Rejuvenated Dasha on upward trajectory on and off court

 - Alex Sharp

Russian speaks to in a reflective mood following her second-round win over good friend Belinda Bencic

Daria Kasatkina, Roland Garros 2021, second round© Philippe Montigny/FFT

After some extensive soul-searching Daria Kasatkina is comfortable in her own skin on and off the court.

The Russian has all the tools at her disposal; thunderous power, impressive pace and a repertoire of shots many would envy.

The 24-year-old has already achieved a lot; breaking the top 10 in 2018 and also reaching the quarter-finals at Roland-Garros and Wimbledon that same season.

Since then Kasatkina has experienced fluctuations in her mental health and that transferred onto the court. Thankfully all seems on an upward trajectory at the moment.

"A lot has been changed because between this time, 2018 and now, there was one amazing year for me, which was important as well in a good and in the bad way,” the world No.37 told, following her impeccable 6-2, 6-2 performance against close friend Belinda Bencic in the second round on Wednesday.

“I learned a lot, and I think I have become a little bit different, maybe more experienced, a bit more serious.

“I understand more why I'm winning or why I'm losing. At that time everything was just going with the wave, and I was not thinking that much. Now I'm just analysing more what's going on in the situation I'm in. Yeah, getting a bit more mature.”

Back in 2019 Kasatkina was tempted to call it a day on her professional tennis career, bemused as results became less successful. It was important for the Russian to step back and reassess.

“I think for the professional athletes what's happening on the field, in my case on the court, everything is going to your life. If you're not happy on the court, you are not going to be happy in your life, especially if you're ambitious, if you have big goals. That's what was going on with me,” admitted the 24-year-old.  

“I was not happy being on the court. That's automatically transferred to the life, to my mind. I was starting to think like maybe I have to do something else to be happy, but that was just a bad moment, which was quite long I think. 

“I'm happy that I had that experience, this background, and I started to understand myself better, which is also very important.”

Kasatkina worked with a sports psychologist from the end of 2019 through the lockdowns in 2020, also being guided by “good vibes” within a strong group of people in her team. 

“Professional sport is tough and is getting more and more competitive. It's difficult especially when you are quite young and you get some success at the beginning of your career and you want more and more and more, but in one point you start maybe losing a little bit and you think that everything is falling apart,” continued Kasatkina, already chalking up 20 match-wins in 2021.

“You have to have the right people around you who can explain you that it's absolutely normal and you have to just keep going. Doesn't matter what. And work on yourself, work on your mind, and don't let the bad thoughts come into your head.

“Now I'm working more with myself, on my mind, because I got a lot of information, a lot of good experience and everything during this I think year and a half, working very intense with a sports psychologist, and now I also want to do a little bit more by myself.”

Daria Kasatkina, Roland Garros 2021, second round© Philippe Montigny/FFT

The world No.37 was very revealing earlier this year in a documentary with Russian reporter Sonya Tartakova, opening up on a range of topics including her private life.

“Well, it's always not easy, especially to talk about it when you know that a lot of people will find out about everything. But I'm happy in the end to talk about it, because we are the way we are, and it's maybe stupid to trying to be a different person or to be someone that people want you to be,” stated Kasatkina, believing she feels “safe” in the tennis community.

“I didn't want that, and I'm trying always to be open and true self. That's what I did, and I'm happy of that interview.”

If you haven’t already, check out Kasatkina’s superior sense of humour on TikTok. However, she’s happy to prioritise another deep run at Roland-Garros.

“You need a lot of time and a free mind. So the ideas are coming very easy, which I don't have now obviously, because the tournament, work," explained the Barcelona-based player.

“I don't have time anymore for the TikTok and making videos. Maybe offseason or when I have a little bit of time between the tournaments. I hope I will not have this time here.”

© Sindy Thomas/FFT

Having taken titles in Melbourne and St. Petersburg this season, Kasatkina is enjoying a fine campaign, which coupled with her Grand Slam prowess could propel her to the latter stages again.

“The fact that I already went far in one or two Grand Slams for sure would help me, because it's experience and it's always new to face these kind of matches like quarter-finals and further. So in case that I go that far, which will be amazing always, I think for sure this experience would help me,” continued the 2014 Roland-Garros junior champion, who next takes on Sorana Cirstea.

“But I have a third-round match and that's my main goal for the moment.”