The slumping Daria Kasatkina tries to reach her first final since October 2018 but the resurgent Anna-Lena Friedsam, on the comeback trail after shoulder surgery, stands in her way at the inaugural Open 6ème Sens – Métropole de Lyon.
Kasatkina vs Friedsam is live from Lyon on Saturday 7 March at 2.30pm local/1.30pm GMT
Kasatkina was ranked inside the top 10 in October 2028 after a superb 48-24 season which saw her reach the final of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, defeating three top-10 players to do so; make her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the French Open; finish runner-up in Dubai and win her second Premier-level career title at the Kremlin Cup in Moscow.
At that point she looked like one of the leading lights of the younger generation in women’s tennis, possessed of a compelling blend of athleticism, shotmaking, power and variety. But the wheels came off drastically for Kasatkina in 2019, as she compiled a dire 13-21 win-loss record, winning back-to-back matches at just two tournaments throughout the season and, when her Kremlin Cup title defense was ended in her opening match by Dayana Yastremska, dropping out of the top 50.
No longer coached by Philippe Dehaes, Kasatkina began 2020 ranked world no. 70 and while she seems far too talented not to rebound at some point, there has really been little sign of it so far. Coming into Lyon, Kasatkina had won just one main-draw WTA Tour match in 2020, and her best win by ranking came over world no. 52 Carla Suarez Navarro – who intends to retire at the end of this season – in Auckland. She lost in the first rounds of the Australian Open and St Petersburg and – after qualifying – Adelaide and Doha, and failed even to qualify for Dubai.
Playing the inaugural Open de Lyon, Kasatkina has now reached her first semifinal since winning Moscow in 2018, and it has not come easily. She had to recover from dropping the second set against French veteran Pauline Parmentier in the first round, and although a 6-3, 6-2 win over Romanian qualifier Irina Bara in the second round was relatively routine, she was in for another significant battle with Camila Giorgi in the quarterfinals.
Kasatkina and Giorgi seem like each other’s natural enemies given the differences in the way they play, with Giorgi a flat power-hitter who goes for broke on more or less every single ball and plays a jerky, staccato style while Kasatkina hits with heavy spin, uses plenty of variety and has incredible touch on the ball. In the end it was Kasatkina’s greater variety and consistency that won out on Friday, but not until the pair had split sets. Kasatkina took advantage of seven double faults from Giorgi (while offering up four of her own), but the effectiveness of the Russian’s own serving dropped dramatically in the second set, going from winning 13 of 14 points behind her first serve in the opener to only 10 of 19 in the second. The percentage of first serves she was able to land inside the court also plummeted. Fortunately, she was able to rebound in the decider, landing 85% of her first serves and winning 74% of the points played behind them for a 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 victory.
If it has been a while since Kasatkina reached a WTA Tour final, it has been considerably longer for Friedsam, whose solitary WTA Tour final appearance up until this point came at Linz in 2015 when she lost to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
Friedsam, aged 26, was ranked a career-high world no. 45 in August 2016, having made the fourth round of the Australian Open the previous January. But just as her career was getting going, she found herself all but unable to compete for two years after undergoing shoulder surgery in 2016, shutting down her season after the US Open; returning in September 2017, unranked, and playing eight events between September 2017-January 2018 before undergoing a second shoulder surgery. That’s just 16 matches Friedsam was able to play in 2017-18.
Friedsam returned to competition in February 2019, and this time she was back for good. After coming back unranked in February, she had climbed all the way to just outside the world’s top 140, using her protected ranking and wildcards to good effect; given wildcards into qualifying into Stuttgart and Linz, she reached the main draw at both and defeated Belinda Bencic at the latter. She also made quarterfinals in Nurnberg and Palermo, made the round of 16 in Eastbourne, finished runner-up at the ITF W25 Roehampton and won the following week’s tournament.
So far in 2020, Friedsam successfully qualified for Shenzhen but suffered a setback when she lost in the first round of qualifying for the Australian Open to world no. 189 Yuki Naito. She put the time to decent use, reaching the quarterfinals of the ITF W60 Andrezieux-Boutheon, but was defeated at the ITF W25 Glasgow in the second round two weeks ago by Clara Tauson.
In Lyon, Friedsam got through the first two rounds without dropping a set, defeating Anastasiya Komardina 6-2, 6-2 and then second seed Kristina Mladenovic 6-3, 6-3 to reach the third WTA Tour quarterfinal of her comeback so far. Up against Viktoria Kuzmova in the quarterfinals, Friedsam had to work much harder but eventually edged past the Slovakian 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-2.
Saturday’s semifinal will be the third encounter between Kasatkina and Friedsam, with both of the previous two having gone the Russian’s way: 7-5, 6-3 at Indian Wells in 2016, and 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 at the French Open the same year. Obviously those matches were some time ago, before Friedsam’s shoulder surgeries, but it’s been noticeable how well she has been serving this week. She played pin-point aggressive tennis against Mladenovic, but Kasatkina shouldn’t give her anywhere near the same number of unforced errors; on the other hand, the Russian has been struggling to hang on to leads once she’s built them throughout the week in Lyon. This could be a big opportunity for Friedsam to get her first career win over Kasatkina, and see the Russian’s slump continue.