On a chilly Friday night, 20-year-old Daria Kasatkina upset eighth-seeded 37-year-old Venus Williams in a two-hour 48-minute Indian Wells semi-final to reach the first Premier Mandatory final of her career.
Less than a couple of hours later, an unseeded 20-year-old Naomi Osaka shocked world No. 1 Simona Halep 6-3, 6-0 also booking herself a spot in a maiden final at this level.
Both born in 1997, both knocking out some huge names en route to the final, Osaka and Kasatkina are enjoying a statement week in the California desert and have one clear message to the world.
“That we are coming. Very soon,” said Kasatkina with a smile, following her 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 success over Williams.
Osaka said after her win against Halep: “I kind of feel the same as she (Kasatkina) said. I feel like everyone sort of takes their paths different ways.
“I feel like maybe I came out a little bit slower than she has, because she’s obviously seeded in this tournament and stuff. But I feel like we ended up in the same place, and we’re both going to try really hard.
“And, yeah, I feel like there is a new generation, and we’re trying to push through.”
They’re not just trying, they’re succeeding.
Osaka’s fortnight in Indian Wells has seen her defeat Maria Sharapova, Agnieszka Radwanska, Sachia Vickery, Karolina Pliskova and Halep so far, while Kasatkina’s victims alongside Williams are Katerina Siniakova, Sloane Stephens, Caroline Wozniacki and Angelique Kerber.
Kasatkina was two points away from losing to Williams but the fighting spirit that saw her save a combined five match points en route to the Dubai final last month once again carried her over the finish line.
The Russian has posted victories over each of the four reigning Grand Slam champions within the past seven months, and her route to the Indian Wells title match has seen her defeat four consecutive top-20 players and Major winners.
Osaka, who is the youngest Indian Wells women’s finalist since Wozniacki in 2010, is now 3-4 lifetime against top-five opposition, while Kasatkina now owns five top-10 victories in 2018.
No stranger to battling for nearly three hours on court, Kasatkina apologised ahead of her press conference that she might not be able to string sentences together after such a huge win over Williams.
Her coach, Philippe Dehaes, reminded her during the match of the age difference between Kasatkina and Williams.
“She’s 37, you’re 20. Make her work!” demanded the Belgian coach.
But Williams kept fighting until the very end and it was tiny margins that made the difference in the end.
“She was playing really good, honestly. It was really tough match, so… Yeah. I must, like, give her respect, because she’s playing amazing, really,” said Kasatkina of the seven-time Grand Slam champion.
“Match like this, you’re just speechless. Even I meet my coach and my brother after the match, I was not able to say anything. I was just, like, ‘Aaaaah, okay, that was pretty nice’.
“Too many emotions and you cannot explain everything.”
But that doesn’t mean Kasatkina wasn’t able to soak it all in.
“Sometimes I was even smiling on the court,” said the Russian, who will rise to No. 11 in the world if she loses the final, and No. 9 if she wins it.
“In one moment you just catch yourself, like, you’re in night session, all crowd, you’re playing against a legend, and you are in the third set, for example. And you’re just staying on the return, and you’re like, ‘Come on, maybe it’s the moment of your life’.
“Yeah, for sure you are enjoying these moments.”
When asked to describe what her biggest strength is, Kasatkina says it is her fighting spirit and jokes that her seemingly nerves of steel are “from cold Russia”.
“We are always unhappy. We are strong mentally. So this is our individual part.”
Osaka may have had a fairly easier time on court during her semi-final, but it was not without its nerves.
The young Japanese, who will crack the top-30 for the first time when the new rankings are released on Monday, turned around a 0-3 record against Halep by claiming a first victory over the Romanian.
It was their second showdown of the season – the first being a smooth straight-sets win for Halep in the Australian Open fourth round in January.
“I just really tried to be consistent. I think in Australia I just made way too many mistakes, and I sort of handed her the match. So I just tried to be a little bit annoying and return a lot,” explained Osaka.
The world No. 44 is into just her second WTA final and first since Tokyo 2016.
Asked how it feels to be in the final at a tournament like Indian Wells, Osaka’s response is not what one would expect.
“It feels a little bit lonely, because there’s, like, nobody here. As it goes on, there is less players and stuff. It’s kind of cool, but also a little bit sad because then you’re not around the people that you talk to and stuff,” said Osaka.
“But other than that, it’s cool. Because then, like, all the sushi, there is still a lot of sushi left and stuff…
“I’m really happy I got to the finals, but for me it’s not over until I win or, like, the day is over.”
Sunday will be the first meeting between Kasatkina and Osaka, with the former gunning for a second career title from four finals reached and the latter seeking a maiden WTA trophy.
Before this tournament started, Kasatkina spent time with Osaka on court trying to teach her how to hit a ‘tweener’ shot. The pair are both funny and likeable but have opposite playing styles and very different personalities.
“She’s bad. She cannot get it,” said Kasatkina with a laugh about Osaka’s tweener technique.
But all joking aside, Kasatkina knows what she’s going up against on Sunday.
“She’s playing really well. She’s hitting hard. She has a good serve. She is improving so much, so she’s a really dangerous player,” she said of Osaka.
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