Veteran American world #8 takes on Russian young gun Daria Kasatkina with a place in the Indian Wells final, the first of the season’s four Premier Mandatory events, the prize. Neither player has ever made the final in the California desert, although it must be noted that Venus Williams, along with her sister Serena, boycotted the event between 2002 and 2016 after being subjected to racial abuse. But for both players, it is a chance to take a step towards winning arguably the most significant trophy between the Australian and French Opens. But who will make the title match?
Williams and Kasatkina have met twice so far in their careers. Both matches came in 2016 and it was the then 18-year-old Kasatkina who won the first in Auckland. Despite losing the first set in a tiebreak to Williams, the Russian battled back impressively to turn the match around and win in three. They met again in the third round at Wimbledon and the match was a thriller. After splitting the first two sets it took eighteen games for a winner to emerge from the decider, but ultimately it was Williams’ greater experience that told as she advanced 7-5 4-6 10-8.
Path to the semifinals
Williams, seeded eighth, received a first round bye and began her tournament against Sorana Cirstea of Romania. It proved to be a comfortable win for the American as she advanced 6-3 6-4. That set up a mouth-watering clash with her sister, 23-time Slam champion and former world #1 Serena. The younger Williams had been out for over a year after giving birth to her first child, and looked off the pace as she lost to her elder sister 3-6 4-6.
Williams then faced off against Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia for a place in the quarterfinals. Sevastova, seeded 21st, played well and forced a tiebreak in the first set but lost it six points to eight. They were divided by a single break in the second set, but it went the way of Williams as she returned to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2001. In the last eight she dismissed former top tenner Carla Suarez Navarro 6-3 6-2 to reach the semifinals.
Kasatkina has been in terrific form, despite a difficult draw. After also receiving a first round bye, she began her tournament against Katerina Siniakova. The Czech was forced to retire trailing 2-6 2-5, leaving Kasatkina to face reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens for a place in the fourth round. The Russian won through in straight sets before defeating her second-straight reigning Slam champion Caroline Wozniacki, the world #2, to reach the last eight. She then recorded a blistering win against former #1 Angelique Kerber, losing just two games, to reach the semifinals.
How do they match up?
Williams, though not as formidably powerful as her sister, but she does none-the-less possess one of the biggest games in the sport. Her serve is particularly dangerous, and she still holds the record for the third fastest ever serve hit in the women’s game, although she did record it over a decade ago. But though her serve has lost some power in that decade, it is still one of the best on Tour. Her groundstrokes are also powerful, but Williams does not move as well as she once did.
Kasatkina, however, is an excellent mover. The young Russian showed off her defensive skills in her dominant win against Kerber, repeatedly working her way back into points Kerber thought won or turning defense into attack with a single shot. Her passing shots were particularly impressive in that match, which could work to her advantage as Williams is known to attack the net. However, she will have to serve well, as Williams has the power to punish too many second serves.
Williams may have experience of the big stage that Kasatkina lacks, but the Russian is on fire this week and her impressive streak will continue. Having defeated two top ten players in her last match, including the world’s second best, she should be full of confidence. And her dynamic movement on the slower court surface will prove too much for Williams to handle. Kasatkina to win in three sets and make her first Premier Mandatory final.
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