Jurmala Three-Star

Latvians Aleksandrs Samoilovs, Janis Smedins Returning to Form With Consecutive Golds


A group of American players huddled, briefly, in the players tent around a laptop streaming the Moscow Four-Star last weekend, an event that coincided with the Manhattan Beach Open. They watched as Latvians Aleksandrs Samoilovs and Janis Smedins eked out a wild victory over Brazil’s Saymon and Guto, 14-21, 21-12, 22-20.

“They needed that,” was the prevailing sentiment from those who checked in. Indeed, they did. Later, they’d win the gold medal match over Brazilians Alison and Alvaro, 21-12, 21-16. It was their first podium since a win at that very event a year ago, when they beat Alison and Andre, 21-18, 21-13.

It’s been strange this season, to see Samoilovs and Smedins, for so long one of the most consistent teams on the world tour, struggling in the manner they have. In 2018, they competed in 13 events, won two, claimed two more podiums, and only finished outside of the top-10 once. They closed the year ranked third in the world.

This year, injuries and uncharacteristically inconsistent play led to a 25th and two 17ths in their first five events. By the time the Gstaad Major rolled around, they were relegated to the qualifier. In Vienna, they didn’t even make it out, falling to Dutch Steven van de Velde and Christiaan Varenhorst, 19-21, 21-16, 14-16.

It was the first time in their entire partnership, one of the longest running on the world tour, that they hadn’t made it out of a qualifier.

Then came Moscow.

No qualifier, but seeded 18, the road would not be easy. In their pool was Canada’s No. 2, Sam Pedlow and Sam Schachter, and Alison and Alvaro. They split, beating Canada but losing to Brazil, which put them on a road that included Spain’s Pablo Herrera and Adrian Gavira, Russian World Champs Viacheslav Krasilnikov and Oleg Stoyanovskiy, European Championship finalists Nikita Liamin and Taras Myskiv, Saymon and Guto, and Alison and Alvaro again.

They won, against all odds, all of them.

“We are so happy,” Samoilovs said, “especially this season when we struggled a little bit with results. It was really important for us to show good results here.”

Their lucky city. That’s what Samoilovs called Moscow, site of two consecutive gold medals for the Latvians.

If it was, indeed, luck – it wasn’t – then luck seems to travel. It went all the way to Jurmala, Latvia, site of a Three-Star and home tournament for Samoilovs and Smedins. To be fair, Jurmala did not feature the loaded field of Moscow, but to go through an entire Three-Star without losing a set, as Samoilovs and Smedins did, is no small task. Only three teams managed to keep a set within two. The rest were stress-free, a rare event for Samoilovs and Smedins this season, though one that, given this two-week stretch, could become regular enough again.

“It was a tough match,” Samoilovs said of the finals, against Estonia’s Kusti Nolvak and Mart Tiisaar. “We almost lost the first but we managed to win it and continued to stay on fire. Our home crowd really helped us with their support and we found a rhythm and continued to push forward and we were unstoppable.”