The inaugural meeting of twentieth seed Daria Kasatkina and unseeded Naomi Osaka at the BNP Paribas Open is too close to call on many levels. Kasatkina captured her first title in 2017 in Charleston and has the experience advantage of playing the recent 2018 Dubai final against Elina Svitolina. Osaka has not lived the pressure of a final since 2016 at home in Tokyo.
If Osaka wins the Indian Wells final, her career prize money will nearly double and she will capture her first WTA title. In contrast, Kasatkina will break into the Top 10 for the first time by lifting the Baccarat crystal trophy.
With such strong performances by both 20-year-olds, the statistics do not paint a clear picture. Year-to-date win percentage is 75 percent for Osaka and 68 percent for Kasatkina. Career tiebreak wins are dead even, 51 percent and 50 percent respectively. Hardcourts favor both games. Kasatkina “outranks” Osaka in opponent prestige and experience against Top 10 opponents. Then there are the intangibles. Numbers cannot measure character and the heart.
While the Saturday night crowd looked forward to a Williams final, these two young women have generated their own brand of excitement while climbing the mountain to the title match. Along that journey, Osaka and Kasatkina have shared many things. In particular, they have evaluated their performance and readiness to play big matches. Their words are revealing.
Osaka on her strategy against Maria Sharapova:
I wasn’t going to try to blast her off the court. I feel like she plays really good with pace, so I felt like I had to mix it up a lot and just sort of give her a little bit of no rhythm, even though that’s what she does to me, too. So, I was just trying to be mentally really calm and just go for it when I had it.
Kasatkina on her crafty game and whether she should work more on power:
Actually, I started to play more powerful than I used to do before. Tennis is going the way that you have to play more powerful, more hitting the ball. But still, I like to do some special things on the court, and I’m not going to refuse it. I have to maybe change, adapt to the level and the way everybody’s playing now, but at the same time, I don’t want to change my style of the game so much.
Osaka on dropping her second set to Maria Sakkari:
When I lost the second set, I was just more thinking I had to correct the things that I did wrong. I wasn’t really thinking of past matches, because I’m kind of over it, if that makes sense. And just try and stay in the moment more and just keep doing better every match. I want to be consistent at this level. I think that’s the first thing I want to work on. Other than that, I’m just trying to go one point at a time and one match at a time.
Kasatkina on how she has improved in handling big matches:
In the beginning it was really tough because I was really nervous going on the big stages, on the big courts against big players. But now with experience, with the time, I’m getting into it and I would say I’m getting pretty confident in this level already. We will see what’s going to happen next.
Osaka on how beating big names like Sharapova and Radwanska has built her confidence:
Definitely doesn’t do anything bad for it. Well, I mean, it makes me confident but I don’t
want to be overconfident, because I feel like that’s when people start the self-doubt and could only go down.
Kasatkina on whether she surprised herself in her performance defeating Kerber:
Not really. Everything what I showed I was doing in the practices, so was just
playing really calm.
What Kasatkina and Osaka have revealed most is their ability to deliver consistent solid performances. With a confident energy, they faced challenges by the best players and they did not waiver. On Sunday, as one star rises, the other will fall. A harsh reality, but that is tennis.
The WTA singles final begins promptly at 11 AM.
WTA Doubles Champions
Hsieh Su-Wei and Barbora Strycova d. Elena Vesnina and Ekaterina Makarova 6-4 6-4
On Saturday, long-term partners and top seeds Elena Vesnina and Ekaterina Makarova took Stadium 1 to fight for another title against a first-time partnership of Barbora Strycova and Hsieh Su-Wei. A last-minute entry, Hsieh and Strycova attribute part of their success to fate. However, they did some heavy lifting. The pair complement each other with Strycova’s net play and Hsieh’s solid baseline skills.
Strycova revealed in a similar sense the personalities compliment as well, calm verses emotion.
Both sets landed at a 4-4 tie. In the first, Strycova-Hsieh took the break and Strycova served out the set. In the second, Strycova-Hsieh established the early lead, but Vesnina-Makarova took charge, breaking to 3-1. Landing again at 4-4, Vesnina was broken, giving Strycova a chance to serve for the match. She closed with a love hold, 6-4.