STUTTGART, Germany - Daria Kasatkina is tapping into clay's rejuvenating qualities after a 'disastrous' start to her 2019 campaign.
The 21-year-old Russian star, who rose into the Top 10 last season, came into this week's Porsche Tennis Grand Prix with a 2-7 record on the year, having yet to tally a win over a Top 150 opponent. But back on her favorite surface, Kasatkina earned her best win of the season by far, defeating No.18 Elise Mertens 7-6(8), 7-5 in the first round of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix.
"A very important win for sure because, you know...." Kasatkina said with a wry laugh. "And also it was the first match on clay. It was really important to feel confidence on my favorite surface. So, I’m happy with the match, with the way I was playing and I’ll keep going."
Having started the season ranked No.10, Kasatkina has seen her ranking slip to No.22, with her ranking buoyed by back-to-back quarterfinals at Roland Garros and Wimbledon last year. After going 0-4 to start the season, Kasatkina split with her coach Philippe Dehaes and has been in search for form ever since.
"Disaster," Kasatkina said when asked to describe her season so far. "I mean it’s normal. I think every player has done it, went through these moments during their career for sure, maybe not once, not twice, maybe even more.
"So, it’s okay. It’s experience, it’s life. It is important to go through these difficult situations, difficult periods and just keep going. When you’re going through these things you really can see what you can do. So, it’s also important."
After finishing her spring hardcourt season with a straight-set loss to Venus Williams in the third round of the Miami Open, Kasatkina retreated to Europe to reset. She headed to her beloved Barcelona for a few days off and then connected with Carlos Martinez' academy in Mollet del Vallès.
"They were trying to put me on the way back with a lot of hard work and a lot of things which they were telling me during these two weeks," Kasatkina said. "It was very important for me because I was working and didn’t think about all these three months and what was going on and all this mess which I had in my head. So, I’m thankful for them and for my brother because they together were trying to lift me up again."
Kasatkina says she is taking her time in appointing a new coach. She is not the only top player to go without a head coach for much of this season. Simona Halep and Sloane Stephens have gone for much of the season without a coach in place, though Halep recently hired Daniel Dobre at the end of March.
"For the moment, I don’t have a tennis coach," Kasatkina said. "I will practice in Carlos’s academy. He will help me when he has time there and his assistant coach of course. And slowly I think we will figure it out because I don’t want to take someone just because I need to take someone. I have to build the confidence in the person, who will be with me 85 percent of the season. So, I will check carefully and I hope soon I will make a decision but without any rush for sure.
"I’m not panicking. It’s not the end of the world to have no coach. I mean, you will not forget how to play tennis. Yes, it’s a very important part to have someone, who will help you and who will direct you, but at the end everything depends on the player, on his ambitions, his motivation and that’s it.
"You can see everybody has done it before. They were playing without the coach. At the end you find your person, of course, you have to try to change something. But it’s nothing catastrophic to play without a coach."
"It’s good and bad. I think for me it’s even good, not for the big period, but for the short period, so I have to learn on my own. I think life gave me this experience so I can learn something and I will try to get the maximum out of it.
With a good win in her pocket and clarity in her head, Kasatkina finds herself on the mend. It should surprise no one that she's found inspiration once again on the clay.
"First of all, clay season is associated with Europe which for me is forever in my heart, because I love Europe. I love everything around and clay is part of Europe. There is only one tournament in the United States on clay, everything else is in Europe. I’m a big fan of this time, like one and a half months we are here finally.
"For sure, it’s pumping me up. All the battles on the clay court, it’s so special, the sliding, the emotions, everything. So, I’m very excited. I was waiting for this part of the season."