Russians prevailed on Sunday, with Daria Kasatkina joining compatriot and Washington champion Liudmila Samsonova in the winners circle after she rallied past Shelby Rogers, 6-7(3) 6-1 6-2, in the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic championship final in San Jose, California.
In some ways [coming out], it’s helping me mentally, but I don’t think that there is a direct connection [to winning]. My goals are something bigger, because only the kids who are dreaming big [succeed]. I’m dreaming to win a Slam. Everything depends on me, but I will do everything possible to achieve this history. Daria Kasatkina
Kasatkina, who lost to another American, Danielle Collins, in the 2021 final, found herself down a set before storming back to win 12 of the last 15 games, and run away with the title.
“I want to thank every single person who is sharing now this moment with us on this beautiful court, thank you guys,” she told the crowd at the San Jose State University while accepting her trophy. “I want to wish you, everyone, a lot of love, happiness and peace in this world.”
The title was the 25-year-old’s 5th of her career, and the first since winning St. Petersburg last year.
It was the 3rd time this week that Kasatkina, the No 7 seed here, had to come from a set down, following come-back wins against Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina and 4th-seeded Aryna Sabalenka.
With their head-to-head tied at 1-1, the final pitted Rogers’ powerful baseline game and dominating serve against Kasatkina’s physicality and all-court guile.
Kasatkina broke open the match early to build a 5-3 lead, but could not serve out the set as Rogers raised her game, saving a set point before racing away with the tiebreak after a gruelling 78-minute set.
The effort to take the tough opener took it out of Rogers, who had rolled through her matches all week thanks to her pristine serving, but Kasatkina’s focus and physicality ultimately make the difference and, as she had done to Rybakina and Sabalenka, the 7th seed coolly turned the match around in the second set by exploiting the American’s dip in energy.
From 1-1 in the second, Kasatkina won the next 7 games to both win it and build a 2-0 lead in the third, finally closing out the match after 2 hours and 32 minutes.
She fell to the ground and lay on her back, relishing the moment after attacking a short ball off her serve and putting it away with a forehand winner on match point.
“It’s a tough journey, which is still going on,” she said later. “I’m happy with the way things are going, especially this season, but I don’t want to stop, because I did this mistake already one time, and I don’t want to repeat it.
“I’m still hungry for the wins.”
Kasatkina, who recently came out as gay and has said she appreciates the positive support, became the first player to make consecutive finals at the event since Serena Williams in 2011-12, and earned her first San Jose title.
“I feel great, every year better and better, I wonder what it’s going to be next year,” Kasatkina added.
She is in a relationship with the mixed pair figure skater Natalia Zabiiako, and has said that they could never be pictured holding hands in Russia and that living there, in the closet, was impossible.
She has also denounced Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, calling it ‘a full-blown nightmare’ and adding that she wants to play and train with players who do not have to worry about being bombed.
“In some ways [coming out], it’s helping me mentally, but I don’t think that there is a direct connection [to winning],” Kasatkina said. “My goals are something bigger, because only the kids who are dreaming big [succeed].
“I’m dreaming to win a Slam. Everything depends on me, but I will do everything possible to achieve this history.”
While unseeded Rogers falls to 0-3 in tour finals after her stellar week, during which she did not drop a set until the final, she rises 15 spots to World No 30.
Kasatkina moves up 3 places, back into the Top 10 at No 9, and heads off to Toronto for the next tournament.
“We’re very happy because of the great job that she’s doing we have now the result here,” her coach Carlos Martinez said. “We are super proud of Daria because she’s a great champion.
“She’s fighting `til the end, fighting for every single ball. She’s very consistent.”
Early on, Rogers scampered all over the court to keep long baseline rallies alive before closing out points or forcing Kasatkina into an error, but by the the third set, she was slapping her leg in frustration and growling aloud.
Afterwards she said how much she appreciated the support of the crowd cheering her name and holding signs reading “GO SHELBY!”
Rogers had rallied in the first set, playing impressive come-back tennis for a second straight day.
She trailed 4-2 and 5-3 before going up 6-5, then holding on to win the opener when Kasatkina double-faulted to make it 6-1 in the tiebreak.
“I played really solid,” Rogers said. “I thought I picked my chances well and was aggressive when I needed to be, was patient when I needed to be.
“She made me hit a lot of balls, she hits a lot of balls back, she’s one of the best movers on the tour.
“The wind started to pick up. She started putting a little more pace on the ball and being a little more aggressive, too, and just reset after that first set.”
To win the opening set, Rogers hit 15 winners to 19 unforced errors, while Kasatkina struck 8 winners and 19 miscues.
Kasatkina kept things much cleaner in the second two sets, hitting just 13 unforced errors while holding Rogers to just 12 winners for the remainder of the match, and the Russian finished the match with 24 winners to 32 miscues, compared to the American’s 27 winners to 39 unforced errors.
In one of her finest seasons, Kasatkina’s victory snapped a two-match losing streak in finals.
Having made back-to-back semi-finals on the clay in Rome and Roland Garros, her outstanding week in San Jose included two Top 10 wins over World No 4 Paula Badosa and Sabalenka, and a victory over the reigning Wimbledon champion.
She is now tied for 3rd on tour in wins this season with 32, behind only World No 1 Iga Swiatek and Wimbledon finalist Ons Jabeur.
In the earlier doubles final on Sunday, 4th-seeded Chinese pair of Xu Yifan & Yang Zhaoxuan defeated the unseeded duo of Japan’s Shuko Aoyama & Chan Hao-Ching of Taiwan, 7-5 6-0.
They will face off in the first round this week in Toronto for an immediate rematch.