Column: One for the ages: Up-and-comer Daria Kasatkina beats Venus Williams to reach BNP Paribas final
The semifinal between 37-year-old Venus Williams and 20-year-old Daria Kasatkina on Friday night at the BNP Paribas Open was a glorious confluence of eras, matching a seven-time Grand Slam champion whose best days are past but still is capable of great tennis against a youngster whose gifts make it easy to imagine she will capture many major titles in years to come.
They produced 2 hours and 48 minutes of delicious drama, of spectacular shot-making sprinkled with seemingly inexcusable unforced errors. The conclusion might have been the beginning of the passing of the torch from Williams’ generation to Kasatkina’s.
The young Russian was two points from defeat in the 10th game of the third set but got new life when Williams appeared to finally wear out on a chilly night. Kasatkina leveled the final set at 5-5 and conceded only two points in the last two games, earning a 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 victory that launched her into Sunday’s final. Her opponent will be unseeded 20-year-old sensation Naomi Osaka of Japan, who upended world No. 1 Simona Halep 6-3, 6-0 in the late semifinal Friday.
“I’m ready,” said Kasatkina, who was seeded 20th but also beat U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, World No. 2 and Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki, and 2016 double-Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber.
“One match to go.”
Williams had played on the professional tour for 21/2 years before Kasatkina was born. Williams seemed to dodge most of the ravages of time and although she didn’t have a great start to the year she got on a roll here that included a victory over sister Serena in the third round.
Kasatkina’s young legs and patience in long rallies won out, bolstered by her astonishing array of shots with pace and ability to hit with great topspin. She committed 35 unforced errors to 63 by Williams, who said losing a match at this stage of her career is as difficult as it ever has been. “She just played a little better at the end,” Williams said. “I really just made too many errors. I have to stop making that many errors against her.”
Kasatkina had a strong start and built a 3-1 lead in the first set, but Williams won four straight games to take a 5-3 lead. Kasatkina broke to cut Williams’ lead to 5-4 but Williams broke back to win the final game. Kasatkina initially seemed nervous and made 12 unforced errors in the first set.
Kasatkina built a 3-1 lead in the second set and nearly squandered that, too. Williams broke again for 3-3 and had five break points in an epic, 22-point eighth game but eventually lost that on an errant forehand, giving Kasatkina a 5-3 lead. She served out the set.
She held for 5-5 and took the next game when Williams double-faulted twice in a row. Two errant forehands by Williams seemed to give Kasatkina strength. Williams had one last moment — a backhand winner at the net — but Kasatkina closed it out.
“Somehow, it just happens,” Kasatkina said of her turnaround. “Five-four in the third, you just feel it and you do it. It was instinct.”
For Williams, it was an unhappy end to a wonderful run. The crowd roared in appreciation but she wasn’t in a mood to enjoy it. “I pretty much come to win tournaments, so if I don’t win, I’m not happy,” she said. For Kasatkina, it might have been the start of something big. Maybe even the acceptance of a torch as she leads a new generation of champions.
Follow Helene Elliott on Twitter @helenenothelen
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