Charleston | It’s a Kasatkina versus Collins WTA 500 final

Daria Kasatkina shocked Jessica Pegula by snatching the match tiebreak in Saturday’s semi-finals of the Credit One Charleston Open, and she will meet Danielle Collins, who extended her winning run with a straight sets upset win over Maria Sakkari.

Danielle is, I think, playing the best tennis of her career right now. She's fearless. When she feels her game, she's one of the most dangerous players on tour, and she definitely feels it right now. I think the atmosphere is going to be great because playing an American in the United States, it always brings some extra electricity on court. So I'm really looking forward to it. Daria Kasatkina

Kasatkina, the 2017 champion here, turned the tables on the top-seeded Pegula to reach her 3rd WTA final of the season.

“In Tokyo, I think I lost, 6-1 6-0, so that was the strategy, actually,” Kasatkina said after stating her goal had been to win just 2 games. “After I won two in the first set, I was like, ‘Yes! I did it!’ ”

Kasatkina went on to defeat Pegula this time round, 6-4 4-6 7-6(5), rallying from 1-3 down in the deciding breaker.

“One day, you’re winning match from match points, next day, you’re going to lose,” said Kasatkina, referring to Pegula’s escape from 4 match points down against Victoria Azarenka in the quarter-finals. “I call it, ‘tennis drama’. It has to be like this.”

Despite an 0-2 head-to-head against the former World No 3, Kasatkina is finding the form to kick-start her rise back towards the Top 10, as her prowess on clay comes to the fore.

After reversing a 2-4 deficit to win the opening set, the 4th seed from Russia battled back after losing the second, and falling behind 0-2 in the third.

Playing most of the decider with a bandaged right thigh, she nonetheless showed off some incredible hands on match point, flicking a forehand passing shot past Pegula to win the contest after 2 hours and 47 minutes.

“I hope it was just a little cramp after spending more than five hours on court, sliding a lot,” said Kasatkina, who is coming off back-to-back 3-setters against Jaqueline Cristian and Pegula to reach her 3rd final of the season.

“It’s the first tournament on clay, so still, the body is not adapted 100%,” she admitted. “It’s good that I was able to continue, and running pretty well, and sliding. That’s a good sign.

“So now, it’s time to prepare, get ready, and do the maximum that I can to get ready for the final.”

Top seed Jessica Pegula was looking for her first final appearance of the year but was thwarted by Daria Kasatkina in the Last 4

© Elsa/Getty Images

In the final awaits Danielle Collins, the unseeded American who is making the headlines with an 12-match winning streak in what, she says, is her final year competing on the WTA Tour at the age of 30.

Kasatkina leads Collins 2-1 in their head-to-head, having won their only previous clay-court meeting at 2018 Rome, but the American won their most recent meeting, and that was in a final, when she notched up a 3-set win to claim the 2021 San Jose title.

“Danielle is, I think, playing the best tennis of her career right now,” Kasatkina said after her semi-final win. “She’s fearless. When she feels her game, she’s one of the most dangerous players on tour, and she definitely feels it right now.

“I think the atmosphere is going to be great because playing an American in the United States, it always brings some extra electricity on court. So I’m really looking forward to it.”

Both Collins and Kasatkina have momentum from strong Sunshine Swings, and both enjoy plenty of crowd support as fan favourites.

The self-exiled Russian, who now lives in Spain, produces a popular podcast on YouTube entitled ‘What the Vlog?’ with her partner Natalia Zabiiako, a figure skating champion.

“I go day by day, point by point, and then we’re gonna see because in tennis, you never know,” Kasatkina said. “All the girls are playing amazing. Danielle is killing everyone, so we’ll see how it’s going to be.

“I’m just happy with what I was able to get through today because it was very tough, and there were tough moments, thinking about the leg. Even if you don’t have a serious injury, you don’t want to make it worse. I’m really proud how I was able to get through this difficult moment.”

Danielle Collins is enjoying an impressive run of 12 matches after beating Maria Sakkari in straight sets on Saturday on her way to her second final in a row

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Collins’s impressive form shows no sign of abating just yet as she effectively outclassed Maria Sakkari, the 3rd seed from Greece, 6-3 6-3, on Saturday.

The World No 22, who won her first Masters 1000 title at the Miami Open last Saturday, will face 4th-seeded Kasatkina this Sunday.

“It’s been so fun coming out here and battling. It’s what I do. I just love to battle,” the World No 22 said. “I played a warrior today. Maria has had such a successful career. One of our most consistent players. It’s never easy. I had to work for it.

“[Kasatkina is] another warrior. Always someone I enjoy battling against. Whether it’s a win or a loss… someone I just respect so much.”

Collins, a former Australian Open runner-up, announced in January that is quitting the sport at the end of the season and hopes to start a family.

With her latest win, Collins levelled her head-to-head with Sakkari at 2 wins apiece, and she sits one victory away from her 2nd clay-court title after hoisting the Palermo crown 3 years ago.

On Saturday, she saw a 3-0 first-set lead slide back to 3-3, but she won 5 straight games on the trot from there to lead 6-3, 2-0, and found incredibly clutch serves to erase 2 break points in each of her next 2 service games on her way to the 1 hour 25-minute win.

“I think my aggressive game style helped me,” Collins said afterwards. “I had to stick with it. [Sakkari] was throwing a lot at me, and doing a lot of different things. So I had to try to counter that, and use my aggressive game style as much as I could.”

Collins has now beaten 3 Top 10 players in the span of just one week, defeating World No 4 Elena Rybakina from Kazakhstan in last Saturday’s Miami final, then upsetting No 6 Ons Jabeur from Tunisia in the Charleston 2nd-round before ousting 7th-ranked Sakkari in the Last 4.

In so doing, Collins picked up her 21st win of the year, which is tied for 3rd-best on tour behind only Iga Swiatek and Rybakina.

“You have to be very versatile and flexible,” Collins said about the change in surface, from hard to clay courts. “I came into this tournament knowing it wasn’t going to be perfect; the entire week, there would be little bumps on the road, and adjustments that would need to be made in the match, and, sometimes, that can be hard to do, but I’ve been flexible this whole tournament, with myself.”

Kasatkina, though, has never lost before the quarter-finals in her 5 Charleston appearances, and she now holds an 18-3 career win-loss record at the event after denying Pegula her first final appearance of this year.

“Coming back here every year, it just feels like the first time when I came here,” Kasatkina said. “I remember two days ago coming to the warm-up on the stadium. I felt exactly the same like walking on this court from seven years ago.”

Maria Sakkari, the World No 7, could not get past Danielle Collins in the Last 4 on Saturday in Charleston

© Elsa/Getty Images

On Sunday, Kasatkina has the opportunity to hoist the winner’s trophy for a second time, but Collins will have some considerable say in that.

The American was ranked 71 in the first week of February, 53 heading into Miami, and, with one more win here, she will be No 15 in the world when the latest  rankings come out over Monday.

Kasatkina may not have the powerful weapons as Collins has, but she likes to say she wins with brains and heart.

“I have to fight, and fight smart, and try to always find the ways how to win, how to try to sneak and steal these points from the opponents, have to make them uncomfortable,” she said. “It’s a reality which you have to face that you are not good enough in certain moments, but also it helps you to progress.

“These things they make you work and find the good way of how to go. Yeah, I think, like, everything in life, tennis is pretty similar to that.”

Already in her 3rd final of the year, after Adelaide and Abu Dhabi, but losing in those events to Jelena Ostapenko and Rybakina, respectively, she is burning to go the distance here in Charleston.

Although Kasatkina is deemed the favourite for the title, Collins is on her magical roll so this final is one to watch.



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