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USA

On Tennis: Daria Kasatkina Is Building Up to a Tennis Masterpiece

She does have power, as anyone who has watched her rip a topspin forehand can attest. But she also has a wide array of solutions and strokes, including wicked drop shots, and a gift for rhythm shifts that borders on the musical.

She is in the midst of a hot streak and in the quarterfinals of the BNP Paribas Open after consecutive victories over Sloane Stephens and Caroline Wozniacki, who happen to be the last two women to win Grand Slam singles titles.

With a 6-4, 7-5 victory on Tuesday night, Kasatkina, the 20th seed here, gained her second win against Wozniacki this season. It was more meaningful than the first, which came in St. Petersburg, Russia, where Wozniacki was jet-lagged and emotionally drained less than a week after she had won her first major title at the Australian Open.

She is hardly alone. Kasatkina also beat Ostapenko in the third round of last year’s United States Open and defeated Garbiñe Muguruza, the 2017 Wimbledon champion, on her way to the final in Dubai last month.

That means that since September, Kasatkina has beaten all four reigning major champions. She also beat Halep, now the world No. 1, in Wuhan, China, last fall.

“In the beginning it was really tough because I was really nervous going on the big stages, on the big courts against the big players,” Kasatkina said. “But now with experience, with the time, I’m getting into it.”

Next week, Kasatkina is set to become the highest-ranked Russian for the first time, at around No. 15. She is currently ranked 19th, one spot behind Svetlana Kuznetsova, and could break into the top 10 if she defeats Angelique Kerber, another former No. 1, in the quarterfinals Thursday and goes on to win the title here.

Insiders already know Kasatkina is a big-time talent, but outsiders will soon figure out that she is an entertainer as well.

“I think when people will see her regularly in the Grand Slams, they are really going to gravitate to her because her game is really atypical,” Dehaes said. “She likes the show. She likes the jump backhands, the drop shots. She plays this way naturally, but it’s festive tennis. I insist on leaving her a lot of freedom when she plays, but she has to create, has to make things happen, really like an artist. I compared it to an empty canvas a few days ago, and I said she can make whatever art on that canvas that she wants as long as it’s beautiful.”

If you have access to all the colors, it seems a pity not to make use of as many of them as you can.

“Exactly,” he said. “That’s exactly the image.”

Dehaes, a Belgian, became Kasatkina’s full-time coach late last year after she split with Vladimir Platenik, a Slovakian who coached her for three seasons.

Dehaes has worked with a string of prominent Belgian players, including Kristof Vliegen, Xavier Malisse and Christophe Rochus. Dehaes first saw Kasatkina in December 2013, when she came to Belgium seeking financial backing from a foundation.

“She had no money, nothing to finance her training,” he said. “I coached a girl, Maryna Zanevska, who was getting help from this foundation, and so the people in the foundation asked me to give them a report on Daria’s abilities.”

After testing her for two weeks, Dehaes submitted his report: “I said that I had never seen a talent like Daria. Really incredible, and it’s being confirmed now.”

He said what persuaded him was her performance in a Belgian tournament during that two-week testing period.

“The best girls were around 500 in WTA, so it was a good national competition,” Dehaes said. “And during this competition there were three or four people watching her to see if she had the ability to receive financing, and for a kid who is 14 or 15, that is incredible pressure. And she won the tournament with such maturity and self-assurance that I said to myself, ‘Here we have someone special.’”

Though the foundation was unable to reach agreement with Kasatkina and her family, Dehaes said he kept close track of her in the coming years as she won the 2014 French Open junior title and broke into the top 100.

Since joining forces, they have clicked quickly and had many extended conversations, even on changeovers. In Dubai, during her three-set victory over Johanna Konta in the round of 16, Dehaes gave Kasatkina an extended pep talk in which he urged her to stay the course. “The weather is beautiful, it’s full of people,” he said. “Let’s stay for two more hours.”

Kasatkina said her new coach had helped her confidence, pounding the table on Tuesday as she described his upbeat message. But Dehaes said he was happy that she had not called him on court during the Stephens and Wozniacki matches.

“I’m super proud of this,” he said. “The main goal for this girl is to win one of the four Grand Slams, and no on-court coaching is allowed at the Grand Slams. So that’s a good sign.”

For now, Kasatkina has yet to get past the fourth round at a major, but if she can remain healthy and in form, her game should translate well to clay and the French Open.

“For sure with the kick serve, the forehand topspin and the drop shot and slice on clay, she can be magic,” Dehaes said. “But she is very young. She was working before with a coach who was really focused on the opponent and on adapting the game to the opponent. I don’t watch the opponent. I say: ‘Dasha, you have everything in your game to be one of the best girls in the world. You just have to do the right thing at the right moment, perfectly.’”

And avoid that danger zone while making art.

us!