Fort Worth | Garcia secures semi-final slot with Kasatkina thriller

Caroline Garcia came from a set down to battle past Daria Kasatkina into the semi-finals of the WTA Finals, 4-6 6-1 7-6(5), in the match of the tournament so far, while Iga Swiatek, already assured of her place in the knock-out stage, completed the Tracy Austin Group line-up with an easy win over Coco Gauff on Saturday night at the Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas.

I tried to stay very positive, keep fighting, try to play aggressive, even if she is probably the best defensive player in the world and such a fighter. We have kind of very opposite games, so it made some great rallies. It was a crazy match. It was the best match of the group. Caroline Garcia

It was a winner-take-all clash for Garcia and Kasatkina, with the prize being the final place in the Last 4, that took 2 hours and 27 minutes of high quality tennis to resolve.

“Every match, we say, you have to give it all, and no regrets, go for it and it’s always true, but in this tournament even more,” the 29-year old Frenchwoman said later. “It’s the last one [of the season].

“I started very far from the Top 10, the Top 8, and I made my way to it.”

Garcia is enjoying a resurgence, having started the year ranked in the 70s and dogged by injuries, but she won titles this year in Bad Homburg and Warsaw before triumphing in Cincinnati as a qualifier, while she also reached the semi-finals of the US Open.

“Today, it’s one more thing that proves my game style is working, and I have to keep going that way,” the World No 6 said.

It all came down to the wire and, separated by a single point, Garcia edged past the 8th-ranked Russian after the tense final set alone that required 80 minutes and Kasatkina could not track down her forehand volley.

“It’s definitely a great achievement,” Garcia said. “I was already really proud to be in the Top 8.

“I don’t really know if I realise that this is the semi-final tomorrow. It proves that this year was definitely a good year.”

Daria Kasatkina's defensive skills made for a thrilling contest with Caroline Garcia on Saturday

© Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Kasatkina is also has had a few difficult years, finishing 2019 and 2020 ranked 69 and 71, but she rose back up to 26 a year ago, and with titles on the North American swing in San Jose and Granby, she pushed into the Top 10 for the first time.

“It’s going to look like she’s going to be a step inside the court and I’ll try to be a goalkeeper there on the court,” Kasatkina said ahead of the match. “But also there is pressure in the air.

“The beginning of the match is very important. So keep an eye on the beginning of the match.”

And so it played out for the first 6 games of the match, with Garcia using her new-found aggressive style to assert a 4-2 lead until her forehand winners morphed into unforced errors and Kasatkina was back on serve.

Garcia began to unravel, talking to herself and swiping her racket at the court, and Kasatkina pounced at 4-all when the Frenchwoman lost it entirely, throwing in a double-fault, 2 errant backhands and a netted forehand.

Breaking to love, Kasatkina served out the opener, her stunning defence keeping her in the points as she she goaded the increasingly frustrated Garcia to overhit.

“I had a crisis of panic, I think I lose my mind a little bit,” Garcia admitted later. “Obviously, she was bringing back a lot of balls, and I went for too much. Second set was very good. Third set was a battle.”

The loss was a hard pill for Daria Kasatkina to swallow

© Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

After losing 4 straight games, Garcia regrouped and pocketed the second easily, and her momentum continued when Kasatkina double-faulted to lose the first game of the decider.

At 3-2, though, when Garcia was serving, Kasatkina won 2 spectacular shots to break, retrieving a drop-shot with a cross-court forehand flick for a winner and then sprinting to produce a running backhand winner that drew a roar from the crowd.

“I tried to stay very positive, keep fighting, try to play aggressive, even if she is probably the best defensive player in the world and such a fighter,” Garcia said on court. “We have kind of very opposite games, so it made some great rallies.”

All square, the scene was set for the climax, and Garcia prevailed in a 14-point game that ran nearly 9 minutes at 3-4 down when she hit an emphatic ace.

The 9th game, at 4-4, lasted more than 13 minutes and was epic, with its 9 deuces, 4 double-faults and 6 break point chances for Garcia, but somehow Kasatkina escaped when the Frenchwoman struck a forehand long.

It all came down to a match tiebreak, in which Garcia was one shot better, finishing it off with a memorable match point.

She dropped to her knees in exhaustion and then stood hunched over, with her hands braced on her knees.

The Frenchwoman had become the first in 30 matches this season to beat Kasatkina after losing the first set to the 8th-ranked Russian.

“It was a crazy match,” Garcia said after the thriller. “It was the best match of the group.”

Kasatkina, who goes home with a 41-21 record, is now 28-1 in 2022 when winning the opening set.

“I’m disappointed, obviously, 7-6 in the third,” Kasatkina said in her post-match press conference. “It was a great fight and a good match, but, unfortunately, someone has to win, someone has to lose.

“It hurts, but this is sport. One or two points, obviously, in the tiebreak, I think, level was pretty close.

“Third set, wasn’t a big difference between us. When you don’t want to lose, you squeeze everything you have, everything that’s left in your tank, so this is what I was doing. Now, I feel absolutely empty.”

Kasatkina may have ended her season on a heartbreaking loss, but insists she will see the the positives soon.

“Of course, now I hate everything,” she admitted. “Super disappointed, I don’t want to do anything.

“Of course, I have to be objective and I have to say this season was the best in my career. Honestly, the beginning of the season, if you tell me that I’m going to be here now sitting, I would probably not trust you.”

Garcia became the 5th player to reach the semi-finals at the WTA Finals at her first two appearances in the tournament’s current format, albeit with 5 years in between.

“I won my spot today, by going forward to it,” Garcia said. “And that’s the way I play the best this year, and I want to keep going forward because tomorrow’s match is going to be a big one.”

Iga Swiatek, the World No 1, flew past Coco Gauff in the last match of the Tracy Austin Group on Saturday night

© Tom Pennington/Getty Images

She has lined up a meeting with 5th-ranked Greek Maria Sakkari, who reached her Last 4 slot without dropping a set in the Nancy Richey Group.

Garcia takes a 2-0 career lead over Sakkari into Sunday’s semi-final, including a victory at Cincinnati this year on route to the title.

“The last match in Cincinnati was a very tight one,” said Garcia. “She’s playing some great tennis. It will be a very different game as today.”

Round robin play concluded on Saturday night when Swiatek beat American teenager Gauff, 6-3 6-0, who had already been eliminated from semi-final contention.

The 21-year-old from Poland has dropped just 13 games in 3 straight-sets victories and is the favourite to land the season-ending championship title on Monday.

Swiatek, winner of the French Open and US Open this year, though, must first face 7th-ranked Aryna Sabalenka in the semis on Sunday.

Gauff and her doubles partner Jessica Pegula each went 0-6 in singles and doubles this week, and both are due to make a quick turnaround for the Billie Jean King Cup, which starts on Tuesday in Glasgow, an event Swiatek has already decided to skip.

18-year old Gauff seemed ready to move on to the ITF’s 12-nation team competition named in honour of King as a means of forgetting about her week in Texas.

“I’ve never lost so much so fast,” Gauff said. “Going to the BJK Cup will be better.

“I think right now my mindset is just on that, and try not to dwell too much on this. I’m kind of grateful to have that tournament because it would be an awful way to end the year on this.”

Jelena Ostapenko (R) & Lyudmyla Kichenok beat Anna Danilina & Beatriz Haddad Maia to secure the last place in the doubles semi-finals on Saturday in Fort Wort

© Tom Pennington/Getty Images

In the doubles, Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova & Elise Mertens from Belgium kept a clean sheet to win the Pam Shriver Group and helped Ukrainian Lyudmyla Kichenok & Jelena Ostapenko from Latvia edge out fKazakh Anna Danilina & Beatriz Haddad Maia from Brazil for the second qualifying spot in the semi-finals.

Kichenok & Ostapenko, the 5th seeds, pulled off a come-back from a set and a break down on Saturday to advance, taking just over 2 hours to squeak past 7th-seeded Danilina & Haddad Maia, 6-7(7) 6-4 [10-8].

Their ticket to the semis was confirmed after group winners Kudermetova & Mertens defeated Canadian Gabriela Dabrowski & Giuliana Olmos from Mexico, 7-6(5) 6-2, who finished their round-robin play undefeated.



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