Daria Kasatkina is 20 years old and for women’s tennis she is a breath of fresh air. In the last year she has defeated all four women who won the last four majors, two of them during the BNP Paribas Open – Sloane Stephens and Caroline Wozniacki.
There is this bubbly attitude about her. On court she is business and focused and there is nothing wrong with that. She is there to do a job, win matches. But off court there is an excitement about her and when you get her talking about her favourite topics like Barcelona (yes the city) football (she would love to be Messi but has been told she looks like Iniesta) and food, she become effusive.
The Barcelona tourist office should be hiring her.
“Actually, it's not connection to the city”, Kasatkina said. “It's just little, you know, (liking) for the city. Even if there is no football club, anyway I love the city so much. I love the people, they are so friendly, the food, the architecture. Everything is there just fine. For me I'm coming there all the time and I never want to leave this place. Yeah, I wish to live there for sure.”
There is a giggle, trying to be non-committal, when asked if she enjoys Spanish wine with the delicious food but she sheepishly cites she is under age. That doesn’t matter in Europe but does in paradoxical USA where someone can’t legally have a drink till 21, but can get their hands on a firearm.
“Good question. I’m not 21 yet … yet”, Kasatkina laughs loudly. “Of course, I love paella, jamon iberico. It's, like, (she kisses her fingers). Actually, the tapas. Almost everything in Spanish food I like. The wine? With good company, of course you can have glass or two, of course.”
You listen to her and you can’t help but laugh with her. There is a cute sort of innocence.
But as much as she loves Barcelona, her Spanish is not quite there. “If you want something to get better, you have to start,” she explained laughing. “I have had no chance to speak Spanish or something. I think if I want to live there I have to learn and I hope I will find time for this.”
When she gets to wander around the streets of Barcelona, it sounds like she has a view of amazement looking at the streets the way she describes it; admiring the Gaudi facades and other buildings, almost like a wide-eyed child at Disneyland. She loves the Gothic architecture but her favourite place to go is down to the sea and to the water’s edge.
For her that’s what separates Barcelona from Madrid which is in the middle of the country.
“Actually, I saw already everything in Barcelona,” she said. “And now I’m just walking around Barcelona and enjoying everything, because I already visit, I think, all the big places which you were supposed to visit.”
Even though her tennis is flying high and after the BNP Paribas Open she will be the highest ranked Russian, Kasatkina appears firmly grounded. She doesn’t believe that to be a challenge because she doesn’t want things going to her head.
“I'm just a tennis player. I'm normal human,” Kasatkina said. “I don't want to, like, people to think that I'm somebody really special, because I'm just a normal human which loves football, which loves good food, you know. So I'm just somebody who is also playing tennis.”
Everything around her seems to be an education. She is almost like a sponge soaking it all in and the atmosphere of a big court lifts her immeasurably. She is learning how to cope with the added attention coming her way and the pressure of repeating good results, but the more experience she gains and the more she gets to play the bigger names, the better she will handle it all.
“You’re learning how to manage it … I hope in a good way,” Kasatkina said softly. As long as she doesn’t lose the element of freshness, she will be just fine and women’s tennis will benefit.