In an all-Russian battle in Montreal between the nation’s two top-ranked players, Daria Kasatkina takes on Maria Sharapova. It has been a career-year for Kasatkina and she has had success already at Premier-level, notably making a run to the final in Indian Wells (lost to Osaka). Sharapova, meanwhile, has done much to rebuild her ranking after her ban for meldonium ended last year, but is still awaiting the sort of triumph that was routine before her exile. Who will come out on top?
This will be the first meeting between Kasatkina and Sharapova. But in terms of experience it is unsurprisingly Sharapova who has the edge. The elder Russian has claimed 36 titles so far in her career, including five Grand Slams, and has 633 victories to her name. Kasatkina has, however, achieved a great deal already, having won 186 matches and reached her first Grand Slam quarterfinal last month at Wimbledon. But she has won only one title.
Path to the second round
Sharapova’s tournament began against Sesil Karatantcheva of Bulgaria who reached the French Open quarterfinals aged just 15 in 2005. But she has never managed to replicate that success and currently finds herself ranked outside the top 200. She did impress in qualifying into the main draw, defeating Demi Schuurs of Holland and Lizette Cabrera, but she proved no match for Sharapova, who dismissed her challenge 6-1 6-2.
Kasatkina faced a sterner test in the first round in the shape of San Jose finalist Maria Sakkari of Greece. Kasatkina made the better start, winning the first set 6-4, but Sakkari fought back impressively in the second set to level proceedings. The stage looked set for a tense deciding set, but it wasn’t to be. With her exertions from the previous week perhaps catching up to her, Sakkari wilted swiftly after surrendering an early break and Kasatkina advanced a 6-4 4-6 6-1 winner.
How do they match up?
Sharapova is one of the best offensive baseliners in the game, and it is that power from the back of the court that has been the foundation of her sustained success. She is capable of hurting opponents with both her forehand and backhand, and that alone makes her exceedingly difficult to play against when she is at her best. Her serve is not the weapon it once was, with serious shoulder problems having robbed it of some of its power and accuracy, but it still serves her well.
But Sharapova will need to be at her offensive best to hit through Kasatkina. The twelfth seed is rapidly establishing herself as one of the best defenders in the game and her ability to stay alive in a point has already frustrated a fair number of the game’s biggest names. She also has the power, even at the end of her range, to sting opponents when on the backfoot. Indeed, few are more adept at turning defence into attack than Kasatkina and Sharapova will need to be wary of that.
There seems to be little to separate these two. Although on paper Sharapova’s first round win was the more impressive, with the greatest of due respect to Karatantcheva, she is not in the same league as Sakkari. But the match up does seem to favour Sharapova. Although Kasatkina is an excellent defender and counterpuncher, she can be too passive and has been overwhelmed in the past by big-hitters. Sharapova’s status may also give her a slight edge and expect her to scrape through in three.