On Tuesday in Ostrava, Daria Kasatkina was a winner for the first time in more than a month. The No. 5 seed opened her campaign at the Agel Open with a 7-5, 6-4 win over 2021 US Open champion Emma Raducanu.
Playing for the first time since a first-round exit at the US Open five weeks ago, Kasatkina needed 1 hour and 31 minutes to oust Raducanu in the pair's first meeting. Here are the three top takeaways from their opening-round encounter.
Eyeing WTA Finals berth, Kasatkina makes winning return to Europe
Kasatakina's last win came on Aug. 27, when she defeated Daria Saville to win the title at the Championnats Banque Nationale de Granby in Granby, Canada. Two days later, she was upset in Round 1 of the US Open by Raducanu's fellow Brit Harriet Dart in three sets, and Tuesday's match was the World No.11's first competitive match action since.
While the rust might've shown early -- Kasatkina needed to break Raducanu's serve three times in the first set and served it out at 6-5 after failing to do so at 5-4 -- she rounded into form late. Kasatkina lost just eight points in five service games in the second set.
"This tournament is so tough, when you see the list of the players playing here," Kasatkina said. "Whoever you've got is a very tough opponent, so you have to be really focused and be ready from the first point, the first match, the first game. I'm happy with my performance today and really excited for the next one."
Entering this event at No.7 in the Race to the WTA Finals in Fort Worth, Kasatkina's effort this week could prove crucial for her efforts to qualify for the season-ending championships. But she says, she's not preoccupied with playing a numbers game.
"Just a few tournaments left and everyone wants to win, everyone wants to show their best at the end of the year," she said. "I hope to do it and we'll see what's going to happen."
Asked on-court if she's tracking points for the Race, Kasatkina said: "I used to, but now I realized that it's taking too much energy, so I just let it go!"
Raducanu returns healthy
Encouragingly for fans of the British star, Raducanu showed no signs of the left glute injury that forced her to retire in the semifinals of the Hana Bank Open in Seoul, South Korea against Jelena Ostapenko 10 days ago. There, the 19-year-old won three consecutive matches for the first time since her US Open triumph a year ago.
Raducanu hit seven more winners than Kasatkina (27 to 17), but also 12 more unforced errors (28 to 16). Despite that, the deciding factor in the tight two-setter was return of serve. After breaking Kasatkina twice in the opening set, Raducanu never got to break point in the second set.
Up next: Kasatkina vs. Ekaterina Alexandrova
Bidding for a spot in the quarterfinals, Kasatkina will next face Ekaterina Alexandrova for the fourth time. She leads their overall head-to-head at 2-1 and scored a 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 win when the two met on grass this summer in Berlin.
A win for Kasatkina would guarantee her a new career-best result in Ostrava. In her first appearance in 2020, she lost in Round 2 to American Jennifer Brady.