Two young women announced themselves on the world’s tennis stage, ironically with heartbreaking losses.
With only one WTA singles victory each to boast of, the two — Italy’s Camila Giorgi and Russia’s Daria Kasatkina — demonstrated that top quality tennis matches needn’t always be a clash between highly-ranked seeds.
It was 21-year-old Kasatkina who took the court first, losing in straight sets to 11th-seeded German Angelique Kerber with a scoreline (3-6, 5-7) that concealed more than it revealed about this exceptional match.
If Kerber triumphed, it was largely because of a consistency that comes from experience. On the skill scale, the match, as a fawning Centre Court crowd fully recognised, was tilted very much in Kasatkina’s favour.
The very first game of the match, which saw Kerber holding her serve with some difficulty after being a break-point down, showcased the staggering variety in Kasatkina’s game. She mixed up her groundstrokes, her pace, and played smart points, keeping herself in rallies with long floating groundstrokes when pushed to a corner.
But with the help of doublefaults and some rank errors, the Russian found herself 0-3 down before winning her first game with a fine serve. She would go on to break Kerber to level on serve at 3-4, but the errors kept coming in the form of doublefaults and fluffs from the mid-court, usually by overcooking returns that should have been easily put away.
Like the girl in the nursery rhyme, when she was good Kasatkina was very, very good; when she was bad, she was horrid. But at the end of the match, it was not so much the squandered points but the unusual and exhilarating style of play that stayed in the mind.
The drop shot, played rarely and usually only when it is certain to be a winner, was used as the go-to stroke in many tight rallies.
Short by tennis terms at 5 ft 7 in, she showcased her ability to hit high returns on the backhand with one leg high off the ground and the other grounded by nothing more than the toe.
Kasatkina’s forehand is the only really powerful weapon in her armoury, but there was variety even here with the use of an ungainly but effective sharp downward chop to get a floater back to Kerber when she needed to.
Kerber took the first set 6-3 and the second was much closer, with Kasatkina within sniffing distance of victory. But the errors kept flowing and the breaks of serve were almost inevitably followed by an inability to hold her own.
Having levelled 5-5 in the second set, Kerber was able to break the Russian’s serve once again by putting away a poorly executed drop shot.
Then, the German served out what was the best game of the match, winning after many deuces and one extraordinary 25-shot rally, which had Kasatkina sprawling on the ground before she recovered to win a dramatic point on a line call.
To Kerber’s credit, she held her nerve, and played to her strengths right through the contest. At the end of the day, Kasatkina’s string of winners (33 against Kerber’s 16) were not enough to compensate for her errors (31 against Kerber’s 14). But she has made an emphatic statement with this match; going forward, she will be keenly watched.
As for Italy’s Camila Giorgi, she raised visions of an upset by winning the first set against veteran Serena Williams.
But she was unable to breach the Williams serve in the next two games, losing 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in a contest marked by powerful groundstroke exchanges.
Right through the match, Giorgi, who plays an exuberant and fearless brand of tennis, matched Williams in firepower, at times having the veteran scrambling to stay in rallies.
In the first set, Giorgi grasped the opportunity to go up 2-4 when Williams made some uncharacteristic errors on her service game and then consolidated the break to go up 5-2. Williams came back strongly to win the next game at love, but Giorgi responded strongly by serving out to win the first set 6-3.
A stung Williams stepped up her game a notch in the next two sets, but the difference between the two players was not so much about groundstrokes but serves. In the next two sets, the Williams serve was impregnable, whereas Giorgi’s faltered twice, enough for Williams to seal it 6-3, 6-4.
While Williams won 79% of her service points, the corresponding figure for Giorgi was 64%. There was little to choose when it came to winners, with Williams making 24 and Giorgi 20.
When asked about Serena Williams before the match, Giorgi quipped that she doesn’t follow tennis — a remark that suggested that she would anything but get overawed by her opponent. She was clearly not intimidated by Williams or by the occasion, but neither this nor the surprising power and infectious energy she brought to the game was enough on the day.
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