Playing in front of an enthusiastic partisan crowd, No. 8 seed Daria Kasatkina was at the center of the St. Petersburg spectacle when she ended Clara Tauson’s winning streak to advance at the eponymous Ladies Trophy, 6-4, 7-6 (0).

A semifinalist at St. Petersburg’s inaugural 2016 staging, the Russian faced a different reception from international media, who called in to her subsequent Zoom press conference mainly to ask about her vanquished foe, a teenager who had just won her first title at the Open 6ème Sens Métropole de Lyon.

“I’m not the one to decide, to be honest,” she said when asked to judge Tauson’s long-term potential. “For sure, she is very strong, and has very good potential, but in the end, everything depends on her.”

It was surely a surreal exchange for the 23-year-old, once a talented teen and a Top 10 player at the end of a breakthrough 2018 season. A junior contemporary of Jelena Ostapenko, Kasatkina enjoyed a runner-up finish to Naomi Osaka at that year’s BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, and later made back-to-back Grand Slam quarterfinal appearances at Roland Garros and Wimbledon.

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Kasatkina snaps Tauson streak at home in St. Petersburg

Kasatkina snaps Tauson streak at home in St. Petersburg

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Often noted for her mid-match problem solving and close relationships with former coaches Vlado Platenik and Philippe Dehaes, Kasatkina began the 2019 season with a four-match losing streak, and has since fallen before the third round at her last eight major tournaments.

“I was struggling for, a couple…well, more than just a couple of months!” remarked the jovial Russian, who spent quarantine suiting up in tennis gear for a series of off-beat TikTok skits, after defeating the Dane in one hour and 51 minutes.

Ranked at her five-year low of No. 75 at the start of this season, Kasatkina is now working with Carlos Martinez—a longtime coach of the similarly mercurial Svetlana Kuznetsova—and showed signs of improvement Down Under, pushing Aryna Sabalenka through two tough sets at the Australian Open and pivoting to the Phillip Island Trophy on Melbourne Park's outer courts to win her first title in over two years.

Kasatkina snaps Tauson streak at home in St. Petersburg

Kasatkina snaps Tauson streak at home in St. Petersburg

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“It means a lot to win a title, even if it was an International, now a 250, still, the list of players was very strong. It was a big victory, and for sure it helps a lot to grow the confidence.”

That confidence is building bigger in St. Petersburg, where she played a pitch-perfect tie-break to hand Tauson, who took a medical timeout to deal with a back injury, her first loss in 12 matches—a streak that includes an ITF Pro Circuit title and WTA qualifying.

“Every match you win at home counts twice,” she estimates, later assigning matches won with a crowd an importance factor of ten times. “It was also a very good match. I honestly wasn’t very happy about my draw, when I found out the qualifier I had to play. It was a very good match and I was happy I was able to win.

“She is a very aggressive player, as I understood during the match," she added of Tauson. "Her backhand was very dangerous, especially when she hits it down the line and is trying to catch the balls on the rise. She tries to play really fast, is moving good. She’s a really dangerous upcoming one, especially on fast surfaces. It’s difficult to judge because it’s been only one match, and playing against her, I was maybe more focused on myself, as well!”

From a fast-rising teenager, Kasatkina will next face more familiar opposition in good friend Aliaksandra Sasnovich, who advanced in three sets over Ana Bogdan on Monday. The Russian owns a narrow 3-2 edge, having won their most recent clash at the Qatar Total Open in February 2020, but is she ready to reclaim headlines with another big result?

“We’ve known each other for a long time,” Kasatkina said. “I know her best sides and weaknesses; she knows mine, so there’s nothing new. She’s one of the players who likes to play indoors, has a brilliant backhand and dangerous serve. It’s going to be an interesting match. For now, I’m just enjoying to play one of my favorite tournaments.”

Kasatkina snaps Tauson streak at home in St. Petersburg

Kasatkina snaps Tauson streak at home in St. Petersburg