All in for this one… a battle of the 18-year-olds will be the second of Saturday’s semi-finals in St. Petersburg. While just two months separate Belinda Bencic and Daria Kasatkina in age, 52 places separate the pair in the rankings. Bencic has had the far greater exposure on the WTA tour but Kasatkina is beginning to make her move…
Kasatkina has produced back-to-back Premier semi-final performances in Russia with a wonderful quarter-final win over Dominika Cibulkova, 4-6 7-5 6-3. This was a statement win from Kasatkina who played some inspired tennis, particularly at the end of the third set. The 18-year-old had an early break in the first set before Cibulkova rallied to win the opener. Kasatkina was also up in the second set with a double break 5-2 lead, but twice failed to serve out the set as she became passive and let the nerves take hold. Cibulkova had a game point for 6-5 but was broken again with Kasatkina, taking on board the words of wisdom from her coach, playing more aggressively and refocusing to force a decider.
The first four games of the decider went with serve despite break points in each one; Kasatkina started to look a little fatigued on serve at 1-2, but she held on and then out of nowhere, found another level. Cibulkova was overdoing it and committing a lot of unforced errors but Kasatkina raised her game, playing a particularly potent return game at 4-2 to get the double break. She was unable to serve it out, but returned it out to love, running around her backhand to hit a smashing forehand return winner. Kasatkina finished with super stats of 35 winners to 18 unforced errors. However, I think the statisticians have been pretty kind this week!
Bencic continues to impress with her ability to tough out wins; it certainly wasn’t pretty from either player but Bencic came from a set down to defeat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 6-7(4) 6-4 6-2. I feel like I aged several years during this match particularly with all those deuce games in the second set! Bencic admitted in her post-match interview that it wasn’t a good match but she did clean up her game in the final set with some help from Pavs. I feel like a broken record but the way that Bencic is managing to keep rolling out these wins is huge.
Head-to-head record: This will be a first career match-up on the WTA tour between the pair
Interesting stat: Bencic has already won 11 matches in 2016 and has now won her last 16 three set matches.
Final Thoughts: There’s a number of external factors that come into this match. Bencic finished her singles match after midnight and was clearly suffering with a cold although to her credit she offered no excuses in her post-match interview. Furthermore, Kasatkina had a long singles match and is back on the court (at the time of writing) in doubles and won’t be sleeping until the early hours of the morning. The match will likely be played in the late afternoon in St. Petersburg so it’s a rough deal for both. Bencic hasn’t played well at all in the first two matches, not helped by clearly being under the weather, but with her will to win right now, i’d fancy her game to hold up.
Really looking forward to this match!
Prediction: Bencic d. Kasatkina in 3 sets