In something of a surprise final, 20th seed Daria Kasatkina of Russia takes on Japan’s Naomi Osaka. Both are young players with massive potential, of whom is expected by the tennis world. The winner of this match will have surely taken a massive step towards fulfilling that potential by lifting such a prestigious title. But will it be the impressive retrieving skills of Kasatkina or the power of Osaka that triumphs?
Kasatkina and Osaka have never before met at Tour-level, perhaps unsurprising considering both are just 20. In terms of experience, Kasatkina has a slight edge, with one career title in both singles and doubles, she has experience of lifting a title where Osaka does not. She also has a better record having gone 167-75 in singles so far compared with Osaka’s 149-104. Both have made the second week of a Slam once, but neither have been beyond the fourth round.
Path to the final
Kasatkina began her tournament in the second round after receiving a bye. There she was leading 6-2 5-2 when her opponent, the Czech Republic’s Katerina Siniakova, was forced to retire. She then defeated reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens in straight sets 6-3 6-4. Her next opponent was world #2 Caroline Wozniacki, who earlier this season won the Australian Open. But Kasatkina had too much for the Dane, defeating her in two hard fought sets 6-4 7-5.
Then, in arguably her best performance of the tournament so far, Kasatkina destroyed former world #1 Angelique Kerber. After a torrid 2017 Kerber had found some form in 2018, winning the title in Sydney and making at least the quarters at every tournament. But she won just two games against the Russian in a 0-6 2-6 rout. She then won a three-set thriller against Venus Williams, the world #8. After splitting the opening sets, a break late in the decider settled it in Kasatkina’s favour 4-6 6-4 7-5.
Osaka, the world #44, was unseeded and so began in the first round, defeating the four-time Grand Slam champion and former #1 Maria Sharapova to reach the second round. There she accounted for 31st seeded Agnieszka Radwanska, a former Wimbledon finalist. The Japanese then beat Sachia Vickery of the USA 6-3 6-3 in the third round before winning a seesawing fourth round encounter with Maria Sakkari of Greece 6-1 5-7 6-1 to make the quarterfinals.
In the quarterfinals she faced another former #1 in the shape of the big serving Karolina Pliskova. The Czech, ranked 5th in the world, had no answer for Osaka in their last eight match up, as the 21-year-old hit her off the court, recording a 6-2 6-3 win. That earned her a shot at the world #1 Simona Halep with a place in the final on the line. Osaka put in another terrific performance to dismiss Halep, winning 6-3 6-0 to make her first Premier Mandatory final.
How do they match up?
This match up is one of the classic contrasts in tennis pitting the counter-punching Kasatkina against the free-swinging Osaka. Kasatkina’s backhand is arguably her best shot, particularly her slice. She is able to use it both to stay alive in rallies when forced out wide and also as a rallying shot. Her dropshot off the backhand side is also excellent, with the Russian’s disguise on the shot amongst the best in both the men’s and women’s games.
Osaka will look to dominate this match using her forehand. Hit with power and spin it’s a formidable weapon, with which she was able to hit through Simona Halep, particularly in the second set. How the Japanese deals with Kasatkina’s variety will be crucial. Kasatkina will doubtless look to upset Osaka’s rhythm by utilising her slice as much as possible and by bringing her opponent forward from the baseline. But, if Osaka is able to get on top of the Kasatkina slice early on it could well be decisive.
As well as Osaka has been playing, Kasatkina should have just enough to come through this and lift her first Premier Mandatory title. The Russian has enough variety to unsettle Osaka and the defensive skills to stay with her in baseline rallies. The slower court surface should also help Kasatkina’s cause. Osaka won’t be beaten easily, and her power could sting Kasatkina, but expect the 20th seed to win in three sets.
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