MOSCOW, Russia - Russia’s highest-ranked player Daria Kasatkina held off an inspired Ons Jabeur in the final of the VTB Kremlin Cup to lift her first WTA trophy on home soil - and in the process, break inside the WTA’s Top 10 for the first time in her career.
A finalist here last year, No.6 seed Kasatkina had to fight back from a set and a break down in the second to complete the turnaround and win 2-6, 7-6(3), 6-4 after two hours and five minutes. She adds her name to an elite list of Russian players to lift the Premier-level trophy, joining Anastasia Myskina (2003-2004), Anna Chakvetadze (2006), Elena Dementieva (2007), Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (2014) and Svetlana Kuznetsova (2015-2016).
“It was a dream of mine since childhood, to win the Kremlin Cup in front of my crowd,” Kasatkina said. “I’m so happy, I still can’t believe it. I have to go to the airport now, but I’m still happy.
“There were fans from Russia, from Tunisia, from everywhere - the atmosphere felt more like Fed Cup, but it was great. But it was amazing because this is what sport is about, the passion.”
The victory denies the Tunisian qualifier a slice of history - already the first player from her country to reach a WTA final, Jabeur was hoping to do one better in the championship match to claim her maiden title.
“I’m very happy that I made it to the final,” Jabeur said afterwards. “It was very long, eight matches was kind of long for me coming from qualifying. But I wanted to win today.
“It wasn’t meant to be today. And maybe it’s a little bit lack of experience, but this is my first final so hopefully I can have many more and win some titles.”
Jabeur didn’t look at all like a player contesting her career first WTA final, delighting the small but vocal Tunisian contingent with her brilliant shotmaking. The pair traded breaks at the start, with Kasatkina getting the perfect start at 1-0 but Jabeur leveling in the next game.
The Tunisian’s aggressive return stance had Kasatkina constantly under pressure, and back-to-back double faults off the Russian’s racquet gave her another break chance - which she eagerly sealed with a rocket crosscourt forehand to lead 4-2. With a foothold in the set, Jabeur didn’t let up for a moment, firing winners off both wings to reel off the last four games in a row and power through the opening set.
Kasatkina did well to forget the disappointment from the opening set, muscling her way to an early break at 0-1. But it didn’t last long as Jabeur teed off on the Russian’s vulnerable second serves to get them level in the next game.
Jabeur’s relentless attack extended her lead to a double break at 4-1, looking ready to run away with it. But Kasatkina had been in this position before with Jabeur: in their only previous meeting at the 2016 Olympics in Rio Jabeur led Kasatkina by a set and a break - even serving for the match at 5-4 in the second - before Kasatkina came back to escape with the win.
She employed the same strategy as Jabeur’s unforced error count ballooned in the second set - 38 compared to eight in the first - and Kasatkina capitalized to fight her way back to 4-4, leveling the score. A pair of marathon breaks came back-to-back - needing 11 break points between them - and kept them even into a tiebreaker. That was where Kasatkina finally pulled away, rattling off four points in a row to send them into a deciding set.
The margins were razor-thin in the hard fought final set, with both players dialled in and fired up. They traded breaks at 2-0, Kasatkina breaking first and Jabeur fighting her way back in. But as the match ticked past the two-hour mark, all the matches seemed to catch up with Jabeur, struggling physically as Kasatkina scored the decisive break and served out the match to claim the Moscow title.
“I was able to get back in the match because of my coach,” Kasatkina said of incredible comeback. “He went on the court and he put me on the ground again. I don’t know how he’s doing this, but he was amazing too today.”
The victory is Kasatkina’s second WTA title and her first on hardcourts - she had two chances to claim one earlier this year, but came up short in the final of Dubai against Elina Svitolina and Naomi Osaka in Indian Wells, losing both in straight sets.
Even sweeter - her run to the final earned her a trip to the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global, overtaking Aryna Sabalenka as the first alternate.
“It’s pretty special, my first time in Singapore and I think also the last time because it’s going to move,” she said. “I think I catch all the last things. I will enjoy it for sure, even if I don’t have the chance to play. I’ll still have a little bit of Singapore.”