I’ve just finished watching back the first of the semi-finals from Friday night in Indian Wells between Venus Williams and Daria Kasatkina… wow! In a fabulous match, Kasatkina rallied from a set down to win, 4-6 6-4 7-5 in two hours and 48 minutes. I was so captivated by the match that I have written my first match review in 2018 on the blog. Here are my thoughts on how the match unfolded, complimented with WTA Twitter highlights from the match.
Kasatkina produced one of her best performances to beat Angelique Kerber in the quarter-finals in under an hour and it was clear from the outset that she was brimming with confidence. After an early exchange of breaks, Kasatkina managed to back up another break with a hold to 3-1 as she troubled Williams with her backhand slice, most successful short and mid-court, and was aggressive behind the forehand.
Write off Williams at your own peril. The 37-year-old is one of the most adaptable players on the tour and she soon got a read on the Kasatkina slice. Firing fearsome forehand winners and looking to charge the net, Williams pounced on Kasatkina’s shots increasingly landing short to reel off four games in a row to lead 5-3.
Williams couldn’t serve out the set at *5-3 as Kasatkina played one of her best points of the match to bring up break point. Kasatkina pushed Williams back with the lob and then finished with a cute drop shot.
Williams broke for the first set after two poor points from Kasatkina – a first double fault, followed a forehand way long. Stats wise, the one that stood out was that Kasatkina won just 38% of points behind her first serve.
Kasatkina called down her coach, Philippe Dehaes at the end of the first set who I thought was absolutely terrific. There was no mention of the fact that she had lost the set and it was all about how she was going to turn this around. Dehaes pointed to the slice up the middle of the court, the kick serve to the backhand, the spin on the forehand and the ultimate challenge – follow short balls in and close at the net. ]
There were a few times when Kasatkina could have come in during the first set but noticeably backed off. Dehaes was so good with focusing Kasatkina on what she needed to do going forward that the scoreline wasn’t important and the first set was history.
Kasatkina started the second set with renewed vigour and had Dehaes’s words in her head as she twice came to the net in the game at *2-1 to consolidate her break to 3-1. The drop shot continued to dazzle!
Again, write off Williams at your own peril. The American, just like in the first set, rebounded strongly as she continued to gobble up anything left short in the court. Kasatkina wobbled and double faulted on break point. 3-3 second set.
The turning point of the second set was the eighth game after Kasatkina had just broken again to go up *4-3. In a 12 minute and 53 second game with eight deuces, Kasatkina saved five break points to hold. Dehaes had also mentioned at the end of the first set about making Williams earn it and wear her opponent down. Kasatkina served out the second set against a weary-looking, Williams, 6-4.
Dehaes came down at the end of the second set and urged Kasatkina not to do a U-turn. The hand slap at the end was so meaningful and you could see it in Kasatkina’s eyes – she wanted to do it for herself and for her coach! Kasatkina had all the momentum. Kasatkina seemed to have the legs too. But againnnn, write off Williams at your own peril!
Williams stepped up the aggression once more to get on the board with a hold. She continually charged the net, a tactic that seemed critical if she was going to succeed in the decider. It seemed to upset Kasatkina’s rhythm a little who went through her most passive spell of the match. Williams broke first in the decider to 2-0 with a forehand deep into the corner.
Kasatkina managed to get back on level terms and converted on her fourth break point in the next game. She stepped up a little, hitting a sweeeet return winner on break point, and took advantage of some errors from Williams. In a match that had been dominated by service breaks, the pair began to hold their service games with increasing frequency. In another long service game, this time on Williams’s serve, the American saved two break points to hold to 3-2.
It felt like a potentially big moment. Kasatkina didn’t think so as she held to love, the first of two love service games. The first one she closed with an IDYLLIC backhand slice winner down-the-line.
Kasatkina had another chance to break in Williams’s next service game, but backed off again with Williams clutch as ever to hold to 4-4. The match was now getting to the crunch stage and it was fascinating to watch. Williams played an ultra-aggressive service game at 4-4 where she dominated at the net. One game away…
Kasatkina hadn’t fared so well serving at *4-5 in the first set and this time she was trying to stay in the tournament. It didn’t get off to the best of starts with a forehand down-the-line too early on the first point. She was then too cute at the net for an easy putaway, seemingly fixated on a tremendous get from Williams in the corner. Kasatkina *0-30.
I thought it was curtains for Kasatkina as she missed her first serve. Williams went into the net returning the second serve. The most impressive point of the game, in my opinion, came with Kasatkina serving at *15-30 as she landed a backhand slice with no pace in the middle of the court. This was the tactic that had worked so well at the start of the match and Dehaes had mentioned after the first set. Williams couldn’t handle it. Kasatkina went onto hold with a good forehand into the corner, forcing the error from Williams. That was some escape from Kasatkina and i’m still thinking about that backhand slice. Game changer.
That proved to be the pivotal game of the match as Williams couldn’t hold onto her serve at *5-5, producing two double faults in a row to get broken. Kasatkina played one of her best points of the match in this game with a potent jumping backhand, followed up by a gorgeous drop shot.
Kasatkina stepped up to serve for the match and I was nervous! Granted she got quite a lot of help from Williams who went for it. I admired Williams’s approach to keep coming into the net and while it didn’t pay off, it was the tactic she had to employ if she was to get back into the match. Kasatkina held firm and served out the match to 15.
Kasatkina’s disbelief at the end was cute. Well done, Dasha! What a match.
The final stats for the match are linked below. Key for Kasatkina was improving her percentage of first serve points won and being tough behind the second. After winning just 18% of second serve points in the second set, Kasatkina went a perfect seven out of seven in the third set! Williams produced more winners, but more unforced errors too, many coming right at the end. Kasatkina kept her winners to unforced errors solid throughout the match.
Check out Jimmie48 Photography on Twitter for great shots from the match.
The WTA has been doing a great job this week at posting quality highlights packages on their YouTube page.
Williams once again demonstrated how she can adapt her gameplan for the opponent and I think it is one of her greatest strengths. I haven’t got the final stats for net approaches but she was very successful coming forward. The American had her chance with Kasatkina serving at *4-5 and missed a second serve return just two points away from winning the match which proved to be costly. Still, the effort and fight from Venus continues to shine in 2018.
I’m so thrilled for Kasatkina and this has been an incredible week. The win over Williams was her fourth consecutive win over a Slam champion. I thought she backed off a little at the start of the third set but played a big game at *4-5. Her backhand slice has been brilliant this week and I hope it’s a tactic she will continue to use more and more. The topspin forehand is a weapon. Perhaps rather underrated is the serve which has held up so, so well. To not drop a point on her second serve in the third set against someone as aggressive as Williams is a thing. And most impressively, Kasatkina managed to hold her nerve at the very end.
This was a great, great match and one of the best of the year so far. Venus and Dasha have played each other three times on tour with all three going the distance and two of those matches have been classics. Go watch this one back in full if you can!