
The singles victory for Bencic saw her earn 470 World Ranking points, the eighth title of her career and a prize of US $120,150.
Also in attendance were HH Sheikh Hasher bin Maktoum Al Maktoum, President of Tennis Emirates, His Excellency Homaid Al Shimmari, Deputy Group CEO Mubadala, His Excellency Aref Al Awani, General Secretary Abu Dhabi Sports Council, Vickie Gunnarsson, Director of Tennis Events IMG, Nigel Gupta, Tournament Director, Roberto Ranieri, WTA Supervisor and Claire Wood, Tournament Referee.
The ceremony also saw His Excellency Homaid Al Shimmari, Deputy Group CEO Mubadala present an art portrait piece to the WTA to mark the occasion of its 50th anniversary.
The tournament, which saw more than 60 singles and doubles matches take place across eight days of world-class tennis in Zayed Sports City, attracted nine of the top 20 players on the women’s circuit for the first WTA 500 event to be permanently held in Abu Dhabi.
Homaid Al Shimmari, Deputy Group CEO and Chief Corporate & Human Capital Officer for Mubadala Investment Company, said: “We congratulate all our winners of the inaugural Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open, where we have seen world class tennis on display all week. We thank the WTA, IMG and Abu Dhabi Sports Council for their partnership in bringing this exciting event to the capital.”
His Excellency, Aref Hamad Al Awani, General Secretary of Abu Dhabi Sports Council said: “The success of this tournament and the introduction of the Hologic WTA Tour to Abu Dhabi is a proud moment, as the Emirate continues to advance further in its hosting capabilities as an international sporting capital while supporting our initiatives to inspire the next generation of athletes here in the region.
“The addition of the first ever WTA sanctioned event to Abu Dhabi’s sporting calendar has provided an exceptional display of sporting excellence and determination. We are thankful to all our partners for successfully bringing this world-class event to the nation’s capital and we look forward to seeing the tournament grow in the years to come.”
Vickie Gunnarsson, Director, Tennis Events, IMG said: “It was fantastic to see thousands of fans descend on Zayed Sports City to witness the inaugural Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open and watch the best players live in action. We were treated to some incredible performances on court by elite stars and along with the wide variety of entertainment that was lined up during the event, it was a tennis extravaganza that attracted people of all ages.
“This event would not have been possible without the support of our strategic partners, and we look forward to working alongside them once again as we look forward to hosting the Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open in 2024 and beyond.”
Roberto Ranieri, WTA Tour Supervisor: “Congratulations to the Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open on a successful inaugural event. We were thrilled to be able to bring the sport of women’s tennis to a third location in the Middle East and hope the fans here were entertained. Mubadala and IMG have been continued supporters of our sport, and we look forward to many more years in Abu Dhabi.”
Mubadala Investment Company also announced that over AED 1 million has been raised from ticket sales of the final two days of the tournament which will be donated to the Emirates Red Crescent’s “Bridges of Giving” humanitarian campaign, following the recent earthquake in Turkey and Syria.
The inaugural Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open, which is owned and operated by IMG, was a historic addition to the sporting calendar of the UAE’s capital city, with the first WTA 500 event to be permanently held in the Emirate proving to be a successful inclusion during the WTA’s 50th anniversary celebrations this year.
The 2023 event serves as the beginning of a new era of tennis in Abu Dhabi, a city fast becoming the regional capital of sport with world-class training and performance facilities for athletes. The addition of the WTA sanctioned event continues to progress the initiatives of the nation, providing platforms for female athletes in the region to grow and excel in sports, with the Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open set to return in early 2024.
Besides watching the elite stars in action, there were a wide range of activities and entertainment lined up off the court throughout the week. The fan village featured a number of Q&A sessions with the top WTA stars on tour, interactive sessions and tennis-themed activities as part of the organisers’ on-going efforts to grow the popularity of sport and encourage young athletes to pick up their racquet and adopt a healthy lifestyle.