AUCKLAND, New Zealand - No.3 seed Amanda Anisimova turned in an impressive performance to move into the ASB Classic quarterfinals, defeating the unseeded Daria Kasatkina 6-2, 6-4 in one hour and 14 minutes.
This time last year, Kasatkina was ensconced in the Top 10 while Anisimova was barely inside the Top 100 at World No.87 - but in a mark of their diverging fortunes over the last 12 months, it was the American teenager who looked every inch the top player today.
In her first meeting with the Russian, Anisimova smothered her opponent with smooth power and baseline accuracy, striking a series of winners off both wings to every corner of the court. The 18-year-old aimed to climb on top of points as soon as possible - and once she had succeeded in pushing Kasatkina back with heavy serves and punishing returns that exposed the World No.70's soft serve, Anisimova rarely relinquished control of a rally.
Once Anisimova had saved a break point in the opening game, the Roland Garros semifinalist was, for the most part, a walking highlights reel. Down-the-line winners flowed from her racquet, while she was sharp in sensing when to put a point to bed at net. Consecutive forehand winners garnered Anisimova the double break for 4-0, and consecutive booming crosscourt backhands closed out the set with a fourth break in as many Kasatkina service games.
The youngster's all-court strategy was evidence that her off-season work with new coach Carlos Rodriguez has paid off. "I'm happy with how I mixed up my variety in the game," she said afterwards. "I was trying to come into the net - that's what I've been working on and I was happy I was able to transition well. She has a lot of tricks up her sleeve - I was trying to match my game to hers a little bit so I could stay in the rhythm and then create the shots I wanted to hit."
Anisimova suffered only two blips in the first set, dropping serve with quick, error-strewn games at 4-0 and when serving for it at 5-1. But each time, she was able to put the wobble behind her quickly, turning around to rebreak Kasatkina - first regaining her lead by coming through a four-deuce tussle that was the longest game of the match.
The World No.25 went from strength to strength at the start of the second set, breaking for a fifth straight time with a pair of brilliant drive volleys - the first in an athletic maneouvre from high over her head. As she seemed to be accelerating towards the finishing line, though, matters became a little more complicated.
With Kasatkina belatedly getting the requisite pop on her serve to claw her way to a pair of holds, and demonstrating some of the defensive skills that had taken her to World No.10, Anisimova's point construction lapsed into impatience.
As in the first set, the Bogota champion dropped her final two service games of the second act, with loose errors - particular on the forehand side - letting her down and a backhand over the baseline preventing her from serving the match out. But in another repeat of the first set, Anisimova was able to turn around and immediately break her opponent both times.
Just as it seemed that Kasatkina had got her teeth into the match, the two-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist's serve proved her Achilles heel once again. In total, she would only be able to win 46% of her first serve points and 29% behind her second delivery - and in the final game, her fourth and fifth double faults, the last on match point, provided an unfortunate end to a contest otherwise characterized by Anisimova's brilliance.
Up next for Anisimova will be a first meeting with wildcard Eugenie Bouchard. The World No.267 snapped a long drought at WTA level to reach her first quarterfinal since this tournament one year ago with a 6-4, 6-4 upset of No.8 seed Caroline Garcia. "Definitely she's playing well," mused Anisimova. "It should be exciting to play another new player."