INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - No.20 seed Daria Kasatkina put on a dazzling display of creative tennis to seal her debut in a Premier Mandatory semifinal, defeating No.10 seed Angelique Kerber 6-0, 6-2 in 57 minutes in the third BNP Paribas Open quarterfinal.
"The weather was on point. My kick was on point. Everything was [fitting] well," summed up the Russian succinctly afterwards.
With Naomi Osaka also in the final four courtesy of an upset over a Top 10 player in Karolina Pliskova last night, Kasatkina's victory means that there are two 20-year-olds still in contention for the title - the youngest pair of Indian Wells semifinalists since a 19-year-old Victoria Azarenka and 17-year-old Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in 2009.
Over the course of a virtuoso 22-minute first set, the full range of the Russian's repertoire was on magnificent display. A flicked backhand pass sealed an immediate break, and two games later Kasatkina managed to outdo it, moving up a double break with a phenomenal get that she turned into a short backhand slice winner, catching Kerber by total surprise.
The Dubai runner-up also showcased a nifty dropshot, a variegated deployment of spins and a slew of forehand winners. Indeed, such is the amount of options at the World No.19's disposal that she now has a trademark winning shot off both wings: a heavy inside-out forehand, slammed with pace and topspin, but also the brilliant jumping angled backhand that had been a highlight of her fourth-round win over Caroline Wozniacki. Her flair in conjuring it up is an illustration of the artistry that last year's Charleston champion brings to the court.
Not that it was a surprise to the former junior World No.3. "Everything what I showed today I was doing on the practices, so was just playing, like, really calm," she told the press.
For her part, a stunned Kerber was unable to find a way to counter the Kasatkina cannonball in the first set. The German's attempts to dictate from the baseline simply played into her opponent's counterpunching patterns, and both her first serve and usually reliable forehand were absent.
The 30-year-old would land just 40% of her first serves, winning only one point behind it; indeed, she would garner a mere six points on serve in total across the opening set. Three double faults and 13 unforced errors did not help her cause.
"For sure it's maybe not the favorite court for me, because it's really slow," Kerber admitted afterwards. "I make a lot of mistakes, easy ones, and not my day at the end."
However, the Australian Open semifinalist also credited her opponent, to whom she has now lost in three out of their five career meetings. "For me and for my game, it's difficult how she's playing," she said.
Matters improved on this front in the second set, with Kerber's first serve percentage rising to a healthier 76%. When the two-time Grand Slam champion nailed her own trademark forehand winner down the line en route to getting on the scoreboard in the first game, it even seemed as though a revival could be on the cards.
But while Kasatkina was not quite as in the zone as in the first set, conceding nine errors, the 20-year-old was still solid on the big points, capturing three consecutive holds to 30 (her own first serve percentage would be a very impressive 82%). And there were still touches of magic: another magical get transformed into a clean winner, this time on the forehand side; a swashbuckling drive volley in the penultimate game.
By contrast, even as Kerber tried to get her own game to click, she was unable to close out her own opportunities. The former World No.1 was broken twice in the second set, both times from game point up - indeed, she would squander five game points in the third game - ultimately conceding both service games on cheap backhand errors.
The Kasatkina masterclass concluded in emphatic fashion: the 2014 Roland Garros girls' champion stepped into the court to strike her 20th and 21st winners of the day, both on the forehand side. Then, on her first match point - just as she had on set point in the previous set - a sharply angled ace out wide sealed the ninth Top 10 win of her career, and a chance to make back-to-back finals when she takes on either No.8 seed Venus Williams or No.27 seed Carla Suárez Navarro in the semifinals.
Despite her success, Kasatkina is keen to keep her feet on the ground. "I don't want people to think that I'm somebody really special," she emphasised. "Because I'm just a normal human who loves football, who loves good food, you know. So I'm just somebody who is also playing tennis."
The Barcelona fan, who also says the Spanish city is her favorite place to spend downtime when off the tour, also had a ready answer when asked to compare herself to a particular footballer. "I know the answer, because I wanted to say, like, Messi," she grinned. "But most probably maybe Iniesta. Or maybe both. Because I want to be Messi so much!"