Season 2022 was transformational for Daria Kasaktina, who made significant strides in both her professional and personal life.
After a candid interview that made headlines around the world, the 25-year-old went on to complete the best season of her career – confirmation of the vast talents that had been obvious since her junior days.
In July, Kasatkina spoke with YouTuber Vitya Kravchenko at her training base in Barcelona.
During the interview, she came out as gay, and opposed her country’s invasion of Ukraine.
“Living in the closet, as they say, is impossible. It’s too hard. It’s pointless, you’ll be constantly focused on that. Of course, it’s up to you how to do it and how much to tell,” she said in translated comments.
“Living in peace with yourself is the only thing that matters.”
She later wept, while being consoled by Kravchenko, as she contemplated being unable to return home to Russia following her comments.
More positively, the revelations were the impetus for Kasatkina to publicly announce her relationship with Olympic figure skater Natalia Zabiiako.
The release of the interview – which made global headlines – seemed to unburden her, for she won her very next tournament in San Jose.
Kasatkina then captured a second title of the season just a few weeks later in Granby, Canada, making her one of the best-performed players during the North American summer swing.
But it was not only hard courts on which she thrived.
Kasatkina struck a rich vein of form during the clay-court season, coming extremely close to reaching the Rome final – she held match point in her semi against Ons Jabeur – then advancing to her first major semifinal at Roland Garros.
Having been barely inside the top 30 in early April, she vaulted to world No.12 – and kept going.
Kasatkina rounded out her 2022 season with 40 match wins and a 4-1 record against top-five players, performances helping her debut at the prestigious WTA Finals.
This was notable, because most thought Kasatkina was a lock for the year-end championships far sooner than that.
Her talent shone through when, as an lucky loser ranked 133rd, she advanced to the third round of the 2015 US Open, aged 18.
And during a breakout 2018 season, she reached the Indian Wells final, back-to-back major quarterfinals at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, and closed the year with victory in Moscow.
Yet struggles ensued, and she slipped as low as No.75 in early 2021 before beginning her resurgence.
That 2018 tournament title in Moscow saw Kasatkina rise to her then-best ranking of world No.10. Almost four years later, she finally surpassed that when she climbed to No.9 after winning in San Jose in August.
She currently sits at a new career-high ranking of world No.8.
Discussing her coming out in an interview with WTA Insider, Kasatkina said: "I feel more free and happy. I think I made the right step. With the situation in the world, all this stuff that is tough, when if not now? I'm really happy about it. As I saw, it was not just a good thing for me, also it helped other people. That's great and I feel great. I feel happy about it and about myself and that's most important.”
After winning the 2021 Phillip Island Trophy, her first title in three seasons: “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. It took a lot of time to rebuild my game, to rebuild my confidence, to change myself. Finally I'm feeling good.”
Kasatkina is one of the game’s most gifted shotmakers.
She grew up idolising Rafael Nadal, and is blessed with great touch and feel while combining potent offense – including a spectacular leaping backhand – with savvy defence.
These are all things you could say about the legendary Spaniard.
Her racquet skills drew a great reaction from opponent Roberta Vinci, who could only marvel at this moment from their 2017 match in Toronto.