This story on Daria Kasatkina begins in New York one month ago.
Kasatkina played Jo Konta in a twisting, turning, tight and contentious first-round match at the U.S. Open. The winner of that match had a good draw in the second and third rounds, a gateway to a fourth-round result, a fat paycheck, a significant points bump, and a chance to feel confident about her tennis heading into autumn.
Konta won that match in three sets. She went to the quarterfinals for the first time at the U.S. Open.
Kasatkina was left to wonder when her career would be renewed.
It wasn’t supposed to work this way in 2019 for Kasatkina, but it has. In marked contrast to Naomi Osaka, Kasatkina hasn’t climbed to the top tier of the sport since the 2018 Indian Wells final. Osaka and Kasatkina used very different styles of play to make that final in Southern California, but they both showed considerable tennis acumen.
Kasatkina’s lack of a serve is the huge point of differentiation with Osaka. It held her back, and it spilled into other aspects of her game. Yet, if you saw the 2018 Wimbledon quarterfinal against Angelique Kerber, you saw how deft Kasatkina is with a racquet.
Soft hands, amazing touch and feel, and a highly advanced sense of the geometry of a tennis court make Kasatkina very difficult to play when her shots are working well. She can overcome her serve and bother the hell out of opponents.
If she could just get by a few tough early-round matches and get on a run — like Konta in New York, at her expense — Kasatkina could find a revival.
We don’t yet know if this revival is happening in Beijing at the China Open… but Kasatkina has at least given herself a chance to find out.
Winning matches will raise happy and hopeful questions about the rediscovery of one’s game.
Kasatkina came through a tough first-round match with Peng Shuai, 6-4 in the third. Then, on Tuesday in Beijing, she defeated Wuhan (repeat) champion Aryna Sabalenka, winning the second set in a 7-5 tiebreaker.
This is exactly the kind of test Kasatkina had not been passing often enough to insert herself into the higher levels of the WTA conversation in 2019. If she can win two more matches this week and reach a Premier Mandatory semifinal, she will not leave the 2019 season empty-handed.
Daria Kasatkina shows that raising questions isn’t always a pejorative occurrence in the cauldron of elite competition. We will see what answers she provides as Beijing — and the 2019 season — move toward a conclusion.
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