No.4 seed Daria Kasatkina of Russia moved into her fourth final of the season at the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic on Saturday, ousting No.1 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium, 6-3, 6-2, in their semifinal clash.
Kasatkina needed just an hour and 21 minutes to upend top-seeded Mertens, claiming her third win in four meetings with the Belgian. The match proved to be another superb result during 2021 for a resurgent Kasatkina, as she notched her 30th match-win of the year.
Read more: By The Numbers: Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic at 50
Former World No.10 Kasatkina has seen her ranking soar from World No.71 at the start of the year to back inside the Top 35. Kasatkina has already picked up two titles this season -- her first since 2018 -- at at the Phillip Island Trophy in Melbourne and at the St. Petersburg Ladies Open.
Kasatkina claimed her fourth win over a Top 20 player this year by breaking Mertens three times, while never dropping serve herself. Kasatkina ended the affair with 22 winners, doubling her unforced error total of 11. By contrast, Mertens's 20 winners were outpaced by 25 unforced errors, including seven double faults.
"Even in two sets, I felt it was quite a high-intensity match," Kasatkina told the press, after her win. "I’m happy that I was able to close it in two sets, because I spent quite a lot of energy in the previous matches, and it was important to play this one as short as possible. I’m happy that I was able to do it."
The players breezed through the first set before Kasatkina made her move at 4-3, ending a rally with a backhand putaway at net to reach double break point. Kasatkina converted the second of those chances after a Mertens backhand miscue found the net.
Still loving the fight 💪— wta (@WTA) August 8, 2021
Hear from @DKasatkina after her semifinal victory ⬇️#MubadalaSVC pic.twitter.com/eV1RKQpuPn
Serving for the set at 5-3, Kasatkina found a number of well-placed serves to confidently collect the one-set lead. Each player had eight winners in the opening frame, but Kasatkina had just six unforced errors, while Mertens was undone by 10 of those.
Mertens saved a combined eight break points in her first two service games of the second set, but Kasatkina continued to press with a stellar combination of heavy forehands and divine defense. The Russian finally attained the break at 3-2, and she won the last five games of the match overall, closing out victory with her fourth ace.
"You’ve been playing all these matches for the final, and this is the time to enjoy," Kasatkina said. "In tennis, we have only one winner, and we will see who it’s going to be tomorrow."
No.7 seed Danielle Collins of the United States will be Kasatkina’s opponent in the final, as she extended her winning streak to nine straight matches by dismissing qualifier Ana Konjuh of Croatia, 6-0, 6-2 in the second semifinal.
World No.36 Collins is on a roll, having won her first WTA singles title in her most recent event on the clay courts of Palermo. Having never reached a WTA singles final before that week, Collins has now made it two finals in a row after her dominant 52-minute victory over Konjuh.
"I made some improvements along the way in this tournament," Collins told the media, following her win. "I think part of the reason I was hitting my shots so well today is because of all the tough opponents I’ve had to play over the last couple days, and how hard I’ve had to work for every point.
"I’ve played so many hard-hitting opponents who run down ball after ball, so I came out feeling like I was hitting the ball really clean, and playing with confidence really the entire way through."
Collins powerfully took control on return, winning a whopping 94 percent of points off of Konjuh’s second serve, and converting six of her nine break points in the process. Collins's 18 winners doubled her unforced error count of nine.
Nevertheless, it has still been a splendid week for former World No.20 Konjuh, who became the first woman from qualifying to reach the semifinals of this tournament since lucky loser CoCo Vandeweghe's runner-up finish in 2012. After starting the season outside the Top 400, Konjuh is projected to return to the Top 100 in Monday’s new rankings.
But it was Collins who took the first set with no fuss. The American never faced a break point in the opening frame as she out-winnered hard-hitting Konjuh by seven to two en route to the bagel. The Croat was also undone by eight unforced errors in the set.
A 52-minute flawless performance from 🇺🇸 Danielle Collins 😳— wta (@WTA) August 8, 2021
She'll face Kasatkina for a chance at her second title of the season 🏆#MubadalaSVC pic.twitter.com/xnk2uNQtBa
Collins continued to fire forehand winners at will as she won a ninth straight game to lead 3-0 in the second set. Konjuh at last made a charge, slamming an ace to hold serve and get on the board at 3-1, then collecting a well-earned service break with a rally-ending dropshot winner to pull back on serve at 3-2.
Collins, however, regrouped and continued to strike the forehand with aplomb, recovering the break to lead 4-2. That same wing gave Collins winners to end the next two games as well, including a love break in the last game, sending her into another final.
Looking forward to Kasatkina, Collins called their semifinal battle at the Phillip Island Trophy in Melbourne earlier this year "one of the toughest matches I’ve played. Knowing how great of an athlete she is, and the variety of her game, I’m going to have to play well in order to get the win.
"I’m going to have to play some of my best tennis, and I’m going to have to come prepared, and hopefully have a little bit of fun on court too, since this is my second final."