Russian delight with Karatsev and Kasatkina double

Breakout star Aslan Karatsev lifted the Dubai trophy, whilst resurgent Daria Kasatkina triumphed on home soil in St Petersburg.

Aslan Karatsev ©Julien Crosnier / FFT
 - Alex Sharp

Backing up a breakout is incredibly tough in elite sport, not for Aslan Karatsev.

The 27-year-old, then ranked No.114, became the first man in the Open Era to reach the semi-finals on his Grand Slam debut at the Australian Open last month. 

Last week the Russian assembled an astonishing week to lift the Dubai title.

South Africa’s Lloyd Harris had dispatched world No.4 Dominic Thiem, Kei Nishikori and Denis Shapovalov to reach the final, but Karatsev clattered 27 winners to command proceedings 6-3, 6-2 for his maiden ATP title. 

Lifting such a prestigious trophy is a long way from being ranked No.263 this time last year. On Monday Karatsev rises to a career-high No.27. 

The Russian, the third wild card to become Dubai champion, replicated his fearless striking from Melbourne to oust four seeded players en route to the final.

A three-sets victory over Dan Evans was followed by two comeback wins against Italian duo Lorenzo Sonego and Jannik Sinner, before a rocket-fuel 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 Russian duel with Andrey Rublev.

Karatsev is certainly comfortable on this stage. 

“I am really happy with my performance and really happy with my game,” said the straight-talking 27-year-old. “After the Australian Open, for sure gave me confidence, I kept going, practising hard… I arrived here with more belief than in Doha. I showed a fantastic week and a good game.”

Prior to this season, Karatsev was more accustomed to scrapping on the Challenger circuit, arriving into 2021 with a 3-10 ATP record. 

However, this season he’s already at 12-2, with only world No.1 Novak Djokovic and Thiem inflicting defeat. 

“You never know when success is coming," said Karatsev. "I did a good job with my team, with my coach and it has happened now.”

Daria Kasatkina ©Julien Crosnier / FFT

Karatsev’s compatriot Daria Kasatkina is also enjoying being back in the winner’s circle.

The former Top 10 star has shrugged off turbulent form over the past couple of campaigns to enjoy a true resurgence in 2021.

The 23-year-old is the first player to win two WTA titles this season, capturing her fourth career title on home soil in St Petersburg at the weekend.

Kasatkina, who is now back in the Top 40, led Margarita Gasparyan 6-3, 2-1 (retired) with expansive and confident play.  

The tale of the week proves Kasatkina is well and truly up for the fight to maintain her renaissance momentum.

She ended Danish teenager Clara Tauson’s hot streak 6-4, 7-6(0), prior to overhauling a set deficit in three compelling clashes against Aliaksandra Sasnovich, second seed Veronika Kudermetova and fourth seed Svetlana Kuznetsova to book her final ticket.

"My coach was telling me the best medicine is to win matches, and that's 100% true,” reflected the versatile Russian, possessing a 15-4 match record this campaign. 

"I'm proud of how I was able to manage the pressure. I felt differently during this tournament and I'm really proud of that."

Kasatkina, having won 11 of her last 12 matches, returns to Spain to prepare for the Road to Roland Garros. The 2018 quarter-finalist is one to watch in the build-up to Paris. 

14th ATP title for Zverev

Wearing a Mexico football shirt and the winner’s traditional blue sombrero, Alexander Zverev lifted Acapulco’s signature silver gourd trophy at the weekend for his 14th career title. 

The world No.7 capped an impressive week to topple top seed Stefanos Tsitsipas from 1-4 in the first set and set point down at 5-6 in the second to prevail 6-4, 7-6(3) in a hot shot-rich contest. 

“I’ve always said that this is definitely a tournament that I wanted to win in my career,” said the forward-thinking German. “I have a very strong relationship with Mexico and with this tournament. I came here with a goal and I achieved it, and I’m very happy with that.

“The main goal is still the biggest titles in the world. The Grand Slams are the most difficult ones to win and I haven’t achieved that yet, but I am looking forward to it. I think this is a big stepping stone for me.”

Maiden WTA title for Leylah Fernandez

Less than two years after her Roland-Garros girls title, young Canadian Leylah Fernandez won her first WTA title beating Viktorija Golubic (6-1, 6-4) in Monterrey's final.

"It was a family effort for years," said the 18-year-old. "I was very happy that the hard work and sacrifices that we’ve done since the beginning is paying off, and just hoping there will be many more."