Giving Daria Kasatkina a rigid game plan is like limiting a great artist to using a paint-by-numbers kit. Filling her head with elaborate plans makes no sense when she has the skills and creativity to produce masterpieces by relying on her skills and instincts.
The 20-year-old Russian, weary of focusing on tactics and “small things” with her old coach, Vladimir Platenik, began working with coach Philippe Dehaes last year in part because he uncluttered her mind. The results have been astonishing, the latest blooming in a 6-0, 6-2 quarterfinal demolition of No. 10 seed Angelique Kerber on Thursday at the BNP Paribas Open.
Kasatkina, who has beaten all four reigning Grand Slam champions in the past year, displayed a formidable variety of shots in her 58-minute rout of Kerber, a two-time Slam winner and former world No. 1. Kasatkina ended the first set in 22 minutes and left Kerber beseeching the heavens for help. When Kerber stirred in the second set and held serve in the first game, Kasatkina responded by breaking her in the third game and again for a 5-2 lead.
Kasatkina clinched a berth in the semifinals against Venus Williams with a forehand winner, pumping her fists after she recorded her sixth victory this year over a top-20 player. She had defeated No. 13 Sloane Stephens in the third round and No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki in the round of 16.
“With the head, I understand it’s a really important match, that it’s quarterfinals, big tournament, center court, but I was just trying to turn all these things and just go on the court without any doubts, without any bad things which could put pressure on myself,” said Kasatkina, who faced no break points Thursday.
“Actually, my head was quite empty,” she said, smiling. “That was the best point.”
Kerber, 30, has reached at least the quarterfinals in all five tournaments she has played this year but never found her footing against Kasatkina. Kerber also committed too many errors on a surface she found annoyingly slow.
“I was not able to play my best tennis today, but of course I think she played a good match,” Kerber said. “Also, the last matches she played good. She beat good players.”
Kasatkina isn’t letting success go to her head.
“I don’t want people to think that I’m somebody really special, because I’m just a normal human which loves football, which loves good food, you know,” she said. “So I’m just somebody who is also playing tennis.”
Youth prevails again
Borna Coric appeared to be overmatched against big-serving Kevin Anderson early in their quarterfinal Thursday, especially when Anderson — the runner-up at last year’s U.S. Open — broke his serve in the second game of the opening set and again to take the set.
“He was hitting the ball very big, and I just couldn’t find my rhythm on the ball,” Coric said.
The 21-year-old Croatian didn’t get down on himself, as he once might have. He went up a break in the first game of the second set and settled into a slugfest with Anderson, 31.
“In the third, you know it’s one break, it’s two or three points are going to decide, and that’s what happened,” Coric said.
Anderson double-faulted at 2-2 in the tiebreak and Coric took control and wrapped up a 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (3) victory that launched him into the semifinals against Roger Federer. Anderson, No. 9 in the world, had 16 aces and won 82 percent of his first-serve points, but Coric was a determined returner. Avoiding emotional peaks and valleys also was crucial.
“I just decided, OK, I need to accept some things. Like in the first set, I need to accept that I’m not playing well,” Coric said. “He played well. … And again, I need to believe that still I can win, and that’s what I did today.”
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