Given the marathon-length of time since my last post, I thought it would only be fitting to analyze a marathon-length match for you all! I recently watched the VTB Kremlin Cup 2018 in Moscow Russia, where Alize Cornet of France is up against Daria Kasatkina of Russia, in their second meeting this year. In their previous meeting, Kasatkina won 6-2, 6-1, which was in the 2018 St. Petersburg 2nd round. They are once again meeting in the second round, and the winner of this match will go on to play Pavlyuchenkova in the third round, who is a notorious hard-hitter.
Alize Cornet is coming into this match having just defeated Vikhlyantseva in a tough three setter. Last year in this tournament, she worked her way into the quarterfinals. She is known for outlasting her opponents. She is never afraid to continue to hit high and heavy and exhaust her opponents. She gets very mental on the court, and if she loses the first set, she sometimes does not give it her all in the second set, as seen in their previous matchup where she lost 6-2, 6-1. But when the matches are close, she will work 110% and try to be the last one standing. And in this match, as close as it is, it is clear she gave it her all.
Daria Kasatkina is coming into this match having just defeated Tsurenko in a close two setter. She lost in the finals of this tournament last year, so her expectations are to repeat her result from last year, and maybe even win the whole tournament. Kasatkina is one of the smartest players on tour; she knows how to hit in any way that helps her win the match. So it will be interesting to see whether she will try to rally with Cornet or if she will try to outsmart or overpower her. She is also a grinder and never gives up, as she never throws any points away. She has more confidence in this matchup since she swept Cornet off the court in their last matchup.
Now let’s start the match, with Cornet to serve. Using the heavy balls to push Kasatkina back, Cornet then moves into the court and is more aggressive. Cornet is moving Kasatkina using the dropshot to move her in, and then lobbing her. Hitting heavy, and then hitting a dropshot, is a great play because your opponent is getting pushed back and has to run a longer distance to get to your dropshots.
Kasatkina’s first serve is fairly weak, so she needs to make sure her placement is effective. The power on your serve is not always as important as you would think; many times the placement of the serve is what really matters. This can be seen when she is down 0-30 in the second game, and she hits a nice slice out wide for a free point. At any level, free points are the biggest points in the close matches. Cornet struggles at the beginning of the match because of Kasatkina’s serve placement, even though the pace of the serves she is returning are weaker
Despite Kasatkina’s good serve placement, Cornet still breaks her serve right away by staying aggressive and keeping Kasatkina on the defensive, pushing her far behind the baseline. And since Kasatkina is being pushed back, it is harder for her to hit deep, allowing Cornet to continue to be aggressive.
When someone hits heavy, and you don’t want to be pushed back, especially when the person has a good dropshot as well. You need to step in and take it early, by moving in a V shape. By moving in at an angle to take the heavy shots early, you are not only helping yourself stay aggressive, but you are also taking time away from your opponent.
After the coaching break, where the coach says the same exact things as I have been saying, Kasatkina begins to be more aggressive, and Cornet begins to feel the pressure. Not only is Kasatkina more aggressive, she is now able to get to the dropshots a lot more easily.
After her own coaching break, Cornet stops dropshotting. Her coach most likely told her that she shouldn’t hit dropshots because Kasatkina is expecting them, and she is closer to the baseline. After Cornet makes this adjustment, Kasatkina is going for too small of targets, creating too many unforced errors, and giving the first set to Cornet- 6-3.
Going down 0-3 in the first set really hurt Kasatkina, but if she starts off the second set stronger it will be very beneficial for her, and she can easily turn around this match.
The longer the rally, the more likely it is for Kasatkina to win the point, as Cornet tries to go down the line off a ball that she is not set up for, and misses wide. Hitting down the line is best reserved for when you are set up, since you have to go for a little bit of a smaller target, and you are hitting over the higher part of the net.
Kasatkina, after her strong hold, hits a winner off of a safe second serve by Cornet, giving her a 2-0 lead. No matter the situation, pushing in your second serve, especially at this level, is the same thing as just giving the point away. As I have said earlier, free points are the deciding points of a close match.
Cornet is utilizing her backhand angle very well, and she always moves forward and finishes the points at the net afterward. Angles do not appear to be aggressive shots, but they are actually one of the most aggressive shots you can hit in tennis. Angles pull your opponents off the court, giving you an entirely open court to hit your next shot, which is most likely going to be a winner. Because of the effectiveness of an angle, it would be silly to not move forwards after you hit it, since your next shot is automatically going to be an offensive shot. Cornet does a great job of always moving forward after her backhand angles.
To avoid Cornet’s backhand angles, Kasatkina should not hit an angle to her backhand side, and hit deeper and more down the middle. Because Cornet does not always go for winners when the ball is hit to her forehand, avoiding the backhand angle by hitting to her forehand is not a bad strategy to use. If Cornet chooses not to use her forehand as a weapon, that is her problem! By out-grinding Cornet, Kasatkina goes up 3-1 in the second set.
Even though Kasatkina now gets to the dropshots because she is standing closer to the baseline, she still has to do something with it. She cannot just place it back because then Cornet will be there to lob over her head anyways.
From 3-1 to 3-4, Kasatkina asks for coaching at the break. Her coach is telling her to give no free points, so she has to give herself bigger targets. The reason why she lost 3 games in a row is because she lost focus and stopped putting all her energy in every single shot. She has to be careful though. Even though she is beginning to go for bigger targets, she still has to hit deep so Cornet does not demolish any safe shots. This is great advice because going for big targets and waiting for the short ball is on of the most simple and effective ways to beat any type of opponent.
Cornet has to keep playing her game, which is more difficult now since Kasatkina is playing the same game as her now. She has to stay strong from the baseline and try to push Kasatkina back.
This set is full of breaks and lacking of holds, and that is because each player hits outstanding returns that are deep and consistent. Deep and consistent returns always throw the server off-balance, immediately putting the returner in an offensive position.
Cornet eventually serves for the match at 5-4, but continuing the trend, is broken. Cornet is starting to shake her head, which is understandable since she just lost the game serving for the match. But shaking your head sends an obvious signal to your opponent that you are frustrated, which is never a good thing since it helps the opponent gain confidence.
Cornet is beginning to use her backhand angle less, giving Kasatkina more places to hit her shots. Not hitting as many angles prevents Cornet from going to the net, which is forcing Cornet to hit more and more winners to a smaller target from the baseline, which is a less consistent form of playing. This gives Kasatkina the second set, 7-5.
In the third and final set, Cornet is going to have to stay positive, coming off a disappointing second set.
Throughout the third set, both players are really sticking to their game plans. However, one flaw that is noticeable for Cornet is that she keeps going for the dropshot, even though Kasatkina is expecting it now. She should fake some dropshots to keep Kasatkina honest. After faking a few dropshots, Cornet’s dropshots would be more effective once again, since she doesn’t know whether Cornet is actually going to hit a dropshot or not.
Not only does Cornet never fake a dropshot, her dropshots are now being used as a mechanism to end the point, since she is visibly tired. Once Cornet starts to try to end the point early, Kasatkina stays solid and wins the third set 6-4.
KASATKINA WINS 3-6, 7-5, 6-4
—Kasatkina then goes on to win the entire tournament!