The past 12 months were a nightmare for former top-10 player Daria Kasatkina, but her 2020 Australian Open draw can also be considered another nightmare as she was drawn to play nemesis Madison Keys, a four-time Major semifinalist, in the first round of the competition. Whilst Kasatkina will rue her luck, Keys will be glad with her draw as she is the major favourite to claim her seventh consecutive win against the Russian.
Keys looks to pounce on her momentum
2020 saw Keys starting the year in the best possible way — reaching the final at the Brisbane International. This was the first time in the American’s career when she reached the championship match in her first tournament of the year. The world number 11 played magnificently as she clinched four good wins, a testament to her current form.
A playing style like Keys’ places importance on momentum and confidence, and she heads into Melbourne in impressive form as she looks to replicate her semifinal run in 2015 as an unseeded player. She reached the fourth round last year, losing to Elina Svitolina in three sets, and poses an 18-7 win-loss record at this tournament.
Kasatkina hoping to pull off the shock
After her rise into the top-10 at the end of 2018, big things were expected for Kasatkina last year. However, she experienced a crisis whereby nothing was working for her. A negative win-loss record saw her end the year as the world number 70 but hungry for more things this year. She hired Carlos Martinez in the middle of the previous year, and things have been improving under him.
She started the year with a second-round appearance at the ASB Classic, falling to eventual semifinalist Amanda Anisimova in straight sets. The Russian was forced to play qualifying for the first time since 2016 at the Adelaide International, and she survived the tests only to be beaten by world number seven Belinda Bencic in the first round of the main draw.
The favourite of this match is relatively clear, with Keys winning all six of their clashes and conceding only one set in the process. The sheer power of the American’s shots proved to be too much for Kasatkina’s defence in all their previous meetings, with the Russian unable to extend the rallies and find her rhythm.
To have a decent chance of triumphing, Kasatkina would have to keep her first-serve percentage high. Under new coach Carlos Martinez, her serve has improved although her second serves can still be a liability. She will also need to hold her ground at the baseline since her opponent is capable of blowing any players off the court on a good day at the office.
Keys’ performance in Brisbane tells us that she is a dark horse here in Melbourne despite with defending finalist Petra Kvitova possibly awaiting in the fourth round. Balancing between power and consistency, the former US Open finalist should take this clash in straight sets and hand Kasatkina another first-round exit.