Sunday’s final at the 2017 Volvo Car Open will be an all unseeded affair between teens, Daria Kasatkina and Jelena Ostapenko. After two entertaining three set semi-finals on Saturday, the pair will both be vying for their first WTA title.
Kasatkina d. Siegemund, 3-6 6-2 6-1 (SF)
Kasatkina reached her first WTA final with a come-from-behind victory against a tiring, Laura Siegemund. The German player had started strongly, recovering from an early break down in the first set and powering through with aggression and variety. Siegemund finished the set with a sensational drop shot and a backhand winner down-the-line.
Kasatkina had a rather heated chat with her coach, Vladimir Platenik early on in the second set where he argued that she was lacking intensity and aggression, and was getting “killed” by Siegemund. Platenik urged Kasatkina to change her tactics and play with more spin, and she did just that – in fact after this chat, Kasatkina won 10 of the last 12 games! The second set came down to a pivotal fifth game with six deuces. Kasatkina broke through on her fifth break point, taking advantage of Siegemund’s increasingly attackable second serve – Siegemund won just one point on her second serve in the second set. 21 unforced errors also didn’t help her cause.
Into a third set and Kasatkina ran away with it, playing aggressive tennis, much like she did in her quarter-final against Irina-Camelia Begu. There was even a jumping backhand winner! Siegemund suddenly called a medical time-out down 0-4 – normally I give the benefit of the doubt, but this is a regular tactic from the German player and in my opinion, a blatant act of gamesmanship. On the resumption, Kasatkina quickly went down *0-40. Thankfully, the Russian player regained her focus to hold and eventually served out the match to book her place in Sunday’s final.
Ostapenko d. Lucic-Baroni, 6-3 5-7 6-4 (SF)
In a heavy-hitting second semi-final, Ostapenko was often the better player but was frequently pegged back by a gritty, Lucic-Baroni who showed great spirit to force a decider. Ostapenko won 80% of first serves in the first set and also hit some decent second serves which took Lucic-Baroni by surprise. The Croatian player wasn’t quite on her game – while there were the customary heavy returns, Ostapenko anticipated well and was effective in redirecting with angles. Ostapenko served out the first set, saving a break point with an ace.
After a trio of breaks in the second set, Ostapenko consolidated her break to lead 5-3 with a gritty hold of serve. Ostapenko served for the match at 6-3 *5-4 but Lucic-Baroni had other ideas. Ostapenko saved one break point with a fantastic second serve. Lucic-Baroni chalked up another break point which she duly converted on a fast-paced and fun rally. Ostapenko began to crumble a tad as Lucic-Baroni reeled off four straight games, winning the set on a return winner.
Ostapenko refocused in the decider to quickly go up *4-1 with a double break. Lucic-Baroni pulled up with a knee issue midway through the set and required a medical time-out but still kept battling, getting one of the breaks back. Second time round, Ostapenko was able to serve out the match at *5-4. The difference was a good percentage of first serves in and a much more positive body language. Compared to all the gesticulation in the second set, Ostapenko was much calmer and didn’t let things snowball out of control.
Head-to-head record: Ostapenko leads Kasatkina, 2-0 in their head-to-head. Their first match was on the clay in an ITF tournament in Trnava (2015) where Ostapenko won, 6-3 6-1! Their only previous match on the WTA tour came in Eastbourne last year where Ostapenko won, 4-6 6-2 6-3. I watched the match live last year and it was super entertaining! While it was Kasatkina’s first match on the grass, she became increasingly passive and didn’t do enough in terms of variety to throw Ostapenko off her rhythm.
Interesting stat(s): Heading into Charleston, Kasatkina was on a four match losing streak and had not won on tour in well over a month with her last win coming against the number one seed in Doha, Angelique Kerber. One week on, Kasatkina has reeled off five straight wins and is into a first WTA final! Ostapenko will be competing in her third WTA final having most recently lost a three setter final in Doha to Carla Suárez Navarro last year.
Final thoughts: As alluded to above, Kasatkina will need to inject variety in her game and take on her coach’s call to be more aggressive as Ostapenko will be a tough match-up as she is playing some fine tennis this week and has been hitting winners all over the shop. A positive for Kasatkina is that she has shown encouraging signs in her last two matches of stepping up and using her heavy top-spin forehand to great effect on this surface. Ostapenko’s nerves have been an issue in the past and while she did fail to serve out the second set against Lucic-Baroni, she showed character to serve out the win in the third set.
This should be a fascinating final between two contrasting game styles – with a first title up for grabs, it makes it even more interesting with nerves likely to be jangling! Ostapenko has the superior weapons in terms of power but if Kasatkina can mix up her play effectively with variety and spin, and not rely just on defence, I think she might just come through…