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At Volvo Car Open, Daria Kasatkina won the mind game

April 10, 2017

They’ll meet again. Maybe at another enticing location.

Surely, they will. They are 19-year-olds.

And maybe the third encounter between newly crowned Volvo Car Open champion Daria Kasatkina and Jelena Ostapenko will be like the first one, a three-setter last year in England.

But this time, it was no contest once Kasatkina put Ostapenko’s awesome groundstroke assault in the six-deuce sixth game out of her mind.

It was 3-3, and Kasatkina had learned her lesson a day earlier when she waited until the second set to change her game in a three-set semifinal victory. She knew it was time to buckle down and play mind games with the powerful 5-10 Latvian. It was the only way.

Winners go away

Ostapenko nailed six outright winners while breaking Kasatkina in that sixth game alone, but she managed only one winner in the next three games as Kasatkina walked off with a 6-3, 6-1 victory.

The new champion of Daniel Island has quite a future ahead of her, especially on clay. But Kasatkina’s back-to-back wins over current world’s No. 1 Angelique Kerber both came on hard courts. Of course, Kerber is a thinker and not nearly as powerful as Ostapenko.

Kasatkina didn’t really have to call on her quick-striking power in the 66-minute final. She allowed Ostapenko to self-destruct.

Softer approach

Poor Jelena went into overhit mode and played right into Kasatkina’s hands. The Russian knew exactly what to do. She started playing the mind game with a softer, less aggressive approach.

Ostapenko continued to go for broke, whether she was in position or not. By then, she was lunging into what she hoped would be winners, not errors. Balls flew everywhere.

It got even worse when Kasatkina went into a semi-moonball attack, bringing back memories of Andrea Jaeger in 1982. But in that final, Jaeger’s moon balls didn’t work against the super-talented Martina Navratilova.

Of course, Ostapenko clearly isn’t in the class of Navatilova now, and probably never will be.

Off-stride mistakes

Kasatkina’s blooping balls bounced short and didn’t come up high on the clay. They caught Ostapenko off stride as she floated balls over the baseline. Kasatkina then would put the ball in a corner, and Ostapenko would lunge into her forehands or backhands, hitting them wildly.

It was quite a change from the first six games of the match. To complicate matters, Ostapenko never really got her big serve working.

Obviously, Ostapenko’s weakness is mobility, and adjusting to different types of balls and different paces. As long as the pace is rapid, she’s in her zone.

A crowd that was looking for another thriller saw this 45th edition of the tournament end far too soon. That was the danger of having two young unseeded upstarts in the final.

First title special

Kasatkina leaves town with a dream fulfilled. Not only did she finally make a final, she won it. That has to be special to a 19-year-old, or even a 30-year-old. Winning a WTA Tour title is something many touring pros never experience.

The champion appears to be headed even higher. She should wake up Monday morning ranked among the world’s top 30 players. And she has a flashy new Volvo SUV to drive around for the next year. A pretty good week, not to mention the $132,000 payday.

Reach James Beck at jamesbecktennis@gmail.com.