Kasatkina: “I’m learning pretty fast"

The youngest of the eight women's quarter-finalists at age 21, Kasatkina has even bigger wins in her sights.

Daria Kasatkina© Julien Crosnier / FFT
 - Kate Battersby

If you’re going to win through to your first Grand Slam quarter-final, you might as well do it in style. Thus Daria Kasatkina made it three straight-sets wins out of three in 2018 over Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki, to earn her berth in the last eight at Roland-Garros.

For the breakout star of the women’s tournament here, look no further than Kasatkina. At 21 the Russian is the youngest in the remaining octet, and the only one breathing the heady air of a Grand Slam quarter-final for the very first time. She faces another stern test if she is to journey a step further. Her adversary is another reigning Grand Slam champion, this time US Open winner Sloane Stephens, who has a lot of people musing that she has the game for clay.

Meanwhile, Kasatkina loves the red dirt (she was junior champion here four years ago) but has the skills for other surfaces too, as her runner-up spot to Naomi Osaka at Indian Wells this year testifies. So while she is a baseliner with a killer forehand, she is unafraid to come forward, and can also throw in shrewd slice and deceiving topspin.

Moreover, she likes to work a problem mentally, thinking her way through the best tactical path available. That even shows off-court where she is not only friendly and approachable, but engages with journalists’ questions rather than trotting out platitudes.

Kasatkina found time for a chat with rolandgarros.com right after that authoritative win over Wozniacki. Face-to-face what is striking anew is that at 1.70m (5'7"), she is on the short side by today’s standards. Yet the evidence shows that pound-for-pound she nullifies that factor.

So with so many shots at her disposal, what goes through her mind at the moment the ball crosses the net? She rolled her eyes and laughed.

“So many thoughts go through my head, and you have to choose only one – it’s pretty tough!” she grinned. “It’s a split-second decision and you just have to feel these things, by nature and instinct. When you’re confident, everything is easy. It’s more difficult when you’re in the… I cannot use a rude word, but in a bad position. Then it’s tough.

“I'm trying to play a more strategic game, because I'm not the biggest girl to hit balls so hard, so I have to find different ways to win. If you want to win, you have to adapt.”

In more ways than one during this fortnight, it turned out – her pre-booked accommodation for Roland-Garros ran out on Monday, the day she concluded her Wozniacki match. Going this deep in the tournament has obliged her to find a hotel for the rest of her campaign. As she said with a smile: “I’m not complaining.”

Some have drawn parallels between Kasatkina’s game and those of Martina Hingis and even Marat Safain. But the Russian has only ever had one hero she wanted to emulate. Rafael Nadal won his first Roland-Garros title in 2005, just two years after Kasatkina first started playing tennis at age six.

“I was watching him all through my childhood,” she remembered. “Maybe that’s why I have the spin and all these kind of things in my game.”

But at 21, while she is still growing into her game and learning how to deploy all her weapons to maximum effect, she is already her own woman.

“I’m learning pretty fast how to manage this critical situation. Every time I get new experience, like in the Indian Wells final, it shows in the next matches.”

Future opponents, you have been warned.