Daria Kasatkina might be young, but she’s no rookie. She may not have had big results coming into Indian Wells, but she has certainly had her moments. Thursday at the BNP Paribas Open was yet another one. And now, she also has her best result and first big semifinal with a positively surgical 6-0, 6-2 quarterfinal victory over Angelique Kerber that was almost more thorough than the one-sided score indicates.
The No. 20 seed rendered the former No. 1 and tournament’s No. 10 seed, a player who had been on a roll reaching quarterfinals in all five tournaments in 2018, all but helpless in trying to combat a dizzying array of shots.
“To have this kind of shotmaking at this young an age is amazing,” said Hall of Famer and ESPN analyst Chris Evert. “It takes a whole career to develop an all-court game like this.”
“For me and my game, it’s difficult how she’s playing,” Kerber said. “But I think from my side, I was not able to play my game like I played the last few weeks. I couldn’t find the rhythm.”
The first set was over in an instant, or at least a tennis instant of 22 minutes, as the young Russian was quick in everything she did. Cruising through each game, each point, getting balls from the ballkids.
It was all Kerber could do to keep up and she became seemingly more flustered, over-hitting and forcing shots on the dry, gritty hard court that players seem to either love or hate. Kerber is clearly not on the loving side as Kasatkina spun in serves, sliced backhands and ripped topspin groundstrokes that bounced high and consistently kept the two-time Grand Slam champ off balance.
Kasatkina held an advantage on her first serve, 82 to 63 percent, and converted five of six break point chances while never giving Kerber a single opportunity.
Kerber also didn’t help herself with five double faults and no aces, while Kasatkina had three aces and no doubles. Further evidence of the wide gap on this day were Kerber’s 32 unforced errors to 14 by Kasatkina, and just 10 winners to 21 by Kerber.
“I made a lot of mistakes, easy ones, and not my day in the end,” Kerber said.
After the first set, Kerber’s coach told her to be patient and confident in her game plan. But even when Kasatkina wasn’t trying, with a netcord here, a lunge forehand that ended up a perfect lob there, it worked for her.
“I’m pretty happy with my game today,” Kasatkina said. “I was not really on cruise but I was doing the right things to win.
“Everything that I showed today I was doing in the practices, so I was just playing really calm.”
Kerber, meanwhile, took to yelling at herself during changeovers, a scene Evert referred to as the old Kerber. And when it was over, in a tidy 58 minutes, it was time to assess.
After winning the Australian Open and US Open in 2016 and reaching the Wimbledon final to earn the first No. 1 ranking in her career and dethrone Serena Williams, the proverbial wheels came off in 2017 as Kerber failed to reach the quarterfinals in any major and fell out of the Top 10.
“It is coming, and I played already so many good matches this year,” Kerber said. “This one I will try to forget as fast as possible, but still I know how my game plan is. I know what I need to do. I’m always trying when I’m on court to improve my game. Sometimes you have days like today.”
Flashing her dry sense of humor, Kasatkina said the ease in which she won does not translate to a just-another-match attitude.
“I understand it’s a really important match, that it’s quarterfinals, big tournament, center court, but I was just trying to turn all these things and just go on the court without any doubts, without any bad things which could put pressure on myself. Actually, my head was quite empty. That was the best point.”