Daria Kasatkina is on a mission this season to unlock her creative side once again on the tennis court and she is putting in the hard yards in order to achieve that.
The No.8 seed, who claimed a 6-4, 6-2 victory over Lesia Tsurenko to reach the fourth round at the Mutua Madrid Open for a second consecutive year on Sunday, broke into the top 10 for the first time at the end of 2018, showcasing a unique game that combined craftiness with power.
Kasatkina struggled for a few years after that but returned to the top 10 last season after reaching a maiden Grand Slam semi-final at the French Open and qualifying for the WTA Finals for the first time.
She parted ways with her coach Carlos Martinez in February and joined forces with Italian Flavio Cipolla, who is helping her recapture her artistic touch.
“We are now working to get back creativity in my game because the last few years I was more in the discipline way but now I think we’re working more to open myself on the court,” Kasatkina told reporters in Indian Wells last month.
“For me it’s important to work hard but also to feel good outside of the court and now I feel very good. The atmosphere for me is very important in the team and I’m enjoying how everything is.”
Looking to reach her second career Madrid quarter-final when she faces Veronika Kudermetova or Anastasia Potapova in the last-16 stage on Monday, Kasatkina has yet to drop a set through her opening two matches, having dismissed her good friend Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in straights on Friday before manoeuvring past Tsurenko.
The 25-year-old revealed this week she has been working with a psychologist, who has been helping her manage things both on and off the court.
“It’s tough because we are like a hamster in a wheel, it’s nonstop, we don’t have many breaks, it’s a never-ending story; and at the end it’s all the same, every year it’s more or less the same story, every week,” said Kasatkina of the unrelenting nature of the tennis tour.
“You need someone to help you find something else because when you’re just starting to be professional, I remember my first year I was just in love with everything, I was so excited about everything. I could spend 24 hours in the tennis club and be so happy.
“Of course this changes when you are two years doing the same, seeing the same people, the same facilities, everything the same. Obviously you start to get a bit tired.
“It’s very difficult to find the answers and the way, on your own, so that’s why it’s good sometimes to find help in someone else; a professional who can show you the way, how to find other things to enjoy on tour. Because personally, for me it’s tough to travel every single week, I’m not a big fan of that. If I didn’t have to, I wouldn’t travel. I have to do it because of my job, and for me it’s tough. So that’s why I have to work on it.”
Against Tsurenko on Sunday, Kasatkina twice lost her break advantage before she finally wrapped up the set in 50 minutes with another break in the 10th game.
After trading breaks with the Ukrainian early in the second, Kasatkina found her footing and never looked back.
“I’m really happy with my performance today. At the beginning was tough, the first set was very tight, but then after I closed the first set I got looser and I started to play a bit better,” said the Barcelona-based Kasatkina.
“I’m superstitious and I don’t want to say too many good things but I feel pretty well on court to be honest. The past few months were not easy and now I’m just trying to get back the confidence and the joy of being on court and I’m making some success in this way. I’m happy to come back on clay again.”