When Daria Kasatkina tries to describe the special connection she has formed with her coach Philippe Dehaes and why they’ve been working well together so far, the young Russian struggles to find the words.
“He’s trying to listen to me,” said the 20-year-old, who defeated Caroline Wozniacki for a second time this season to reach the quarter-finals of Indian Wells on Tuesday.
“It’s tough to explain. It’s just coming from inside, you know. It’s not, like, just one part is changing or another part is changing. It’s like everything together. Small things are making the difference…
“It’s really tough to find right people which would be around you, like, I don’t know, 300 days per year, 24 hours. It’s tough to find your people, and I hope I found them.”
Kasatkina, enjoying a career-high ranking of No. 19 this fortnight, has been showing great progress week on week so far this season and is coming off a runner-up showing in Dubai, where she saved a combined five match points in her victories over Garbine Muguruza and Johanna Konta, before falling to Elina Svitolina in the final.
With her back against the wall, Kasatkina is as dangerous as ever, and she showed that fighting ability once again against world No. 2 Wozniacki in Indian Wells on Tuesday, where the Russian was behind in both sets but managed to seal the deal 6-4, 7-5. She faces 10th-seeded Angelique Kerber in Thursday’s quarter-finals.
Kasatkina’s record against top-two opposition now is a stunning 5-3.
This year alone, Kasatkina has defeated three top-five opponents and she posted victories over each of the four reigning Grand Slam champions (Jelena Ostapenko, Muguruza, Sloane Stephens and Wozniacki) within the past seven months.
Dehaes, a Belgian coach who teamed up with Kasatkina last fall ahead of the Kremlin Cup, has great belief in his student’s abilities.
“I trust her. I don’t try to come and put too much information in her head because for me, she is an artist,” Dehaes told Sport360.
“So she has to just respect one or two very important rules in her game and also in the head and after that I have to trust her.
“She didn’t ask me to come on the court (during Muguruza match in Dubai) but if she asked me to come I was ready to say ‘Dasha don’t ask me what you have to do because actually you know what you have to do, it’s just having the capacity to do it’. And make some crazy things and play this tennis that is sleeping in here and that she has to just, like a flower, come like this (bloom).”
Down a set and a break, a down and out Kasatkina got a much-needed pep talk from coach Philip Dehaes.
“You’re very close. You want this? It’s beautiful out here. The weather is nice. Let’s stay another two hours.”
— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) February 21, 2018
Dehaes’ on-court pep talks have already become a big hit with tennis fans online, with videos of him talking to Kasatkina during her epic comeback matches in Dubai shared all over social media.
“You’re very close. You want this? You want to continue the fight? It’s beautiful out here. The weather is beautiful, full of people. Let’s stay another two hours, okay?” Dehaes told Kasatkina during a changeover in her match against Konta in Dubai. She smiled after those last words and ended up saving two match points and winning the contest.
“He has become so popular after (that speech). Famous guy,” jokes Kasatkina.
“Actually, the way he’s on-court coaching, he’s the same way in the life. We were having so much fun during the practice, off the court. Yeah, I’m pretty happy now…
“I ask him, like, how you are finding these kind of words. He says, ‘I don’t know. Just coming from my heart’.”
Asked if she has a favourite speech she’s received so far from Dehaes, Kasatkina says: “The speech, which was in Dubai, the most famous one. He’s like, ‘let’s stay two more hours here’. Actually, I stayed exactly two more hours on the court.
“After I said, ‘why you couldn’t say one hour, one-and-a-half, at least?’ ‘No, I was enjoying being on the court watching that tennis’. I say, ‘Good. Good job’.”
Kasatkina believes she’s been feeling more confident on the big stages ever since she joined forces with Dehaes, whom she says is not surprised at any of her major wins.
Philip Dehaes explaining to Daria Kasatkina why and how she has to be more aggressive and take her chances. “If you miss, you miss. What can we do? But until now she is not better than you. You are a little bit afraid.” #DDFTennis pic.twitter.com/CghocLZEup
— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) February 24, 2018
“Of course I knew she has the capacity to be so involved in the fight. The thing is that because she’s very young, she has to do it and show to herself that she can do it,” Dehaes said in Dubai after her comeback wins over Konta and Muguruza.
“And here she did in a big tournament against the top girls, it’s a big improvement for her. She will learn a lot from this…
“The key is not to beat the 1, 2, 3, 4… it’s absolutely a great bonus, but today she is 25 and sometimes she has problems against girls who have a lower ranking because she feels that she cannot lose, blah blah blah, a lot of stuff like this.
“So mentally she has to improve to play her best level against girls who are not so good as Muguruza, Wozniacki, or Konta, which is easier mentally because you have a bit like nothing to lose, you have not too much expectation and then you’re better.
“The key is to do what she did today almost every week against everybody.”
Kasatkina has many unique abilities. She reads the game like no other, blurring the line between instinct and tactics and choosing her shots like she would decide on a chess move.
“She outsmarted me today, which is fair enough,” said Wozniacki on Tuesday after losing to Kasatkina.
Kasatkina agrees, and explains that both her and Wozniacki played a very tactical match.
“Tennis is a mind game, and today was especially this one,” said Kasatkina.
Bend It Like @DKasatkina!
— WTA (@WTA) March 14, 2018
The world No. 19 also has a rare combination of having the ability to hit with lots of power, while also being capable of slicing and dicing to mix up the pace.
“It’s very rare, it’s why for me she has huge capacity for sure to be, one day, maybe in two or three years, one of the best tennis players in the world,” said Dehaes of that particular combo.
“And the main point of course is to win a big, big tournament. Because it’s not a question about ranking. If you’re 20, 25, 15, 18, it’s a bit the same. Now it’s about going to win one of the big four, and to prove to herself she can be part of the best ones.”
Kasatkina will be the top-ranked Russian when the new standings are released after Indian Wells, moving past Svetlana Kuznetsova and Elena Vesnina, whom she beat in Dubai en route to the final.
Kasatkina calls Vesnina her “Tennis Mama” and the pair have a good relationship of the court.
“She’s a very talented and sweet girl and big fighter,” Vesnina says of Kasatkina.
“I’m really happy about her new partnership with her new coach. I think it’s working really well. Yeah, she’s 20-years-old, and let’s see, you know. I think this year she will break through.
“She needs to have results in the big tournaments, you know. She has the game for that.”