Thursday’s action at the BNP Paribas Open featured two women’s quarterfinal matches from the bottom half of the draw. Daria Kasatkina and Venus Williams joined Wednesday’s winners Simona Halep and Naomi Osaka in the semifinals of the 2018 edition of the Premier Mandatory tournament. Our Karen Helf was right there to bring us a detailed report.
Daria Kasatkina  d. Angelique Kerber  6-0 6-2
There is no other way to say this than that Kasatkina dominated the match and Kerber fell hard. As we watched, the former world No.1 Kerber struggled to keep up and it was clear that Kasatkina was physically fresher. Without Kerber’s running advantage, a win against the hard-hitting Russian was not possible.
The 20-year-old Kasatkina closed the first set in 21 minutes the “easy” way. She won 69% of her first serve points and dismantled her opponent’s serve by winning 88% of points. Just like Kasatkina’s fourth-round obstacle, Caroline Wozniacki, Kerber spoke of not finding her rhythm against the 20th seed.
When asked why Kasatkina is a difficult opponent, Kerber did not have an answer:
I don’t know. I think, yeah, for me and for my game, it’s difficult how she’s playing. But, I mean, I think from my side I was not able to play my game like I played the last few weeks… I mean, today again it was really tricky, like, start — yeah, when we were warming up, it was wet, the courts. It was, yeah, I was playing the first match, but I was not playing the last few days, so it was also tricky condition for me. And, yeah, I made a lot of mistakes, easy ones, and not my day at the end.
In the second set, we saw glimpses of Kerber’s winning ways. The German held her first service game, but Kasatkina forced the break to go up 2-1 after 12-point service game. Kerber’s weapons were not firing and the stats do not lie — she won only six return points.
Kerber’s next tactic is to erase today and prepare for Miami. When asked about her plans, the 30-year-old stated:
I want to get rest for a few days. And for me it’s always when I’m coming to a new tournament, I already forgot the last match that I lost and I focusing new. I start the tournament from zero, and this is what I will do. I mean, I think that I will go in the next few days to Miami and then it’s — yeah, I will forget the match.
Concerning the 2018 season, Kerber hinted about trimming the clay season, but her home court event in Stuttgart will remain.
In 2018, Kasatkina has beaten the Top 10 opponents Angelique Kerber, Caroline Wozniacki, Garbine Muguruza and Johanna Konta, while her first Premier Mandatory semifinal will be a Wimbledon rematch against Venus Williams. The Russian stated that Venus is one of the best on grass, but she believes the slow hardcourts of Indian Wells may help her.
After the US tournaments, Kasatkina looks forward to the clay season and visiting her favorite European city, Barcelona:
I love paella, jamon iberico. It’s, like, (kisses fingers). Actually, the tapas. Almost everything in Spanish food I like. The wine? With good company, of course you can have glass or two, of course. [smiles].
For now, it is all business. With her 2018 experience against the top players she knows her priorities:
If I will lose focus just for a second, they will come back and then the big battle, five hours again, will start.
Her last meeting with Venus is a stinging reminder:
The most difficult thing to play against top players is to keep your focus two hours, three hours on the court if you should.
Kasatkina captured her first WTA title in Charleston last year. A Premier Mandatory title would be an exceptional progression in what appears to be a breakthrough year. She will need to maintain her composure and consistency to achieve that goal.
Venus Williams  d. Carla Suarez Navarro  6-3 6-2
Carla Suarez Navarro played her first match on Stadium 1 against a familiar opponent. Over the years, Williams and Suarez Navarro shared the court eight times in cities like London, New York, Rome and Melbourne. The resulting head-to-head was 5-3, in favor of Williams.
The first set began with a series of holds, with Williams delivering aces and Suarez Navarro putting one more ball over the net. No surprise the American outpowered her Spanish opponent in service speeds around 110 MPH. Suarez Navarro seemed to absorb the pace of Williams’ shots to fuel her own winners.
Despite numerous double-faults, Suarez Navarro held to 2-2. Williams attacked a series of second serves and her opponent’s baseline shot sailed long. Leading 3-2, Williams broke to lead 4-2 and followed up with a love hold to 5-2. With significant pressure, Suarez Navarro came up with some well-placed first serves and fought off a break point challenge to hold 5-3. Despite an opening double-fault and a few second serves, Williams closed.
Williams and Suarez Navarro traded breaks in the second set to 1-1. The Spaniard continued to struggle to keep the ball from flying long and lost an ill-timed challenge. Next, both players regrouped with love holds to 2-2. Williams continued her power play and broke out. She won the first deuce exchange assisted by her opponent’s double-fault. Once again, Suarez Navarro was successful with shot placement variety and finding angles at net. She did not lose steam as she forced a 9-point service game, but Williams defended well to 4-2. The crowd urged the American to close. She took the cue coming up with another break and a solid hold. Williams produced superior match stats across the board with the stand out break points saved 86%. Credit to Suarez Navarro for creating 7 break opportunities.
When asked about 20-year-old Daria Kasatkina, Williams reflected on her own teenage breakout success here in the desert. She also spoke of having a second tennis career and working to stay relevant. Assessing her weapons, Williams stated:
My forehand is bigger than ever.
But she also said:
Every match is hard. Nobody gives it to you. It’s all a new challenge, each and every match. Gotta earn it.
The WTA final four will have a chance to earn their next win Friday evening.