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Daria Kasatkina’s Tumultuous and Triumphant Season


FORT WORTH — As Daria Kasatkina’s match with the American teenager Coco Gauff took many a twist and switch on Thursday night, Kasatkina’s thoughts were hard to read: Her neutral, deeply focused expression gave little hint of the rating until she had closed out her round-robin victory, 7-6 (6), 6-3, on the WTA Finals with a roar and a clenched fist.

Kasatkina, a 25-year-old Russian who will face Caroline Garcia on Saturday for a spot within the semifinals, is within the moment and back within the groove in her first appearance on this elite year-end event, reserved for the highest eight women’s singles players and top eight doubles teams.

But it surely has been a tumultuous, ultimately triumphant season for Kasatkina. In July, in an interview with the Russian blogger Vitya Kravchenko, she got here out as gay, making her relationship public with the previous Olympic pairs figure skater Natalia Zabiiako. In that very same interview, Kasatkina also became the primary Russian tennis star to talk out in depth against the war with Ukraine.

Each are dangerous moves in Russia, where the federal government led by President Vladimir V. Putin has enacted laws restricting dissent against the war and banned the portrayal of gay relationships in books, movies and the media.

Kasatkina, who called the war a “full-blown nightmare” and expressed empathy for Ukrainian players, has long trained in Spain along with her coach, Carlos Martinez, and is now based in Dubai. She has not returned to Russia, where she still has family, since a visit to St. Petersburg in February, shortly before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Has this been her 12 months of being brave?

“Possibly yes,” she said in an interview in Fort Price. “I used to be saying those things to not look brave but to provide to the people my perspective and my feelings. So, in the event that they see that this was brave, good, but it surely was to not look brave, completely not.”

Some Ukrainian players, including Ukraine’s former Billie Jean King Cup captain Olga Savchuk, thanked Kasatkina personally.

“No less than she tried and did something and may live with a clean soul,” Savchuk said in a text message on Friday. “I can easily look in her face now after I meet her, because I do know what she thinks.”

Asked what the feedback had been like in Russia, Kasatkina demurred. “Let’s not speak about it,” she said.

But she said that she had been touched by the extent of support internationally for her decision to come back out about her sexuality and to live openly with Zabiiako, a 2018 Olympian for Russia, who’s along with her and Martinez in Fort Price.

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“I didn’t know what to anticipate, and every thing went perfectly, I feel,” Kasatkina said. “And I’m just really thankful to everyone who messaged me, who supported me. After all, there was also some negative parts, but I just didn’t feel it in any respect. Just the people on the web, so it wasn’t necessary to me in any respect.”

Kasatkina said her life day-to-day had not modified nearly as much as her mood.

“I just began to feel a lot better,” Kasatkina said. “Just being myself and feeling more free to do the things I would like to do, the things I feel I would like to do. It’s amazing. To live with the sensation of freedom, it’s an important feeling.”

She has climbed back into the highest 10 in 2022, snagging the eighth and last singles qualifying spot for the WTA Finals after serving as an alternate in 2018 in Singapore without attending to play a match.

“I suppose let’s imagine I caught the last train to be here,” Kasatkina said. “I used to be pretty stressed within the race, since it was pretty tight. But being here feels great.”

Banned from Wimbledon together with all players from Russia and its ally Belarus, Kasatkina won’t have qualified for Fort Price if the tours had not stripped Wimbledon of rating points in retaliation for the Russian ban.

Elena Rybakina, a Russian-born player who now represents Kazakhstan, won the Wimbledon women’s singles title, but, without the two,000 points that normally go along with a Grand Slam title, didn’t qualify for the WTA Finals.

Kasatkina and the Belarusian star Aryna Sabalenka each finished in the highest eight and have been in a position to play a virtually full season due to tours’ decision to permit individuals from Russia and Belarus to compete, albeit without flags or national identification.

“After all, we appreciate that we are able to keep our jobs and play,” Kasatkina said. “We’re lucky, and we’re super thankful for this.”

Her resurgent season has been an extended time coming. Though Kasatkina can summon baseline power, her game is, above all, based on craft and spin, on rhythm and tactical shifts.

Her former coach Philippe Dehaes called her “a tennis genius,” and along with his help she rose to No. 10 in 2018, reaching the ultimate of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., before losing to Naomi Osaka in what was a breakthrough tournament for each young talents.

But Kasatkina was unable to sustain that momentum, splitting with Dehaes in 2019 and spiraling, by her own account, into depression and a crisis of confidence that had her seriously contemplating quitting the game.

But she worked through it with help from a psychologist, in addition to her brother Alexandr and Martinez, a former Spanish satellite-level player who long coached Kasatkina’s Russian compatriot Svetlana Kuznetsova.

“Carlos took me from the underside after I was completely broken, let’s say,” Kasatkina said. “We did a superb job together coming back to the highest 10. I’m glad and grateful that he had this patience.”

Martinez, who began coaching her in June 2019, believed in Kasatkina’s talent but needed to assist her get well confidence.

“She got here from tough moments when the expectation round her was very high, ending top 10 in 2018,” Martinez said Thursday. “At first, it was nearly constructing a base, constructing a player who could play on every surface and may adapt to different games.”

The pandemic gave them additional time to work at Martinez’s club, they usually focused more on improving tactics and attitude than on technical adjustments

“Two or three years ago, this match with Coco, she would have lost, 6-2, 6-2,” Martinez said. “No likelihood. You’ll have seen frustration, but now, no. She knows she will change the course of the match each point.”

Consistency stays a difficulty. Kasatkina has lost in one in all her first two rounds in 11 events this 12 months, but she also reached her first Grand Slam semifinal on the French Open and won two singles titles, compiling a 40-20 record through all of the travels and the tumult.

Against Garcia on Saturday, she will extend her finest season for a minimum of yet one more match after which head to the Maldives with Zabiiako for sun, calm and vacation.

Returning to Russia can have to attend.

“Possibly when the war will likely be finished,” she said.

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