Daria Kasatkina and a moment of opportunity

By Jane Voigt, Tennis With An Accent

We all have our favorites. Mine happens to be Daria Kasatkina. I covered her matches at the then Volvo Car Open in 2017, when she won her first WTA career title. She defeated a heavily favored newcomer Jelena Ostapenko in an all-teen final, the first since 2009 for the WTA. Daria, or Dasha, as she is frequently called, dominated the final because she was steady, clever and quietly determined. Ostapenko kept punishing the ball on her shots, relentless in her determination to prove power trumps consistency on the green clay of Daniel Island, S. C. Nonetheless, Dasha’s consistency put power in its place.

Monday at Roland Garros, Kasatkina (No. 20) defeated Camila Giorgi (No. 30), 6-2, 6-2, another power player. For her efforts, Kasatkina earned a place in the quarterfinals of Roland Garros. It’s her first quarterfinal at a major since back-to-back runs in 2018 at Wimbledon and Roland Garros. 

“I’m happy to be back in the quarterfinals,” Kasatkina told the press after her match. “It’s kind of like a benchmark of something and, yeah, I’m happy to achieve this one again.” 

Admitting that she “didn’t change anything” and “I hope I stayed the same person,” she added this note for clarity: “Maybe a little bit more mature. I hope that I grew up a little bit.”

Her performance Monday comes off a successful clay-court season this spring. She reached the semifinal in Rome, defeating second-seeded Paula Badosa in the third round, then losing to eventual runner-up Ons Jabeur in the semifinal. Daria also advanced to the third round in Madrid, and the second round in Stuttgart. All these results came after a recovery from COVID-19, which she contracted before St. Petersburg, forcing her to withdraw. 

“In Rome I start to feel like, yeah, I’m getting there,” she said after her match Monday. “After the match with Paula [Badosa], because I enjoyed the level at the game I was playing and the match, then watching the match and realizing I really like how everything was going. I think after that there was a little click, let’s say, and now I’m here.”

As with many players who seize success as a teenager, Kasatkina stumbled after breaking into the top 10 in October of 2018, when she had won The Kremlin Cup by coming from a set and break down to defeat Ons Jabeur in the final. Daria’s campaigns from 2019-2020 showed mixed results, as her ranking fell to 66 after two years in the top 10. 

“I don’t remember myself six years ago,” she said. “But watching the matches from the past I can see that I’m making a bit better decisions in the important moments. Physically, I think I become better, I’m working a lot. So, I think from my point of view this is the main changes.”

Kasatkina is currently ranked No. 20, picking up the pace since this time last year when she was ranked No. 37.

So far at Roland Garros Daria has lost only 14 games. No one has done better. 

Kasatkina will face Veronika Kudermetova (No. 29 seed) in their quarterfinal match Wednesday, beginning just after noon in Paris. 

The two women have played each other frequently, especially in juniors. 

“We played so many times,” Daria said, adding, “she has a big serve and hits [hard].”

Kasatkina speaks in ways that can leave listeners believing in fate.

“Some of the things you cannot explain,” she said, after being asked about her career progress since 2016. “Some things [are] meant to happen, some things don’t. So we will see if this one [a place in the semifinals] is waiting for me. I hope it is yes and I will do everything for that.”

Kudermetova took out Madison Keys Monday in the fourth round, preventing Kasatkina a fateful matchup with a player she had lost to seven consecutive times. Kudermetova played power to power, as Keys’ errors piled up in the second and third sets. Kudermetova’s game style will replicate that of Ostapenko’s back Charleston in 2018, as well as Keys’.

But it’s not 2018 and this is not a WTA Premier event. This is a quarterfinal of Roland Garros. Both women have grown. Both will fight hard. This quarterfinal is Kudermetova’s first foray this deep at any major, having never made it beyond the second round in Paris. Additionally, Kudermetova hoisted the trophy on Daniel Island in 2021, just as Kasatkina did in 2017. 

Nonetheless, in the end, Daria leaves the meta questions to fate, a future she cannot foresee and may not want to foresee, but imagines as another moment for good memories.

“We were on one team winning Billie Jean King Cup last year, so we have many good memories to share together. We will see, maybe we will have one more, playing quarters at Roland Garros. I think it’s a very nice moment.”

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