By Ros Satar, in Indian Wells

  • Daria Kasatkina [20] v Naomi Osaka
  • First tour level meeting between the pair
INDIAN WELLS, USA – Two of the tour’s brightest stars Daria Kasatkina and Naomi Osaka will go head to head on Monday for their biggest career title to date.

 

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Daria Kasatkina – Path to the final

  • R1: Bye
  • R2: Katerina Siniakova 6-2 5-2 RET
  • R3: Sloane Stehens [13] 6-4 6-3
  • R4: Caroline Wozniacki [2] 6-4 7-5
  • QF: Angelique Kerber [10] 6-0 6-2
  • SF: Venus Williams [8] 4-6 6-4 7-5

The phrase ‘Giant Killer’ could not be more apt for Daria Kasatkina, who already has managed to gain wins over all four reigning Grand Slam champions in the past year. She beat French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko at the US Open, Wimbledon champion Garbiñe Muguruza in Dubai, and both US Open champion Sloane Stephens and Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki here. To add a little salt to the wounds, she beat Wozniacki the week after Melbourne, at St Petersburg.

Coming into the semi-final against Venus Williams, they were the only players not to have dropped a set, although it was Williams who struck first, leaving it to the battling Russian to come from behind in a gruelling match to book a spot in the final.

She already has a WTA title to her name, winning Charleston in her debut final last year before losing to Julia Goerges in Moscow.

 

Naomi Osaka – Path to the final

Naomi Osaka in the quarter-final of the BNP Paribas Open, WTA Indian Wells 2018

Naomi Osaka in the quarter-final of the BNP Paribas Open, WTA Indian Wells 2018 | (c) Jimmie48 Tennis Photgraphy

  • R1: Maria Sharapova 6-4 6-4
  • R2: Agnieszka Radwanska [31] 6-3 6-2
  • R3: Sachia Vickery 6-3 6-3
  • R4: Maria Sakkari 6-1 5-7 6-1
  • QF: Karolina Pliskova [5] 6-2 6-3
  • SF: Simona Halep [1] 6-3 6-0

Naomi Osaka‘s run to the final is not only her best result here, but across all WTA Premier Mandatory events so far, and she has also had a fair bit of giant-killing along the way. She knocked out two-time Indian Wells champion Maria Sharapova in the first round, 2014 finalist Agnieszka Radwanska and two-time semi-finalist Karolina Pliskova on her way to the final.

 

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The Match-up

The pair have very contrasting styles. As much as Kasatkina has joked that her head is empty when she players, she probably has the best tactical mind of her generation. She will try and change the rhythm with slices, lifts and lobs and she moves well around the court.

That is not to say that Osaka does not move well and has shifted her game style from being a powerful counter-puncher to a more aggressive baseliner. Osaka could find herself being yanked around the court at Kasatkina’s will.

Both have that volatility that comes with being young and embarking on the kinds of big wins that catapult a player from the lower tiers and onto the big stages. Both have a charming sense of fun in their press conferences and we note with sadness that innocence will probably go the first time they get pounced on by more savage press.

Coming into the semi-final, Osaka had spent 455 minutes on the court while kasatkina had surprised herself with her lack of three-set grinds having spent just 317 minutes ahead of her match with Venus Williams.

What has impressed a lot this week is the mental fortitude we have seen from both of them, Kasatkina in particular did not panic in what was a thriller of a semi-final against Williams, and held her nerve to close out a fantastic win that did leave her very emotional on the court.

Her interaction with her coach Philippe Dehaes is fun to watch – he wants her to engage with what is happening on the court, and injects humour to stop her getting too down on herself. The same is true of Sascha Bajin who she happily poked fun about his tactic talks, but a younger more dynamic coach has seemed to make a word of difference to her.

As Osaka noted in her press conference: “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. I feel like there is a new generation, and we’re trying to push through.”

Up until Serena Williams’ maternity leave, and indeed as with the old guard on both tours, the question would often be asked ‘who will take over the mantle when they go?’

Indeed on all-access day at this tournament, the same question about the World No. 1 ranking looking set to bounce around for a few months came up repeatedly. But now, if people are asking who will be the future of women’s tennis – we are going to see it front and centre on Sunday.

Prediction: Kasatkina in three sets.

 

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