MADRID -- Daria Kasatkina is only 25 years old but admits she feels like a world-weary veteran on the Hologic WTA Tour. Nine years after her debut, she finds herself trying to rediscover the free-spirited joy that once defined her game.
"I remember my first year I was just in love with everything," Kasatkina said at the Mutua Madrid Open. "I was so excited about everything. I could spend 24 hours in the tennis club and be so happy.
"Of course this changes when you are two years doing the same, seeing the same people, the same facilities, everything the same. Obviously, you start to get a bit tired of it."
With the goal of freeing up her mind and feeling fresh, Kasatkina, the No.8 player in the world, has taken herself out of her comfort zone this season. She split with longtime coach Carlos Martinez in January and brought on Italian Flavio Cipolla in hopes of going back to a more instinctual style of game.
"We have a good connection," Kasatkina said. "We're having fun on court and outside of the court. This is important for me especially. I like not to be tense all of the time, otherwise I will get depressed."
To that end, Kasatkina recently started working with a British mental coach to help her work through her malaise.
"It's very difficult to find the answers and the way on your own," Kasatkina said. "So that's why it's good to find the help in someone else, a professional to show you other things to enjoy on the tour.
"We've been working on a lot of things. About sport, about life, the situation going on in my country because it's affecting me personally because it's affecting me. I'm very worried about it and it took a part in my [mental health]. It's heavy."
So far, the changes have paid off. She kicked off her clay season with a run to the Charleston semifinals. Now she finds herself in the Round of 16 in Madrid.
"We are now working to get back creativity in my game," she said, "because the last few years I was more disciplined, but now I think we’re working more to open myself on the court."
Kasatkina says the toughest part of the grind is travel. If she did not have to board planes every week and live out of hotel rooms, she would not do it. The relentless schedule, which takes players cross-crossing continents has become monotonous.
"It’s tough because we are like a hamster in a wheel," she said. "It’s nonstop, we don’t have many breaks, it’s a never-ending story. And at the end, it’s all the same, every year it’s more or less the same story, every week."
Kasatkina's girlfriend, Natalia Zabiiako, has been a consistent presence at tournaments and her support has been an immense help. A former figure skater, Zabiiako is familiar with the pressures and stress of being an elite athlete.
"She was competing at the highest levels, so she can compare the best tournaments of tennis to the best competitions in ice skating," Kasatkina said. "She said the ice skating organization is not at the best level, so she really likes the environment here."
Sometimes the key for a professional athlete is simply not thinking about it. To that end, Zabiiako and Kasatkina spend their free time creating YouTube videos documenting their life on tour.
"It's something you can put your focus away from just practicing and working and also to show tennis fans a little bit of the inside life of the tennis players and tournaments," Kasatkina said.
Zabiiako handles most of the heavy lifting -- filming, interviews, editing, subtitles -- while Kasatkina considers herself more of a sounding board.
"She's still shy to talk to the other players, especially foreigners. I have to push or do it myself sometimes. I'm just filming sometimes. For me, I'm partly an employee."