Race to the WTA Finals weighs on Daria Kasatkina in San Diego

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Daria Kasatkina picked up in San Diego where she left off in San Jose, beating Leylah Fernandez 6-2 6-2 in just under an hour. Speaking with the press after the swift first-round victory, Kasatkina was still a bit dazed from the travel, having just arrived from Ostrava. After her match, she was eager to get back to her hotel and order Chinese food for dinner.

The world No.11 Kasatkina is currently sixth in the Race to the Finals and the points in San Diego could be a huge boost. Asked why players care so much about qualifying, Kasatkina struggled to articulate the meaning. Beyond the recognition that she is among the best of the year and gets to test herself against her peers one last time that year, what qualifying means to her is more elusive than that. It appears to come down to what George Leigh Mallory said after being asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest: “Because it’s there.” It’s not about the points or the prestige, it’s about there being another tournament to conquer.

While Kasatkina is trying to focus on San Diego, the tournament at hand, it’s not easy to stop thinking about the Race. The 25-year-old told media, “I’m really trying hard to just let it go, it’s just impossible because you know more or less who has the opportunity to go and who is,” to quote the Russian saying she used, “breathing behind your back.”

Coach Carlos Martinez Comet has tried to keep her focused by pretending he does not pay attention to the likelihood she will make it to the Finals, but it’s resulted in a game of cat and mouse between the two: “he thinks he’s trying to show me that he doesn’t follow the numbers, but I know that he follows and at the same time I’m trying to show him that I don’t follow. We are trying to close the eyes on that.”

The next match on the road is against Madison Keys. Keys won seven of their eight encounters, but Kasatkina won their most recent meeting earlier this year in Melbourne. Kasatkina had nothing but praise for Keys, saying “Madison, she’s and incredible player. One of the most talented I think and she’s playing at home […] It’s gonna be tough one, of course, but at this tournament, you cannot get an easy draw.”

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