Daria Kasatkina and coach Philippe Dehaes reflect on emotional Moscow win, 2018 season and top-10 debut

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The latest new addition to the world’s top-10, Daria Kasatkina has one more chance to finish her season on a high when she takes to the court on Tuesday as the top seed of the WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai.

The 21-year-old Russian fulfilled a childhood dream when she won her home tournament in Moscow earlier this month, pulling off an incredible comeback to defeat Ons Jabeur in the final.

The victory gave her a place in the top-10 for the first time and sent her to Singapore as an alternate for the WTA Finals. With no withdrawals occurring, Kasatkina did not get to compete in Singapore, but she did get to explore the city, do some shopping, and more importantly spend hours on the practice court with her coach Philippe Dehaes in preparation for her last event in Zhuhai.

The young Russian, who has her own unique brand of creative tennis, is one of the now famous Generation ’97 that has taken the tour by storm over the past two seasons.

She reached the finals in Dubai and Indian Wells earlier in the year, before scooping the second WTA title of her career in Moscow less than two weeks ago.

Kasatkina has posted seven top-10 victories in 2018 – only four players have claimed more – and reached back-to-back quarter-finals at Roland Garros and Wimbledon.

Her Kremlin Cup title triumph in Moscow of course stands out as a season highlight for her, and she spent the following week in Singapore unwinding from her emotionally-draining run on home soil.

“Very, very emotional, yeah a lot of things happened during that week and I’m really happy that I won the tournament I was dreaming to win since I was a kid. It was the last year where they were playing it at the Olimpiyskiy, so it was really special for me,” Kasatkina told Sport360 in Singapore.

Kasatkina was down 2-6, 1-4 against an in-form Jabeur in the Moscow final, but yet another magical speech from her coach Dehaes helped her turn things around and win the match in three sets.

Their post-victory embrace said it all.

“To be honest, I cried a little bit when she came to my arm and started to cry a lot, so I was a little bit shocked,” Dehaes told reporters in Singapore of that moment in the stands in Moscow.

“You work a lot during the year. You sacrifice a lot of things. Me, personally, I have family, I have kids and I don’t see them a lot. You work, we went through a very difficult summer. So it’s a lot of hours of difficulties where you ask a lot of questions, and then you have this moment when you win the last point and she win the title. It’s exactly what you expect.

“So it was just great. And these few seconds of huge emotion refilled the battery for sure for another year, for sure.”

It wasn’t the first time this season where Kasatkina executed an improbably comeback in a high-stakes situation.

In Dubai, she saved match points in victories over Johanna Konta and Garbine Muguruza en route to the final. She was two points away from defeat to Venus Williams in the Indian Wells semi-finals but rallied back to defeat the American veteran and advance to the final.

“I don’t know, it seems like I won 90 per cent of my matches losing very badly,” admits Kasatkina.

“I don’t know why but when I’m losing, out of nowhere I start to play better because I don’t have pressure anymore on my shoulders because I kind of accept to lose then I start to play better.”

She ranks her comeback against Jabeur among “the top three” of her career and is proud of the level of play there were both able to produce.

It was a clash described by many as one of the most entertaining of the year, but while it was unfolding, Kasatkina didn’t grasp just how good the match was.

“Sometimes you feel, sometimes not. During this match I was very nervous so I didn’t feel it. I was just really so nervous. The only thing I was thinking about was how to come back in this match,” she recalls.

“Then my coach came to the court and I came back of course. The match was unbelievable, the scenario of the match was amazing, especially in a final. I think everyone enjoyed it.

“I think it was very important because we were playing not the usual women’s tennis. We showed very interesting points, especially Ons, she was just on fire. I was pissed sometimes of course because she was doing the things I love to do. I think it was very interesting to watch.”

Kasatkina year-end top-10 position is not officially secure yet as she takes on a stellar field in Zhuhai that includes the likes of Muguruza, Aryna Sabalenka, and defending champion Julia Goerges.

“I didn’t finish the year in the top-10 yet. I was happy two days ago but now I kind of forgot about it because I still have one more tournament to go and I’m focusing on it,” she says.

While she admits she still has a lot to work on, Kasatkina is pleased with what she’s achieved this season. During this first year of their partnership, Dehaes has wrestled with the balance of preserving her artistic tendencies, while adding discipline to her game.

“She’s an artist, and for me I see it like this, because she can do crazy things, so she has to keep going to do this. I told her, ‘If you win like an artist, you have to accept to lose like an artist’,” said the Belgian coach.

“And today the loss was not enough like an artist. So I changed a little bit my philosophy on court to bring her a little bit more solidity and more easy understanding how she has to play. And to keep this artistic way to play a little bit for later, to make it more simple, more solid, with a touch of artistic, for sure, but more simple.”

Kasatkina, who opens her Zhuhai campaign against Wang Qiang on Tuesday, said: “Basically at the beginning of the year I had the goal to finish in the top-15. So I reached my goal and the higher I will stay in the rankings, the better for me. I’m pretty happy with my results this year, of course I had some ups and downs but at the end I’m happy.”

That happiness counts for a lot in Dehaes’ book. He notes that there is still much to improve but commends his charge’s commitment and willingness to put in the work.

“There is a big gap in everything. The ranking is great, but I have the feeling that all the weakness she has can be, if she improve them, can bring her much higher,” he explains.

“I’m very proud of the commitment she has every day. She wants to play. It’s not easy every day, because it’s a young girl. She’s only 21. She has a lot of pressure. Sometimes it’s quite tough to find the motivation. But she keeps this. She is the leader in this business. She wants to do the job, which is, for me, the most important.

“I don’t have the feeling this year that one morning she wake up unhappy to go on court. Australian series was not so good, and then we have a very good period until Wimbledon. And then, also because she increased the ranking, and when you increase the ranking like this, you have to take time to digest a little bit, because she put in her head, okay, she was 11 or 12, maybe I cannot lose anymore against girls between 15 and 20 and 25, which is, it’s not like this, but it came to her head, she started to count about the Masters [qualification points for the WTA Finals] because, hmm, I’m not so far, maybe blah, blah, blah. And then she started to play the match like I don’t want to lose the match. So it was tough for her, this moment.

“It’s the process. She is in the process to learn. She really deserves this title [in Moscow], because she put a lot of effort on it, so I’m very happy. For sure, this is great. But what she did in the French Open and in Wimbledon, and especially to go back to the quarter-final at Wimbledon after the French, it’s great.”

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