LONDON (Reuters) - A criticism often levelled at elite women’s tennis is that matches often appear generic with two players thumping high-velocity groundstrokes backwards and forwards until one of them runs out of ammunition.
Russian Daria Kasatkina is doing her best to break the mould and daring to be different.
Far from walking out on court with one pre-programmed game style, the 21-year-old boasts a potpourri of tricks in her racket bag even Harry Potter might find tough to match.
Yes, she can give the ball a thump off both wings but she does not rely on straight-line power. Far from it.
Out of nowhere she can reel in an opponent with a wickedly-spinning sliced backhand, a disguised dropshot or catch them by surprise with a stealthy net approach and a deft volley.
Then there is the vicious topspin forehand modelled on her idol Rafael Nadal’s weapon-of-choice and the Marat Safin-like double-handed backhand, taken at shoulder-level with both feet off the ground.
At times during her stunning victory over world number two Caroline Wozniacki in the last 16 of the French Open, she appeared to have the ball on the end of a piece of string.
Kasatkina will bring this artistic approach to Wimbledon’s grass next week — a surface she is slowly mastering but one which offers a perfect canvas for her many brushstrokes.
“I do like grass because you have to feel the ball, you have to manage the grass and the bad bounces,” the world number 14 told Reuters at this week’s Eastbourne championships.
“You have to play with the grass, it’s very interesting. It’s special. I feel free.”
Kasatkina reached the third round on her first senior Wimbledon appearance two years ago, losing to five-time champion Venus Williams in a three-set thriller.
That duel was remarkable not only because rain intervened when Williams first held a match point but also because of the range of shot-making of the instinctive young Russian.
“I don’t really think about a big strategy I just sort of play more depending on what the moment requires,” she said.
“Sometimes you don’t have time to think too much so you have to rely on your instincts.”
While memorable, it was a previous match at Wimbledon, in the juniors in 2012, which Kasatkina remembers just as vividly.
“I played a Romanian girl Rosca in the first round in my first ever match on grass. I lost the first set 6-0 and I think I won three points. It was a disaster.
“I was shocked. I didn’t understand what was going on because I arrived two days before it started.
“Now it’s getting better and better.”
She will start next week as one of the top 16 seeds and the Russian number one — a sizeable achievement but not one that she worries too much about.
“I don’t care about being Russian number one,” she said. I have big goals, I want to win Grand Slams and if I do that I can aim to be world number one. The Olympics is a big target too.
Kasatkina laughs when asked where in Russia she is from.
“Tolyatti, it’s 1,000km from Moscow near Samara. I bet you only hear about that because of the World Cup!” she said.
Which brings her on to the subject of soccer and juggling matches and practises with watching the World Cup.
“I’m watching two or three matches each day,” she said before heading back to her seaside hotel to watch Russia lose to Uruguay and finish runners-up in their group.
“You can’t imagine how shocked we are for Russia to score eight goals in two matches. Normally we have been crying after matches. Now we are celebrating the guys can play football.
“Not they’ve given us some hope.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar