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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Tuesday October 20, 2020

 
Daria Kasatkina

Daria Kasatkina thought she was experienced two years ago, but after two trying seasons she's learning more about herself as she fights to find her form.

Photo Source: AP

At the end of a long, trying two-year period, Russia’s Daria Kasatkina is taking inspiration from the resurrected career of a former World No.1, and growing as a player and person even as she produces a mixed bag of results on court.

Tennis Express

Speaking after her first Top 20 victory of the season, a 6-2, 2-6, 6-3 victory over sixth-seeded Elena Rybakina at the Ostrava Open, Kasatkina says she is happy and hopeful as she wraps up her 2020 campaign.

“I feel different and I'm motivated and I feel very good and I'm happy to play even [though] it's one of the last tournaments of the year, I am trying to squeeze the maximum out of the situation,” she said.

The current World No.75 has often been relegated to qualifying in 2020, which is quite a different reality than the one she experienced two years ago, when she was headed for her first ever year-end Top 10 finish. But at 23, Kasatkina knows the process is more about growing than winning every available match, and she says she’s been doing her share of that.

"That's for sure,” she said during her virtual press conference from Ostrava on Tuesday. “In the past two years I learned a lot. I remember 2019, or somewhere like this, 2018, I said that I'm experienced. Forget that—I was not experienced at that time at all. Now I'm just starting to get the knowledge of how the tennis and how the professional sport works.

“So yes, whatever happens in your life, you go high or down, everything will make you better, so this is how I start to see it."

Kasatkina says she has also taken inspiration from Victoria Azarenka, who shared a difficult but poignant moment on the court with the Russian in Rome when Kasatkina turned her ankle and was forced to retire from their round of 16 encounter last month at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia.

On court Azarenka took a nurturing stance with Kasatkina and off the court she praised the wildly talented Russian and offered her words to live by.

“She's such a talented player that I felt like is always on the verge of kind of that breakthrough where she's going to pick it up,” Azarenka said. “I felt like this was maybe closer to be her moment. So it's very unfortunate that she has an injury. You know what, I feel like and I hope that this moment is going to be a turnaround for her. I know it's an adversity, but I hope she takes the best out of this situation and pushes forward. I feel like she can. I wish her that. I hope she's able to recover before French Open.”


Kasatkina was moved by the support she got from Azarenka and on Tuesday she explained just what it is about the Belarusian that inspires her.

"As we all know, Vika had difficult times," she said. "And it's really inspiring to me how she was able to be focused on herself and not listening to the people that were saying that she cannot [achieve her goals]. She was just going, she was working hard, she was just going her way, and at the end she made it through. She made an amazing run in Cincinnati then the US Open, and after all of that she came to Rome straight after and she adapted so fast to clay, so this is really inspiring, I must say. These stories, they for sure they inspire not only me but also the people who feel that they are down, they feel like they cannot do something, these people they inspire a lot."


Kasatkina has always been a player that could delight fans with her unique court craft and creativity, but it remains unclear where here true ceiling is. Is she a top 10 player that is merely experiencing a rough patch? Does she have enough talent to make up for her lack of power and serving prowess? At 23, the future is indeed a blank slate for Kasatkina. If we didn’t compare her to her breathtaking 2018 standard, we’d likely see her as a player on the rise, a player that is learning the ropes and one that has, in many ways, not even approached her full potential on the court.



Certainly, the work ethic and desire are not lacking. At the moment, Kasatkina’s difficulty seems to be making her practice translate to the match court.

"Of course everything is coming from the work," she said. "I was practicing a lot and I was just waiting for the moment that the confidence and the work will go together and I will be able to do it in the match, not only in the practice."

As her 2020 campaign draws near it is easy to see that Kasatkina has been through a lot emotionally and mentally over the last two seasons. She has weathered those storms and grown, even if at times her on-court results don’t show progress.

In her press she was asked what type of advice she would give to Rybakina, the 21-year-old that is enjoying a breakout year that includes five finals this season. How to sustain elevated form beyond the breakout? It's a question that has puzzled many a player over the years.

Kasatkina demurred, saying that the young Kazakh could come ask her if she needed advice but then added, almost as if to remind herself of what she has learned:

"Basically I can say that it's always not enough," she said. "You have to do more and more. You don't have to stop on one thing. Especially when you are very young, it doesn't have to be a stop point, it has to be like you pass something and you go further."

 

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