Profile | Daria Kasatkina
A junior rival of Belinda Bencic, this Russian prodigy is ready to flourish on the senior stage
By Stephen Higgins | 30 March 2016
We may have seen an epochal moment at the Sibur Arena in February 2016.
In the semi-finals of the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy, we saw the first professional meeting of junior rivals, and still 18-year-olds, Belinda Bencic and Daria Kasatkina.
Bencic, the world no.11 and top seed, had a little too much tour experience for her counterpart that day. Still, in that 4-6 3-6 defeat, the home crowd and TV audience caught a glimpse of a wonderful Russian prospect seeped in talent and fluid movement.
And like so many players before her, Kasatkina can thank good genes for her start.
Brothers Aren't All Bad
Daria 'Dasha' Kasatkina was born in Tolyatti, a town 300km from the Kazakhstan border, on May 7, 1997.
Athletic prowess came in her blood as her father, Sergei, was an ice hockey player and mother, Tatiana, competed in track and field.
In an interview with Tennis.com, Dasha explained how she first got into tennis:
"Because of my brother [Alexander]. He used to play. He was playing just for fun. And he said to my parents, ‘I have to start to play tennis.’ I was six years old. For two years, I used to just play two or three times a week. And I start to play some tournaments, I start to show some results."
Success on the junior circuit came quickly. Kasatkina played her first ITF junior event in her hometown in May 2011. She reached the quarters of the singles and the final of the doubles. The Russian swiftly graduated through the junior grades, capturing a grade 2 event in Moldova in 2012 before a stellar campaign in 2013.
That year, Kasatkina won the Grade 1 International Hard Court Championship in the United States, made the last eight in Roland Garros, the semis of Santa Croce, and the finals of the Trofeo Juan Carlos Ferrero and the Trofeo Bonfiglio. Belinda Bencic, a rival and friend, defeated her in two of those events.
However, while the Swiss prodigy moved on to the WTA Tour soon afterwards, Kasatkina's coach advised his charge to stay a little longer in the juniors. She explained the decision to WTA Insider:
"When [Bencic] started to play pros, I was still playing juniors, and I was talking to my coaches, saying, 'I want to play pro, I want to start to play pros! Why am I still in juniors?' He said, 'Dasha, be cool.' I had to get some experience from juniors and that experience was great. A lot of experience and good memories, and I don't regret it."
Patience proved a virtue as the 17 -year-old defeated Ivana Jorovic 6-7 6-2 6-3 in the 2014 Roland Garros junior final. Like her idol Rafael Nadal that very weekend, Kasatkina was a major champion at the Bois de Boulogne.
With a grand slam under her belt, and a combined ranking of 3, it was time for Dasha to take on the seniors.
Dasha In A Rush
Adapting to the main tour was unusually straightforward for the Russian. Kasatkina wasn't interested in hanging around at the ITF level as she made a semi-final in her third senior appearance in Moscow, and collected a title in Telavi, Georgia on her fourth. 2014 closed with her ranked securely inside the world's top 300.
Part of the teenager's success can be ascribed to a decision she took that Winter.
In October 2014, Kasatkina began to work with Vladimir Platenik, head coach at the Empire Tennis Academy in Trnava, Slovakia. Platenik had been a tour professional and coached Dominika Cibulkova and Nadia Petrova in the past.
The ITF titles continued to flow in 2015. Kasatkina triumphed at Daytona Beach in January, Caserta in May and Minsk (twice) in June. She was readying her break out on the WTA circuit.
At Bad Gastein in July, the Russian defeated two players in qualifying and made a run to the last eight of the Austrian clay court event, dispatching Julia Goerges and taking Sara Errani to three sets. That was followed by a superb effort at Flushing Meadows the following month.
Ranked 133 at the start of the 2015 US Open, Kasatkina survived the notoriously difficult qualifiers and picked up two more victories in the main draw against Daria Gavrilova and her juniors foe, Ana Konjuh.
An ITF win in Saint-Malo, France and a semi-final run in Moscow copper-fastened Kasatkina's place in the year-end top 75.
2016 has seen the 18-year-old push on even further. Dasha has produced fine showings in Melbourne, St. Petersburg and Indian Wells. The Russian's list of vanquished opponents this season is impressive: Venus Williams, Timea Bacsinszky, Anna Karolina Schmiedlova and Dominika Cibulkova.
Dasha received her first Fed Cup call in February against The Netherlands and is hurtling towards the world's top 30 as I write.
Expect to be enthralled by this wonderful talent for many years to come.
Kasatkina's game exudes class. The Russian has an extremely loose wrist, particularly on the forehand, which generates a lot of spin some decent power.
Her backhand is in line with the DNA of her country. It's two-handed and brilliant. It's pleasing to see that the 18-year-old is happy to slice on this side when needs be too.
Possibly the best part of the teenager's game is her movement. Kasatkina is a wonderful athlete who glides around the court effortlessly and appears to always have time on the ball.
Kasatkina possesses a lot of variety too. She is not thrown off by trips to the forecourt or instinctive plays if the need arises.
One area of concern though is her serve. While her first serve can be effective at setting up her next shot, the second delivery is a real liability. During their 2016 Australian Open clash on Rod Laver Arena, Serena Williams feasted on Kasatkina's second serve at will.
Apart from her service issues, which will improve with experience, I'd be wary of placing a ceiling on Kasatkina's career such is her wonderful talent. We're going to really enjoy her progress to the top.