By Jane Voigt
Daniel Island, S.C., April 9, 2017 — If you graded their match, Daria Kasatkina would get an ‘A’ and Jelena Ostapenko a ‘C.’ The young Russian immediately adjusted her thinking cap and, as a result, won her inaugural WTA career title at 19 by. She defeated Ostapenko, 6-3, 6-1.
Kasatkina was humbled and grateful as she thanked sponsors, fans and everything and anything to do with Volvo Car Open, during the awards’ presentation. She especially liked the selection of Volvos — 3 — that drove on court, making quite a backdrop for the Swedish car company’s second year of sponsorship.
She picked the SUV.
“The big one. The SUV I took,” she told the press later. “You know, in Slovakia not the best roads. Not like in USA. So I have to take a big car, a big safety car.”
Along with that fun car perk she earned $132,380, 470 points, and a projected skip up to No. 28 in the rankings.
‘Dasha,’ as fans and friends call her, exposed her emotions as they seemed to overwhelm any consideration of pride and composure.
“One more thing,” she said on court, breaking down in tears. “I want to thank Vladie [her coach]. “[You’re] always on my side.”
Ostapenko admitted her disappointment, her third final of her young career. She, too, is 19.
“Im not very pleased how I played today,” she began. “Hopefully, next time I can a play better here.”
Both faced big expectations, although nerves did not seem to play a role until the middle of the first set when Ostapenko’s power game went haywire.
“Today was really not my day,” she began, looking as if she’d shed a few tears on her way to the media tent. “I just didn’t feel the ball that well. I was missing too much. And because she was only defending during the short match … just probably not my day.”
In direct contrast to Ostapenko’s game stood Kasatkina. She has worked earnestly on improving her aggressive side, but knew beforehand that she probably couldn’t win the title if she played into Jelena’s power game.
“Today the tactic was to be a little bit more defensive,” Kasatkina said. “Spin, slice the ball because it’s clay. She really plays aggressive. And usually she is beating aggressive players because she like the type of game. So we decide that I have to go back and make her tired. It was a good tactic, I think.”
“I actually knew she was going to play like that; I played her a couple times,” Ostapenko said. “But then I was trying just to like put it in the ball [in the court], but I think I wasn’t moving that well. I played the whole week against such great players and maybe I also felt a bit tired because I played the semis in doubles yesterday.”
Ostapenko’s biggest win of the week was against Caroline Wozniacki, the fifth seed. Jelena hit 40 winners in a straight set victory, to just 19 errors. Wozniacki, like Kasatkina today, is a defensive player and one more skilled at that strategy. However, the effect of Kasatkina’s tennis during the final was much more successful.
Her use of slice, high-rollers, and ball placement in the court corners, threw off Ostapenko’s desire to hit winners, which when she did usually produced errors. You could label the Latvian a ‘one trick pony,’ but you’d have to admit that the trick is a darn good one. She prefers hard courts and grass for good reason.
“I’m [an] aggressive player,” she began. “I don’t think she could be more aggressive than me. So she was trying to change the rhythm, play slice, lobs, to do kick serves, trying to make me uncomfortable. Normally, I’m fine with that, but today I just didn’t feel the ball that well.”
Kasatkina showed her youthful nature, after the match.
“Very difficult to describe my feeling now,” she said. “I feel I’m just sleeping and everything is not real. I’m so happy, really. When I won the last ball, everything like closed and I just feel like I’m dreaming.”
She said she had to fly home tomorrow and indicated that packing her bags was how she’d spend the evening.
“I’m leaving tomorrow, early morning. So I need to pack my bags; and not so much celebration,” she said, grinning. “But … no, no. I will celebrate for sure. What are you talking about? Pack the bags. Come on, Daria. I think we will go out for sure. First, I will pack and then we will go out so I can go back and just go to sleep.”
Kasatkina is young and could go on to win many more titles, even Grand Slams. Her willingness to listen to her coach and adopt new techniques and tactics speaks well for her future. Her style is smooth, like a pleasing melody. Her game is a full-fledged orchestra, as well. Her imperturbable nature during the match gave nothing away. As they say, she played within herself. Yet, she will have to mature and grow. Good thing she likes to study opponents, like a researcher would study past occurrences to more accurately predict.
“I like to play, let’s say, from the opponent,” she said. “I like always watching the matches and trying to understand what the opponent really doesn’t like, what she likes, how better to play, the weather conditions. From this I am building my game.”
Her penchant to research and react started to develop at a young age.
“I was traveling all over with my brother,” she began. “I had to really think on my own. I was just playing with my brain. I didn’t have so much power. I was running, trying to spin the ball, move the opponent. I didn’t have such good fitness. So, I tried to beat them with the brain work.”
Her studious nature and tennis talent has landed her alongside some of the biggest names in the sport. For example, she became the sixth teenager to win Charleston. She joins Chris Evert (1974), Tracy Austin (1979, 1980), Steffi Graf (1986, 1987, 1989), Martina Hingis (1997, 1999) and Sabine Lisicki (2009).
If she returns to Charleston next year, she’ll have to deal with different expectations and attitudes from herself and from the tournament. She won’t just be another player to step on court.
“Okay … I need to prepare for these things,” she said, giggling. “It never happened before. So a little makeup for the pictures? No, I’m joking. I don’t realize it yet, so I’m enjoying it every moment, every second. When I was on the court after the last point, I just wanted the moment to stop because it was one of the best moments in my life.”