It seems like Daria Kasatkina is a Tour veteran after making her WTA Debut back in 2013 but she is still at the tender age of 23.
A Former world No.3 junior player who once won the French Open girls’ title, Kasatkina was billed as a star of the future from a young age. By 18 she had broken into the world’s top 100 and scored a win over top 20 player Carla Suarez Navarro. Three years later she rose to a ranking high of ninth in 2017 and looked to be on the path of becoming a star of the sport. However, Kasatkina’s roller-coaster career hasn’t been without its blips. A series of disappointing results and confidence setbacks during 2019 lead to her dropping to as low as 75th last year.
After the period of frustration, the right-handed Russian is getting herself back on track under the careful watch of her coach Carlos Martinez. A former player on the men’s Tour who has also worked with the likes of Svetlana Kuznetsova, Marc Lopez, Kateryna Kozlova and Feliciano Lopez. Kasatkina has already won two titles this year in Melbourne and St Petersburg. The only other player to have won multiple trophies in the women’s game so far this season is world No.1 Ash Barty. Overall, she has recorded 15 wins in 2021 which is the fourth-highest on the Tour.
“For me the key was the hard work with her during the preseason and during the last few months of last season. She was doing well, especially after the clay courts (last Autumn). She got confident,” Martinez tells UbiTennis about Kasatkina’s resurgence.
“One thing we were talking about was our expectations. We don’t have any this year because for us the most important thing is to go day-by-day. When we talk about our work it’s day-by-day and this is what she did really well. That’s why we have started the season like this.’
“Of course, we didn’t expect this but the truth is she is playing well. Not amazing, but she is managing the matches very good and has more confidence.”
Sandwiched between the two titles won was a first-round defeat to Alize Cornet at the Dubai Tennis Championships. Her earliest loss in a tournament since the US Open. Ironically the setback turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
“Dubai was like an alarm. Not like an alarm at the end of a tournament when you win and relax a little bit. She didn’t relax much but we had a few problems with the visas and stuff. So she had to take some time and we couldn’t prepare very well,” Martinez reflected.
“It’s true we flew to Dubai a couple days before the tournament but conditions were different for her than Australia.’
“The ball was flying too much for her and she didn’t like it. But she did a good job afterwards when we flew to Moscow to prepare well indoors. After this, she got into a good shape.”
Within four months Kasatkina has almost cut her ranking in half (72 to 37). Although both her and Martinez admits there is still work to be done. Her biggest win during that period was over Petra Martic who was ranked 18th at the time during their clash in Melbourne. Her only meeting with a top 10 opponent was at the Australian Open where she lost 6-7(5), 3-6, to Aryna Sabalenka.
Martinez now has the task of trying to ensure his player continues her form over the coming weeks. A job that is easier said than done in women’s tennis given the depth of the game. Kasatkina has already experienced what it is like to stumble on the Tour. Something her team is eager to avoid.
“We know how difficult it is to be at the top and to keep this rhythm. To win two titles in five tournaments is super difficult,” he said.
“With the mental part, it’s true that we talk and talk. She was living this experience in 2018 and we can’t get into the same hole. That’s why I insist (on talking) a lot.’
“Tennis is super difficult and then when you win a tournament, next week it will be a totally different story. You have to start from Zero. That’s why I think she understands what our way is to get success and I hope it’s going to happen from now during the clay season.”
Big things to come on clay?
Fortunately for the world No.37 she will soon be starting her campaign on the European clay. A surface that brings her fond memories. Out of all the Grand Slams, she has won the most matches at the French Open with a win-loss record of 10-5. Reaching the quarter-finals back in 2018. Although she has only won one title on the clay in her career which was back in 2017 at the Volvo Open in Charleston.
“She prefers to play on the clay. In my opinion, she can play well anywhere,” Martinez states.
“We are preparing for the clay court season but we are not doing anything different between the hard court and clay court. Talking about the tactical or technical things. Technically you can of course change a few things but our job is the same.”
One of the intriguing aspects of the clay swing for Kasatkina is how her team plans to assess how successful it goes. One would think it would be simply related to match results but her coach points out that there is something more significant that needs to be focused on.
“A good clay court season for her in my opinion would be keeping this level mentally and with her tennis that she has shown in the last tournaments. I think she can do big things but I can’t measure which one is going to be the result which makes me happy,” he explains.
“The most important thing is to get the level and once you get the level things will go well on the court. You’re gonna get success for sure in the long term. This was my philosophy when I started working with her and I think this is working. I will not change my mentality.”
Looking further ahead Kasatkina has her eyes on securing a place in the Tokyo Olympics. She made her Olympic debut back in 2016 by reaching the quarter-finals in both singles and doubles. Although trying to book a place in the tournament is far from easy given the number of Russian players bidding for selection. The country currently has five women in the top 40 with Kasatkina being the fourth highest.
“The Olympics are one of our goals because she is not in a bad position,” Martinez outlines. “It’s going to be tough because there are many very good Russian players. Kudermetova, Kuznetsova, Pavlychenkova and Alexandrova are also fighting for these positions. So it’s going to be a tough battle and I hope we get this goal.”
The games were meant to take place last year but were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result international fans are banned from attending the event in a bid to minimise a risk of an outbreak. Meanwhile, a debate is ongoing in tennis about if players should be vaccinated or not. Something that tennis’ governing bodies have urged players to do but some are hesitant.
“The vaccination is one that everybody has to get because it is for our health,” Martinez weighs in on the debate. “Health is the most important thing in life so I think we are going to be very happy when we have our vaccine. Of course, everybody has their doubts about the consequences but in my opinion it’s super important.”
EXCLUSIVE: Daria Kasatkina’s Coach – Swiatek Will Lose One Day, So Why Not At The French Open?
Following the Kasatkina’s milestone win at Roland Garros, her mentor Carlos Martinez speaks exclusively to Ubitennis.
At the age of 25 Daria Kasatkina is relishing in her best-ever run at a Grand Slam tournament after reaching the semi-finals of the French Open without dropping a set.
Kasatkina, who has been ranked as high as 10th in the world, has been in impressive form throughout the tournament so far after dropping a total of just 14 games in her first four matches. To put that into perspective, only three players have conceded fewer games in the women’s draw to reach the last eight of the French Open since 2000. She encountered a slightly trickier test in Wednesday’s quarter-final where she ousted compatriot Veronika Kudermetova 6-4, 7-6(5). A player who earlier in the clay season was runner-up at the Istanbul Open before going on to win the women’s doubles title in Rome.
The world No.20 is now through to the last four of a major for the first time on her 26th attempt. Overseeing her performance is Spanish Coach Carlos Martinez who has been a fixture in her team for three years. Martinez has a wealth of experience in the sport. Besides being a former professional player himself, he has also guided the likes of Svetlana Kuznetsova, Marc Lopez, Kateryna Kozlova and Feliciano Lopez.
“Dasha is generally doing well in this tournament. She’s managing her emotions very good because it is not easy,” Martinez replied when asked about Kasatkina’s French Open run so far.
“At the beginning of the week she had a very good draw because she played against a lucky loser and then in the second round she played against a qualified ranked 200th in the world. She knew she had to win these two matches and that it is not easy to manage her nerves.’
“From that point she started playing much better. Against (Shelby) Rogers she played a very smart match and the exact same against (Camila) Giorgi. Today (in the quarter-finals) was very emotional for her because she played against a fellow Russian.”
According to data from Flashscore, Kasakina has won between 57% and 76% of her first service points during her five matches played at the French Open. Furthermore, she has managed to save 10 out of 19 break points she has faced so far. Whilst they are not flawless statistics, it is the consistency that is bringing her success.
“She is managing very well. She is not playing unbelievable but she’s making very good decisions,” Martinez explains. “This is the work she has been doing in the last couple of weeks during her clay court preparation. We are very happy with the result.”
“(But) we want more. As I told her the train doesn’t come many times and once it passes you have to then catch it.”
Seeking her place in a Grand Slam final for the first time, Kasatkina next takes on Iga Swiatek. A player who has been her nemesis in recent months. She has already played the world No.1 three times in 2022 and lost all of them in straight sets. On the other hand, Kasatkina did beat the Pole in three sets last year on the grass at Eastbourne.
Undoubtedly she will be the underdog in the semi-final given the dominance by her upcoming opponent in recent weeks. Since 2000, only the Williams sisters have won more matches in a row than Swiatek on the WTA Tour.
“Iga is the player who is in the best shape at the moment. She has won her past 33 matches so it won’t be easy. But the thing I said to Dasha is that one day she has to lose, so why not tomorrow? (semi-finals day),” Martinez said of the upcoming match.
“Dasha has the game to try to win. I think it is going to be a good battle. We have nothing to lose and a lot of things to win. So I think it will be an interesting match and I hope that it is going to be a tough battle.’
There is also an extra incentive for Kasakina to win. Should she progress to the final she will enter the top 10 once again for the first time since January 2019.
Mats Wilander Exclusive: World Events Making Rublev And Medvedev More Focused At French Open
The former world No.1 and Eurosport presenter has also tipped a young 20-year-old player on the Tour to crack the top 10 in the future.
Mats Wilander believes Russia’s top two men’s players are finding comfort playing on the court in the wake of an ongoing military conflict involving their country.
Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev are competing in this year’s French Open as neutral athletes following a joint-decision by tennis’ governing bodies to remove the flags of Russia and Belarus from being used in tournaments. The action was taken in response to Russia’s ongoing military assault against neighbouring Ukraine which began on February 24th that has already killed thousands of people, according to the United Nations. Both Wimbledon and the British LTA have gone one step further by banning those athletes from competing all together.
Seventh seed Rublev will play Jannik Sinner in his fourth round encounter at Roland Garros on Monday. The 24-year-old is bidding to reach the last eight of the tournament for only the second time in his career after 2020. He trails Sinner 1-2 in their head-to-head with his only victory being due to a retirement.
“I’ve watched him pretty well. He’s winning pretty easily and improving the way he is playing every time I see him,” Wilander told Ubitennis when asked about Sinner’s chances.
“(Andrey) Rublev is probably not a great opponent for him because they play similar and Rublev is a little bit faster.”
Former world No.1 Wilander, who won three out of his seven major titles at the French Open, admits that Rublev can at times lack variety in his game but says it can also be an advantage for him. Furthermore, the Swede believes he is even more focused on the court due to the ongoing political fallout.
“Rublev is tough. I think Jannik has a good chance at some point to be maybe in the top five. But Rublev right now is mentally in a different place.” He continued.
“Of course he doesn’t (have the variety in his game) but sometimes that is also a strength. It is simpler to play when you don’t have the variety and when you have a reason to be extremely focused because of the situation in the rest of the world.’
“It’s a very nice place to be on the tennis court right now when you play in a Grand Slam and you’re not representing your country. It is like a safe place.”
Rublev has dropped a set in all three of his previous matches against Soonwoo Kwon, Federico Delbonis and Christian Garin in the French capital.
Another player bidding for a place in the quarter-finals is Daniil Medvedev who plays Marin Cilic in his fourth round match. The world No.1 has a rocky relationship when it comes to playing on the clay and is yet to win a title of any sort on the surface.
“The same thing applies with Daniil (Medvedev). I think what’s going on in the world has a lot to do with how players react on the court,” Wilander commented. “I think for them (Rublev and Medvedev) it is such a serious situation.’
“I think they are going to die an ‘athlete’s death’ on the court. It’s going to be tough to beat them.” He added.
Praise for Musetti
One player which has caught the attention of Wilander is Lorenzo Musetti. A 20-year-old Italian currently ranked 66th in the world who held a two-set lead against Stefanos Tsitsipas in the first round before losing. Triggering memories of his clash with Novak Djokovic 12 months ago, which he also lost after having a two-set lead.
“The question for him is how does he learn to play five sets? Maybe he already knows how to play five sets. He has played two (at the French Open) against the champion last year and a potential champion this year. He was two sets to love up against both of them – Jesus, that’s unbelievable.” he said.
“I think he’s going to be unbelievably good. He has the right attitude.”
Despite those two tough losses, Wilander believes Musetti has a very bright future as he tips him to crack the top 10. The 2019 US Open boys champion is yet to win an ATP title, but has scored two wins over top 10 players – Diego Schwartzman at the 2021 Mexican Open and Felix Auger-Aliassime at the 2022 Monte Carlo Masters.
“He has the quality of being in the top 10, for sure,” Wilander states.
“He has the tennis quality to be better than the top 10. It’s very difficult to be better than the top 10 unless you do well at all the majors.”
Musetti’s conqueror Tsitsipas will play Holger Rune in his fourth round match.
(Exclusive) Albert Costa: “Davis Cup Finals Are Going To Remain The Best Of Three Sets”
Last week at the Barcelona Open during one of the many suspensions due to the rainy weather UbiTennis had a chat with 2002 French Open champion Albert Costa in the elegant clubhouse of the Real Club de Tennis de Barcelona.
By Federico Bertelli, translated by Kingsley Elliot Kaye
Born in Lleida, Albert Costa grew up as a tennis player at the Real Club de Tennis de Barcelona and also won the tournament in 1997. When he retired from tennis he became the director of the tournament until three years ago when he handed it over to David Ferrer. One of the best stands on the centre court takes his name. Until the 1980s the tennis stadium was the Spanish team’s Davis Cup home.
Now, after stepping down from his role at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell, Albert Costa has become tournament director of the Davis Cup which is now advertised as “The World Cup of Tennis.”
UBITENNIS: Players have asked to be able conclude their season before playing the Davis Cup. As a result, the group ties which will determine the eight quarter finalists have been moved to September and the final knockout stage will unfold over five days. What can you tell us about this? Is it going to be a definitive format?
Albert Costa: It hasn’t been confirmed yet but likely it will be six days starting on Tuesday until Sunday. It is not yet agreed with ITF but, as organisers of the event, our intention is to play from Tuesday to Sunday at the end of November. As far as the future is concerned, we are trying to find the best solution. We are aware that the first years will require some fine tuning but I believe that in the next one or two years we’re going to reach a consolidated format, which will enable us to work comfortably and to give certainty to our stakeholders.
UBITENNIS: In 2022 and 2023 the Davis Cup will be played in Malaga. Can you tell us anything more about the selection process, considering that last year they were speaking about Abu Dhabi and then at the beginning of 2022 a neutral location was being considered?
Albert Costa: Actually we were in negotiations with Abu Dhabi, there was a concrete proposal. Then Malaga came up with a very attractive proposal and at that point we considered other factors which led us to choose the latter: tennis tradition and culture are at a different level in Spain and this was an aspect that drove Kosmos to choose Malaga. Other considerations are involved as well: an easier destination to reach for tennis fans. Europe is the centre of tennis in terms of countries and players, the ATP finals are played indoors in Turin. This last aspect is particularly relevant: in fact it is very simple to move to Malaga just a few days later and the environment is similar. Besides, Malaga is a city which is growing very fast and sees Davis Cup as an opportunity to gain visibility and to pair with its tourism.
UBITENNIS: The first edition of Davis Cup with the new format was played at the Caja Magica in Madrid, where the Mutua Madrid Open usually takes place. One of the advantages of the facilities is the possibility to use the three indoor courts simultaneously. Has the idea of playing simultaneous matches been put aside? Playing more than one match at the same time could allow them to go back to the 5-set format like in the old Davis Cup.
Albert Costa: I know very well the format of the former Davis Cup, but we have ruled out going back to five set matches. We haven’t taken into consideration the option of playing simultaneously.
UBITENNIS: But with the current three match format, the double counts very much, much more than before; amazing runs like those of Djokovic or Murray, who a few years ago carried their teams on their shoulders and led them to victory, now would no longer be possible.
Albert Costa: It’s true. With the new format, having a great number one isn’t enough. You need a balanced team with a good doubles. But in this way the format makes competition tighter and more open and potentially there is a great number of teams that can win the trophy. This makes it all more exciting. For instance Serbia, in spite of having Djokovic, who has dominated tennis over the last years, hasn’t yet succeeded in winning the Davis Cup with the new format.
UBITENNIS: Summing up, the 3-match format, two singles and one doubles, isn’t going to change.
Albert Costa: Yes, I confirm this is the direction we are taking: 3 matches in one day.
UBITENNIS: Speaking about the calendar, which are your expectations in terms of public, now that tennis fans have got two months to make arrangements for going to watch their team? Last year it was very complicated since the teams qualified for the quarter finals were known only one week before they actually played.
Albert Costa: Now it’s much easier. We are going to work with travel agencies in order to set up interesting packages. We are also going to work with the national federations in this direction. We are aware that environment and support are the distinguishing traits that make Davis Cup so special. Our target for 2022 is to have at least 1000 supporters for each team cheering their players from the stands. The environment is definitely one of the key factors to success. This means that we want at least 8000 supporters coming from the different countries for the final eight. If Spain were to reach this stage, the number would be even higher. Then we have to add the neutral public that simply comes in to enjoy tennis. Our idea is to create an experience which combines Davis Cup with the possibility to have a trip to the Mediterranean and enjoy the city.
UBITENNIS: The old format was no longer viable. For many players winning Davis Cup once in their career was enough, whereas Majors are never enough. How do you think you can succeed in attracting the best players to always play Davis Cup?
Albert Costa: when I used to play from 1995 to 2005, I remember that the players were already asking to change the format. It was impossible to dedicate four weeks to the Davis Cup, which often involved moving to different surfaces from the Tour schedule. With the new format the workload is different. The players of a team that reaches the final stage have to invest three weeks. In terms of surfaces and event preparation it’s all much simpler: the final stage of Davis Cup is played indoors, just like the rest of the indoor season. As the matches are played best of three sets the players are much less impacted in terms of physical engagement, which is an excellent thing considering the increasing amount of injuries we’ve seen recently. It’s true that in the past many players were content with contributing to winning one Davis Cup only. We aim at providing a comfortable scheduling so that players will be eager to participate every year.
UBITENNIS: Wouldn’t the event be made more legendary if at least in the final the matches were played best of five sets?
Albert Costa: I understand the historical point of view, but also the finals of the ATP Masters 1000 and of the ATP Finals were played best of five sets and now things have changed. Especially with the stress, both physical and mental, which modern tennis brings in. Players are already pushing their limits. It’s already three matches, which means at least six hours of competition. It’s enough both for the public and for the players. I believe that the value of a Davis Cup victory cannot be measured on the basis of the physical toll paid by players. It’s the overall value of the team that ought to be rewarded, which is also the reason why it is fair that the most well-balanced teams, with a strong number 1, a good number 2 and a good doubles, are the most likely to win.
UBITENNIS: Under a communication profile the claim that has been delivered since 2019 is that it’s a World Cup of Tennis. This theme has already been broadly discussed, but I’d still like to hear your opinion as a former player.
Albert Costa: Before the format we used to play with, home and away ties, Davis Cup was like America’s Cup, where the winner of the previous edition waited for the challenger selection series. Changes are in the order of things. I believe that going towards a World Cup type of format, with a group stage and a knockout stage is an excellent solution.
UBITENNIS: A last question: until 2023 everything is scheduled, in terms of format and location. For 2024 could there be an agreement with ATP Cup?
Albert Costa: We are working at it. Having Davis Cup at the end of November and ATP Cup at the beginning of January doesn’t make much sense. Kosmos and the other parties involved have to get into talks. We’re trying. Let’s see what comes out of it.
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