Daria Kasatkina’s road ends in New York, but her larger journey continues

By Sharada Iyer, Tennis With An Accent

On Monday, when she took the court for her first-round match at Flushing Meadows and the 2022 United States Open, Daria Kasatkina tried to repeat what she’s been doing all this while – controlling what she can while picking herself up to not let go of things that matter to her … and over which she seems to be losing control, even momentarily.

She lost to Harriet Dart in one of the day’s several upsets, but don’t let that match overshadow her recent achievements, or more importantly, the bigger message she carries.

This past Saturday, on the 27th of August, Daria Kasatkina won the title in the WTA event held in Canada, in Granby.

The 25-year-old was the top seed there, although that did her no favours in any of the five matches she played to get to the trophy. In fact, in the first round, she had to get up after being knocked down in the opening set by Greet Minnen before she could make her way into the next round. And once she’d gotten past that hurdle, it was as though she was determined to make her appearance in the event count, in all the ways it was possible for her to do so.

Although it would be a disservice to correlate the Russian’s career trajectory with this one tournament, her indefatigable advance throughout the small tournament can be equated with how she has marched on in the last few months, even as she has been surrounded by the turmoil around her.

In fact, all of Kasatkina’s highs this year have come while she has had to deal with a certain politico’s untrammelled ego trip.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that began at the start of the year saw criticism swiftly being directed at Vladimir Putin and his few allies – especially Belarus – in the political sphere. However, it didn’t take long for such criticism to spill out into the general world, one of which was tennis.

Understandable as the plight of Ukrainian players was, who had to keep going while their homes, families and friends were in the eye of a war, and whose stance in the public was one of anger and frustration caused by their helplessness, the scenario invariably pitted them against the Russian tennis players, who were expected to take – and who, while wanting to, couldn’t do so in an open manner – a stance that called out their country’s ruler for what his actions were – oppression.

If this greeted them outside of the tennis courts, within their domain – in the sport itself – they’ve had to sacrifice playing under their nation’s flag and being treated as pariahs for just hailing from a particular country.

For Kasatkina specifically this meant her semi-finals at the Rome International and French Open get submerged under a political mandate that barred Russian and Belarusian players from playing at Wimbledon. Furthermore, while Kasatkina reached two back-to-back quarter-finals on grass at the Bett1 Open and Bad Homburg Open in Germany, she never got the chance to build upon these results at the one event where every professional tennis player aspires to be … and play.

In light of what transpired at Wimbledon, Kasatkina’s interview to Vitya Kravchenko a fellow Russian and a vlogger, seemed as though things had reached a head – at least for her. The interview that came out in July saw Kasatkina bare not only her thoughts but also her heart. It seemed as though it was her trying to say, without even once saying the words that the world simply needed to listen to her, not just with their ears but also with their hearts and open minds.

“For the war to end. There hasn’t been a single day since February 24 (when Russia invaded Ukraine) that I haven’t read some news or haven’t thought of for the day to pass by,” Kasatkina had replied, in response to what she wanted the most. Then, she went on, “Really I have no connection with it (the war). I haven’t been affected, thank God, barely minimum, Wimbledon and all that. … But people who have relatives in Ukraine, specially when you start talking about Russia. I can’t imagine what they are going through. It’s full-blown nightmare… Without a thought, I would do anything I can (to end it), but unfortunately (I can’t).”

The biggest revelation of that day, however, didn’t come by words. It came by way of tears that Kasatkina spilled when acknowledging that she would’ve a price to pay for voicing her thoughts and that price could also mean her not having a home to return, once the tour shut shop this year.

Not that she kept dwelling on it for long. As she’d said in that interview, a few things were beyond her control while there remained those where she got to decide what she needed – and wanted – to do. In these past two months since that interview, the Togliatty native has done just that.

She bettered her own results this year from where she’d left off in the clay season. In the American swing, she reached – and won – her first title this year in San Jose. Two first-round exits in Toronto and Cincinnati in the WTA 1000 tournaments came up like unexpected speed bumps but she brought the results round to a full circle right before the US Open, by winning in Granby.

It didn’t work out for her in New York, but for Daria Kasatkina, the struggle continues – “struggle” in the sense of carrying on the fight in ways which include yet also transcend the sport of tennis.

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