FORT WORTH, Texas -- Amid all the scenarios and permutations of round-robin play here at the WTA Finals, this was a black-and-white, winner-take-all situation. In the 11th of 12 qualifying singles matches, there was no parsing the numbers, no calculating the percentage of games won – in short, no mystery.

Win, and advance to Sunday’s semifinals. For the loser, it would be the last WTA-sanctioned match of the season. This was the queasy scenario for Daria Kasatkina and Caroline Garcia, two players enjoying a remarkable renaissance in their careers.

In the end, separated by a single point, Garcia won a memorable match, 4-6, 6-1, 7-6(5) when Kasatkina could not track down her forehand volley. The tense final set alone required 80 minutes.

"It’s definitely a great achievement,” Garcia said. “I was already really proud to be in the Top 8. I don’t really know if I realize that this is the semifinal tomorrow. It proves that this year was definitely a good year. I started very far from the Top 10, the Top 8, and I make my way to it. Today, it’s one more thing that proves my game style is working and I have to keep going that way.”

And so, the semifinals at Dickies Arena are set:

No.6 Garcia will play No.5 Maria Sakkari, who went 3-0 to win the Nancy Richey Group.

No.1 Iga Swiatek, the Tracy Austin Group winner, takes on No.7 Aryna Sabalenka for the fifth time this year. 


The winners meet in Monday evening’s final (9 p.m. ET).

Meet the semifinalists: Swiatek, Sakkari lead Fort Worth's Final Four

“I tried to stay very positive, keep fighting, try to play aggressive, even if she is probably the best defensive player in the world and such a fighter,” Garcia said in her on-court interview. “We have kind of very opposite games, so it made some great rallies.

The Frenchwoman cracked the Top 10 for the first time in 2017, on the strength of titles in Wuhan and Beijing, and finished at No.8. Four years later, the she came in at No.74, her worst year-end ranking since 2013. It dropped as low as No.79 before she mounted a steady climb beginning this summer.

She won the title in Bad Homburg, reached the fourth round at Wimbledon and took the title in Warsaw, beating Swiatek in the process. She won eight matches, including qualifying, to win Cincinnati, then reached the semifinals of the US Open, losing to Ons Jabeur.

At the age of 29, Garcia is enjoying a resurgence -- those three titles are her most ever in a single season. On Saturday, there was an eerie sense of déjà vu in the air.

Five years ago, in her WTA Finals debut, Garcia was also 1-1 going into her last make-or-break, round-robin match against Caroline Wozniacki. Past history suggested a blowout and, sure enough, Wozniacki won the first set 6-0. Garcia rallied famously to take the match -- it was 7-5 in the third -- and advance to the semifinals.

Like Garcia, Kasatkina is enjoying a satisfying turnaround after a few difficult years. She finished the 2019 and 2020 seasons ranked Nos.69 and 71, but brought it back to No.26 a year ago. With titles on the North American hardcourts in San Jose and Granby, she pushed into the Top 10 for the first time.

“It’s going to look like she’s going to be a step inside the court and I’ll try to be a goalkeeper there on the court,” Kasatkina said before the match. “But also there is pressure in the air. The beginning of the match is very important. So keep an eye on the beginning of the match.”

That’s exactly how it played out for the first six games of the match. Garcia was the bigger, better player, living large with her serve and forehand. But serving at 4-2, those forehand winners morphed into unforced errors and Kasatkina was back on serve. Even so, Garcia began to unravel, talking to herself and swiping her racket on the court.

Serving at 4-all, you could see it coming. The combustible Garcia lost it entirely, throwing in a double fault, two errant backhands and a netted forehand. Breaking at love, Kasatkina served it out. Her defense kept her in the points, goading an increasingly frustrated Garcia to overhit.


"I had a crisis of panic, I think I lose my mind a little bit," Garcia said. "Obviously, she was bringing back a lot of balls and I went for too much. Second set was very good. Third set was a battle."

After losing four straight games, almost predictably, Garcia regrouped and won the second set easily. Her momentum continued when Kasatkina double-faulted to lose the first game of the third set.

But with Garcia serving at 3-2, Kasatkina pulled off two incredible shots when she needed them most to break. The first was a retrieved drop shot that she flicked a cross-court forehand for a winner (and a massive uppercut gesture). The second was a running backhand winner that drew a roar from the crowd. All even, again.

Down 3-4, Garcia prevailed in a 14-point game that ran nearly nine minutes when she hit an emphatic ace. The ninth game, at 4-4, lasted more than 13 minutes and was epic. There were nine deuces, four double faults and six break chances for Garcia – and yet, Kasatkina escaped when a Garcia forehand sailed long.

Appropriately, it was reduced to a tiebreaker, where Garcia was that one shot better, finishing it off with a match point to remember. 

Kasatkina, who goes home with a 41-21 record, is now 28-1 in 2022 when winning the opening set.

“I’m disappointed, obviously, 7-6 in the third,” Kasatkina said in her post-match press conference. “It was a great fight and a good match. But unfortunately, someone has to win, someone has to lose. It hurts, but this is sport.”

What was the difference?

“One or two points, obviously, in the tiebreak,” she said. “I think level was pretty close. Third set, wasn’t a big difference between us. When you don’t want to lose, you squeeze everything you have, everything that’s left in your tank, so this is what I was doing. Now, I feel absolutely empty.”

Kasatkina will need a few days to regain her perspective after ending her season on a heartbreaking loss, but she insisted she would see the the positives soon. 

“Of course,” she said, “now I hate everything. Super disappointed, I don’t want to do anything. Of course, I have to be objective and I have to say this season was the best in my career. Honestly, the beginning of the season, if you tell me that I’m going to be here now sitting, I would probably not trust you.”

Garcia became the fifth player to reach the semifinals at the WTA Finals at her first two appearances in the tournament’s current format, albeit with five years in between.

“I won my spot today, by going forward to it,” Garcia said. “And that’s the way I play the best this year and I want to keep going forward because tomorrow’s match is going to be a big one.”