Kasatkina has had a strong start to the year considering her lack of experience. The 18-year-old defeated the then ranked number seven Venus Williams in the first round of Auckland and proceeded to reach the third round at the Australian Open, losing to world number one Serena Williams.
Before a home crowd here, the Russian edged a tight match against Kirsten Flipkens in the first round 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 before beating Laura Siegemund rather more comfortably 6-3, 6-4.
Cibulkova has had a typically inconsistent start to the season. When she's good, she's very good as she proved in reaching the semi finals at Hobart and winning comfortably over the weekend representing Slovakia in the Fed Cup. However, the 26-year-old struggles to maintain her level and lost her opening match at the Australian Open to Kristina Mladenovic.
Here in St. Petersburg, the Slovak crushed Evgeniya Rodina 6-3, 6-0 before fighting hard to subdue the world number 18, third seeded Caroline Wozniacki 6-4, 7-5. Cibulkova used her all-out aggression to eventually hit her way through an uncharacteristically flat Wozniacki, who only rallied late in the second set after a terrible call from the umpire apparently shocked her into life.
Kasatkina is one of a new crop of exciting young Russian players beginning to emerge as successors to a sensational national legacy which has included the likes of Maria Sharapova and Svetlana Kuznetsova. A winner of the junior French Open in 2014, the current world number 63 enjoys playing at home as she proved at the Kremlin Cup in Moscow last October. There, she reached her first singles semi final, accounting for Carla Suarez Navarro en route whilst partnering Elena Vesnina to take the doubles home.
Cibulkova is no stranger to the top of the game. Though currently ranked lower than her opponent at 66, she's been as high as number 10 in the world back in 2014, shortly after she became the first Slovakian woman to reach a major final at the Australian Open, losing to Li Na. A winner of four career titles, including the Kremlin Cup, Cibulkova has beaten a whole host of top players ranging from Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka to Venus Williams and Petra Kvitova.
Unsurprisingly, the two have never met before. Kasatkina has an easy, free-flowing game, utilizing topspin to maneuver her opponents out of position. The Russian possesses a solid serve, has fine touch and moves well; the complete package really aside from her lack of a killer shot.
In contrast, Cibulkova has plenty of weaponry but has a bad habit of misfiring. A 'pocket rocket' at only five foot, three inches tall, the Slovak makes the most of what she's got, throwing all of her body weight into each and every shot. Though she's a terrific mover and has worked on her touch shots, the frenetic rhythm at which she plays, bounces the ball before her serve and shouts to her coach can at times blur her clarity of tactical thought.
Overall, Kasatkina has a good opportunity to reach another Premier level semi final at home. Despite Ksenia Pervak's insistence during the on-court interviews that the surface is slow, it appears to take pace well and has a habit of skidding. Though this may favor Cibulkova's flatter ball strike, Kasatkina should be able to negate this with her topspin and has just the kind of effortless variation needed to unsettle Cibulkova.
Prediction: Daria Kasatkina in three sets