Daria Kasatkina earned her first title in more than two years with a three-set victory over Maria Bouzkova on Friday.
The Russian won the inaugural Phillip Island Trophy – played at Melbourne Park during the second week of the Australian Open – with a 4-6 6-2 6-2 triumph over the Czech.
In heart-warming scenes, the two women shared a long embrace at net before Kasatkina sat in her courtside chair and wept.
Kasatkina, a talented player who cracked the top 10 in late 2018, has since tumbled to 75th following two years of form and confidence issues.
This was her third WTA title – following wins in Charleston in 2017, and Moscow in 2018 – but perhaps the sweetest yet.
“I was struggling with a lot of things. With my game. Mentally I was having problems, like I was not confident in myself. I was losing match and everything was just going like a snowball all together. At that time I split with the coach. Things were just going down,” Kasatkina explained.
“It took a lot of time to rebuild my game, to rebuild my confidence, to change myself.
“Finally I'm feeling good.”
At her peak in 2018, Kasatkina reached back-to-back Slam quarterfinals at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, the same season she also notched seven victories over top-10 opponents.
She delighted tennis purists with the feel, shape and imagination in her shotmaking, and appears in 2021 to have rediscovered some of the instinctive play that took her to the top 10.
The 23-year-old has won 10 of her 13 matches to start the year.
She beat seeds Petra Martic and Danielle Collins in later rounds at the Phillip Island event, but revealed it was her 2-6 6-1 6-4 victory over countrywoman Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova that unlocked something.
“It was the first set, I mean, the match was going bad for me definitely. Somehow I was able to click something in the game. I don't even understand exactly what. I just turned the pattern of the game and I won,” she said.
“After the match, I felt different. I felt like something changed that day.”
She took that feeling all the way into the final, where again she fell behind a set on a hot, windy day in Melbourne.
But she ultimately grew in stature and confidence as the match wore on, while Bouzkova – who had upstaged second seed Bianca Andreescu in the semifinals – increasingly struggled with both the conditions and Kasatkina’s level of play.
The Russian completed the two-hour, nine-minute affair with 34 winners to just 24 errors, while Bouzkova’s unforced error tally spiked to 42.
After composing herself in her courtside season, Kasatkina accepted the trophy – an artwork by Mark Edwards entitled ‘Little Penguin’ comprising a circular plate of painted glass work depicting an Indigenous sketching of a little penguin, plus Aboriginal motifs for wind and rain.
“I felt like one big backpack with the stones lifted from my shoulders,” she said.
“This is special to win a title, it doesn't matter how you are playing. Especially to win in three sets.
“It's always a special thing.”