Kasatkina, Brady Rebound From Paris Setbacks At Ostrava

WASHINGTON, October 20, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Both Jennifer Brady of the United States and Dayana Yastremska from Ukraine lost in the first round of Roland Garros last month. By now, it must seem like ancient history for both of them.

As the two Top 30 competitors met for the first time at the WTA Premier J&T Banka Ostrava Open in Ostrava, Czech Republic Tuesday afternoon, each was looking to bounce back from their respective early French Open exits on clay and to rediscover their earlier 2020 hard-court success. The 26th-ranked Brady, who has won eight of her last 10 hard-court matches, captured the Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky., in August and followed with a semifinal run at the US Open, while No. 29 Yastremska was a finalist at Adelaide at the beginning of the year.

Over the course of their two-hour and one-minute match on Court 1, there were plenty of highs and lows for both players who like to hit powerful returns from the baseline. However, Brady, 25, found her rhythm and harnessed her power game in the final set. She broke the 20-year-old Yastremska’s serve twice – in the second and sixth games – and won the match 3-6, 7-6 (6), 6-1.

Although she was broken three times – but none after the second set – Brady was solid on her serve. She hit 12 aces and won points on 77 percent (40 of 52) of her first serves. Brady broke Yastremska a total of three times and outpointed her opponent 91-79 to advance against No. 75 Daria Kasatkina, who upset sixth seed Elena Rybakina.

Speaking of Kasatkina, the 75th-ranked Russian who reached the main draw by winning twice during weekend qualifying, upset the No. 6 seed Rybakina from Kazakhstan, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, in one hour and 51 minutes for her 18th win of the year.

In gutting out her second straight three-set win, Kasatkina was aided by seven breaks of Rybakina’s serve. She hit 15 winners and 14 unforced errors compared to Rybakina’s 35 winners and 49 unforced errors.  The 19th-ranked Rybakina is the highest-ranked player that Kasatkina has beaten this season and it was the Russian’s first Top 20 victory since beating Aryna Sabalenka in Beijing last year.

“During the match I changed the plan of my game and it worked out very good,” Kasatkina told TennisTourTalkduring a videoconference when asked to describe the difference between winning and losing today. “At the beginning, I was trying to play aggressive, trying to move her, but she was the one who started to move me. I adapted my game a little bit and it worked out well.

“I can say that I beat her with tactics.”

After an early, second-round departure from the French Open, Kasatkina explained how she was feeling a bit down. However, her outlook changed for the better once she arrived at Ostrava, where she admitted she enjoys the atmosphere of playing indoors. She said this week’s Premier event will be her final tournament of the year.

“I feel different and motivated; I feel very good,” Kasatkina said. “I’m happy to play and trying to squeeze the maximum out of the situation. … Any win is good.”

In other first round matches:

• Fifty-fifth-ranked qualifier Coco Gauff of the United States reached the second round with a 7-5, 6-4 win over Czech wild card Katerina Siniakova, ranked 65th. In her first Center Court match after playing two qualifying draw matches over the weekend on outer courts, the 16-year-old American teen said it took her some time to adjust to playing in an empty arena that is normally used for ice hockey.

Gauff committed six double faults and trailed by a break on three different occasions in the opening set – including being broken at love – before settling down. Once her comfort level improved during the one hour and 35-minute, so did the quality of her tennis.

“I don’t know what kind of grade I would give myself,” said Gauff, who noted the intensity level without fans was quite different. “It wasn’t my best and it wasn’t my worst. It was like lower middle. I didn’t start out my best. … I just kept fighting and stayed in there. … I had fun. I played well when I needed to … even if it was awkward playing with no fans to cheer you on.”

Gauff outpointed Siniakova, a former doubles World No. 1, 71-64. In the next round she will face third seed Aryna Sabalenka, whom she beat in the second round in Lexington, Ky., back in August.

• No. 32 Ons Jabeur of Tunisia beat No. 37 Barbora Strycova from the Czech Republic 6-2, 6-2 in 74 minutes. Jabeur won 71 percent (17 of 24) of her first-serve points and 68 percent overall. She broke Strycova five times and outpointed her 62-41.

“I tried to play with spin and with serve and volley,” Strycova said, “but she had all the answers. She was moving very well. I knew she was a great player – I thought I would have a chance – but I didn’t have it. … Today, she was just too good for me.”

Next, Jabeur will face the winner of Wednesday’s first-round match between No. 5 seed Petra Martic and Jelena Ostapenko.

• Russian qualifier Veronika Kudermetova advanced to a second-round match against No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova with a 6-2, 6-4 win over unseeded and 31st-ranked Donna Vekic of Croatia. The 47th-ranked Kudermetova took advantage of four service breaks – two in each set – and closed out the one hour and 13-minute match with her eighth service ace for her 16th win of the season. It was her first career victory over Vekic in three meetings. Kutermetova reached the main draw a pair of wins in the qualifying draw and has yet to drop a set this week.

• No. 28 Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic needed just 59 minutes to advance over No. 35 Zhang Shuai from China, 6-1, 6-1. Muchova won 85 percent. (17 of 20) first-serve points and did not face any break points. She broke Zhang five times and outpointed her opponent 59-28.

“This season has been a different season; we’ve all had to get used to it,” Muchova told Tennis TourTalk. She said she used the downtime earlier this year to begin working with a new coach, David Kotyza (who has previously worked with Petra Kvitova and the Czech Fed Cup team) with a focus on making improvements to her game. It paid off nicely for Muchova with a round of 16 finish at the US Open. “I think [the downtime] helped me.” 

Ostrava last tournament of year for Pliskova

No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova, who bowed in the second round of the French Open, said she took some time off after losing to 2017 Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko in order to work on her fitness and to simply clear her head. She spent a few days in Spain before returning home to the Czech Republic. “Physically, it’s most important to feel well,” the 28-year-old World No. 6 from Louny, Czech Republic, said during a virtual videoconference Tuesday.

As Pliskova readies to play qualifier Veronika Kudermetova in the second round on Thursday, she said that the Ostrava tournament would be her last one before shutting down for the remainder of the season. Asked if she has any goals remaining, Pliskova said emphatically, Goals? Of course, I just want to finish well and in a good mood. “I want to feel free and happy on the court. This is my final tournament.”

Pliskova said because of the pandemic-interrupted season it’s been difficult  establishing a good rhythm. “It’s been on and off with my tennis the past few weeks,” she said. “I need to play more tournaments next year.”

What they’re saying