By Jane Voigt
March 14, 2018 — Daria Kasatkina flew under the tennis radar until she won The Volvo Car Open last year on Daniel Island, S.C. She defeated, in what many said was an upset, the soon-to-be French Open Champion Jelena Ostapenko 6-3, 6-1. The title was Daria’s first and it remains the only one on her resume. Don’t expect it to stay that way.
Since leaving the Lowcountry of South Carolina Kasatkina has amassed a record that’s gained little attention, perhaps because of her slight stature and ranking although she entered the BNP Paribas Open this year at number 19. She’s five-feet-seven and doesn’t bash the ball, let’s say, a la Jelena Ostapenko. However the Russian native tracks her opponents playing style, plans strategy and how to exploit those who probably believe they can bully her off the court.
Take Caroline Wozniacki — number two in the world and seeded number two at the BNP Paribas Open. Kasatkina defeated the Dane yesterday 6-4, 7-5 to advance to her second quarterfinal at this Premier Mandatory WTA tournament. Since Wozniacki is the reigning Australian Open champion, the win was impressive. Yet, it was the second time Kasatkina had beaten the Dane since the Volvo Car Open; she also eliminated her in the quarterfinals of St. Petersburg this year.
“I’m just going on court and actually now enjoying every minute during I’m playing,” Kasatkina said, after her win, the WTA reported. “I’m playing best matches against the best players. But, as I say, if you want to be on the top you have to beat the top players. So, quite simple rule.”
Kasatkina, following her ’simple rule,’ has defeated all reigning Grand Slam Champions since Daniel Island or Charleston as it is frequently called: Ostapenko (French Open), Garbine Muguruza (Wimbledon), and Sloane Stephens (U.S. Open), which was during round two in Indian Wells. That’s not all: Kasatkina also beat Simona Halep — number one in world and the number one seed at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden site — in Wuhan, China, last fall.
Tomorrow Daria will play two-time Grand Slam Champion and 2015 Volvo Car Open champion Angelique Kerber (No. 10). They are 2-2, head-to-head. The irony of the two Charleston grads match extends a history homegrown at that tournament. “A breakout win in the lower-stakes Charleston often leads to a bigger breakout down the line,” Steve Tignor wrote in the current issue of Tennis Magazine. Call it folklore or fact, it fits Kasatkina’s and Kerber’s ascents in the rankings. Because of the Russian’s win in Charleston, she was seeded at Roland Garros her favorite tournament.
Kasatkina, who turned 20 last May, idolizes Rafael Nadal for his fighting spirit and technique, especially on the red clay of Europe.
“Fighting spirit, as always,” she said smiling, after being asked what was key to her win over Stephens, asapsports.com reported. “I was actually, I was just reading the game pretty well today, moving, and really fighting for every ball. That made the difference.”
Kasatkina is a thinker, a strategist. She’s been like that since she first started traveling with her brother from tournament to tournament. She had no formal coach at the time.
“I had to really think on my own,” she said, after winning Charleston. “I was just playing with the brain. I didn’t have so much power. I was running, trying to spin the ball, move the opponent, and that’s it. I didn’t have so good fitness. So yeah, I was trying to beat the opponents only with the brain work.”
Advancing to the quarterfinals means Kasatkina will surpass her career-high ranking of number 17. She could also crack the top ten, if she wins the title.
Following recent winners from Charleston and beyond …
Jelena Jankovic. Won in 2007. In 2008 she reached the U.S. Open finals and ascended to number-one in the world.
Samantha Stosur. Won in 2010. In 2011, she won the U.S. Open
Andrea Petkovic. Won in 2014. At Roland Garros, that same year, she reached her first Grand Slam semifinal.
Angelique Kerber. Won in 2015. In 2016, she won the Australian Open and the U.S. Open.
Sloane Stephens. Won in 2016. In 2017 she won the U.S. Open.