INTERVIEW: Daria Kasatkina after her straight-sets victory over Coco Gauff

FORT WORTH, Texas—To understand why professional tennis players are so consistent, don’t watch interminable baseline rallies that showcase stamina, pressure-packed points that test nerves, or ultra-smooth warm-ups that highlight fundamentals.

Instead, watch practice. It’s at these hitting sessions—typically open to the public at tournaments—where muscle memory and confidence is cultivated through what I can only describe as mind-numbing repetition. In match play, opponents rarely want to give you the same ball to hit; in practice, that’s the goal.

To that end, consider Coco Gauff’s practice Wednesday afternoon at Texas Christian University. Like the rest of the WTA Finals field, the American has practiced on the spacious campus during her time in Fort Worth. (There are only two tennis courts inside Dickies Arena.) And as you’ll see in these videos, Gauff would have made the Dean’s List at TCU if one existed for hitting the same shot, over and over again:


Later, Gauff’s coach told her, “Your call. When you’re finished, we’re finished.”

But Coco still wasn’t done aiming at that target. After 16 more shots, the 18-year-old Roland Garros runner-up finally decided that she’d had enough.

Hard to believe, then, that Gauff’s forehand would let her down so often the next day, in a must-win match against Daria Kasatkina.

Over the course of two sets, Gauff misfired 43 times, regularly with her forehand, in a 7-6 (6), 6-3 defeat that both ensured Iga Swiatek’s passage to the semifinals and eliminated any chance of Coco doing the same.

"I think in both the matches, I had opportunities, I think I made a lot of unforced errors," Gauff said afterward. "So I think that's something that I will have to clean up in the pre-season."

On Saturday, Kasatkina will face Caroline Garcia, who lost to Swiatek in the day’s first singles match, 6-2, 6-3, for second place in the Tracy Austin Group.


Coco Gauff struck 43 unforced errors on Thursday and has yet to win a set in singles.

Coco Gauff struck 43 unforced errors on Thursday and has yet to win a set in singles.

Gauff led Kasatkina 4-1 before leaks started showing. Serving at 4-2, Gauff donated a break back with a quick, error-filled game. Another three-error game followed as Kasatkina held at love.

An exchange of breaks followed, along with extended and entertaining rallies, and a set building to a crescendo. But all throughout, Gauff could not maintain command of her shotmaking.

All credit to Kasatkina, though. Gauff may have been liable to err, but her backhand was still booming, and points regularly ventured into the 10-plus shot range. The Russian’s ability to transition from defense to offense from behind the baseline was impressive.She took some of Gauff’s heaviest artillery, but always demanded that she hit one more ball.

"It was tough. I was nervous at the beginning," said Kasatkina. "Both of us, you could see that."

When Kasatkina converted her third set point in a tiebreak, the leak in Gauff’s game became a gaping hole. Her second set was brutal, dropping her first two service games before temporarily stabilizing. But just as quickly, Gauff surrendered another break before the inevitable conclusion.


On Saturday, Kasatkina will face Caroline Garcia for second place in the Tracy Austin Group—and a spot in the semifinals.

On Saturday, Kasatkina will face Caroline Garcia for second place in the Tracy Austin Group—and a spot in the semifinals.

Afterward, both players touched on Gauff's maiden experience at the season-ending championships—a disappointing debut, but surely not her last time here.

"First time for her," Kasatkina acknowledged. "She's so young and she's here and I mean, of course, can happen that you cannot control your nerves 100 percent, so it goes up and down, which also happened to me as well."

Gauff shared similar sentiments, but didn't offer an excuse to her performance despite playing in both the singles and doubles events.

"I mean, the schedule is, is what it is. I wouldn't say it was a bad schedule. I had a lot of time in between matches.

"But yeah, definitely being here late takes a toll. But I wouldn't change it or anything. I mean, that's what I knew coming in playing singles and doubles."

With nothing left to lose in Fort Worth, Gauff can swing freely over the next two days. That worked on a practice court at a college, but on a match court in the pros, as we saw against Kasatkina, it's a little bit different.