Being at the brink of defeat, Daria Kasatkina showed excellent composure and mentality after earning her third consecutive win over a top-10 player, this time coming over the legendary and ageless seven-time Major champion Venus Williams in the semifinals of the 2018 BNP Paribas Open.
Hitting 33 winners and making 35 errors, the Russian was solid throughout the majority of the encounter and sealed the marathon 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 victory after two hours and 48-minutes of play, sealing a spot in her maiden Premier Mandatory final.
It was also a terrific run from Williams, who returned to the Indian Wells semifinals for the first time since 2001 having defeated sister Serena in the third round and stormed to the last four having not lost a set.
However, she was met with someone stronger as the Russian outlasted the American to make the final, and putting herself at 11 in the live rankings. There, she will face fellow 20-year-old Naomi Osaka in a battle of youngsters and giant-killers for the biggest title of their respective careers.
Williams produces a great comeback to take the first set
It was an excellent start for Kasatkina as the Russian came up with some impressive shot-making skills to grab the break in the opening game over a slow-starting Williams. However, the American was slowly warming up to the occasion although she was struggling to keep her powerful balls inside the court, producing multiple errors in the early stages, though she still managed to come up with an immediate reply by breaking straight back.
With her monstrous forehands and formidable serves, Williams recovered from a 0-40 deficit and earned a game point, but failed to convert as she was pegged back by Kasatkina, who earned the third consecutive break to start the match with. This time, she was able to consolidate the break and open a commanding 3-1 lead, before having yet another look at a break after leading 15-30 on the return.
Within a blink of an eye, Williams stepped up her play and produced an excellent display of controlled aggression, and prevented herself from over-hitting as the American soon found herself winning four games on the trot, leading 5-3 with the chance to serve out the first set.
Crucial errors from Williams saw her handing the break back to Kasatkina and throwing the set wide open once more. Serving to stay in the set, the 20-year-old succumbed to the pressure and threw in a double fault at 30-30 before sending an overcooked forehand way out of the court, giving Williams the first set after a thrilling 50 minutes of play.
Kasatkina fights back and sends the match into a deciding set
An interesting on-court coaching session for Kasatkina saw her coach Philippe Dehaes inputting more information to the tactical board, telling the Russian to focus on her net play and make her opponent work for the win. It was a beneficial session as Williams, who went for a toilet break, had her momentum totally snapped as she started making errors once more, this time handing the early break to Kasatkina yet again.
The 20-year-old was strolling through the second set and even threatened to extend her lead, but a slew of errors saw Williams eking out the tough service hold and remained in contention for the set. It proved to be a confidence-booster as Kasatkina next threw away her lead with a double-fault on break point.
It looked like a repeat of the second set but this time, Kasatkina held her nerves and fantastic shot-making ability saw her regain the lead. In what was the longest game of the match, Williams grabbed her chances to produce an immediate reply, earning five break points.
However, the Russian remained calm and composed on the crucial points, prevailing in the marathon 13-minute game which consisted of 22 points. This could well-possibly be a match-changing game as Kasatkina went on to comfortably serve out the second set 6-4 in 54 minutes.
Kasatkina fights back from the brink, earns a spot in the final
Looking tired at the end of the second set, many thought Williams would falter in the deciding set. However, the legendary seven-time Grand Slam is never someone to be easily written off, and she continued giving it her all. Her hard work finally had its reward as she powered to a commanding 2-0 lead within a blink of an eye, grabbing the early break.
However, a wicked backhand return winner from Kasatkina saw her breaking straight back to level the scores before Williams found herself in deep trouble on her serve. The fifth game was another thriller, with the former world number one coming up with the goods as forehand winners and excellent net coverage flowed from her game, while Kasatkina continued to use angles and variety to probe for opportunities at the baseline.
Soon, the Russian found herself serving to stay in the match at 4-5 down. Poor errors and a costly one at the net caused her to go down 0-30, and the match seemed to be over. Unexpectedly, a missed second-serve return caused Williams to completely lose the plot, allowing Kasatkina to steal the nervy service hold after being two points away from defeat.
An outrageous drop shot winner saw Kasatkina regaining the confidence in her game, and she was helped by Williams’ error as she threw in two consecutive double faults, including on break point, as she gifted Kasatkina with the break and the golden opportunity to serve out the match after six consecutive holds.
Looking tired, Williams failed to handle Kasatkina’s change of pace and ultimately committed her 63rd unforced error of the match which allowed the Russian to triumph and move into the biggest final of her career.