LONDON, Great Britain - Having made her major quarterfinal debut at Roland Garros last month, No.14 seed Daria Kasatkina has immediately backed it up with her second at Wimbledon, coming from a set down to defeat the unseeded Alison Van Uytvanck 6-7(6), 6-3, 6-2 in a high-quality, variety-heavy encounter.
The pair had met for the first time in the second round of Eastbourne in the week before The Championships, with Kasatkina gradually taking control after losing a tight first set to win 5-7, 6-4, 6-1 - and today's match would see a similar pattern reprised.
A magnificent first set provided some of the best tennis of The Championships thus far as both players showcased the full breadth and depth of their repertoires. Van Uytvanck mixed hard, flat bullets from the baseline with the most delicate dropshots, and tallied 42 brilliant winners across the match; Kasatkina conjured up masterful angles and, moving at speed across the grass like a natural, showed off remarkable hand skills to turn improbable gets into winners.
With so much to draw on, both players' tactics were ever-shifting as they responded to the variety of shots coming their way. The Belgian, looking to be the aggressor more often, went up a break twice with swashbuckling, creative plays; twice, Kasatkina scurried and hustled to retrieve the deficit, flashing passes and whipping her forehand. At 5-5, it was the Russian's turn to pounce as Van Uytvanck began to leak errors - but the Québec City and Budapest champion immediately struck back with magnificent defence and ballstriking to force a tiebreak.
The net was a popular destination today, and for good reason with both players displaying top-notch instincts in the forecourt. Towards the close of the first set, Van Uytvanck gradually began to incorporate a serve-and-volleying strategy, frequently on big points - and would win her first six such points, including twice in the tiebreak. Conversely, Kasatkina's weakness on serve was beginning to show: her second delivery's speed would dip alarmingly at times, averaging just 75mph, and a second double fault at 6-7 in the tiebreak would leave the Dubai and Indian Wells finalist needing to come from a set down to win.
The second set would turn on unfortunate decision-making on Van Uytvanck's part. After three breaks of serve in which the quality of the first set had been maintained, the 24-year-old was serving with a point to lead 3-1. With the open court at her disposal and a desperate Kasatkina stab seemingly sailing wide, Van Uytvanck chose to put the ball away anyway - but sent the volley into the net. Twelve of the next 14 points followed as the World No.47's errors began to flow.
The Russian had begun to adapt to Van Uytvanck's changes of pace, too - particularly beginning to anticipate the dropshot, which had brought the 2015 Roland Garros quarterfinalist so many rewards in the first set. From the second set on, it was more likely to result in a Kasatkina dash forward and a neat putaway.
Van Uytvanck was still providing flashes of brilliance, but they were increasingly intermittent - and less likely to occur when she most needed them. Having converted three of her four break points in the first set, that ratio fell to one out of seven in the second - and in the third, the conqueror of defending champion Garbiñe Muguruza would not get a single opportunity on the Kasatkina serve.
With the momentum firmly going her way, the 21-year-old demonstrated that she is turning into a formidable front runner: the more the scoreline favored her, the more confident she seemed to become, both in terms of the ambitious shots she would attempt - and pull off - and how stingy she became with unforced errors. Only two would come off Kasatkina's racquet in the deciding set in which she lost just two points on serve, with her total for the day a paltry 17 - compared to Van Uytvanck's mounting tally of 37.
Though a valiant Van Uytvanck fended off two match points on her own serve at 1-5, Kasatkina wasted no time in serving the match out to love - and setting up another reprisal of an Eastbourne encounter against No.11 seed Angelique Kerber. Her overall head-to-head against the German stands at 3-3 - but it was Kerber who came out on top of last fortnight's encounter in a 6-1, 6-7(3), 7-6(3) epic. If the pair repeat the quality and drama of that match tomorrow, Wimbledon's crowds will be in for another treat.