COMING UP SHORT: A good performance in Moscow by Kaia Kanepi saw her playing in the final.
RIGA - Kaia Kanepi has fallen agonizingly short of claiming the biggest title in her professional tennis career. Last week the 27-year-old Estonian made it through to the final of the $ 721,000 Kremlin Cup in Moscow, Russia, where she came up against current world no. 17 and tournament eighth seed Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia – an opponent that Kanepi had defeated in their two previous encounters.
However, Sunday would belong to the 22-year-old Slovakian who would eventually triumph after a grueling two-hour, 36-minute spectacle, 3-6, 7-6 (1), 7-5.
Kanepi went into the final as the rank outsider, with the Estonian no.1 female player’s current world ranking of 37 not even high enough to see her claim a seeding in Moscow, leaving her to face higher ranked opponents in her three matches prior to the final, including tournament sixth seed and local hopeful Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarterfinals.
Yet despite the odds being against her, it was Kanepi who was setting the pace early as she relied on one of the most powerful forehands in women’s tennis to take the opening set.
The Estonian then had the prime opportunity to break Cibulkova, with games tied at five apiece in the second set. But the match would change in the 11th game when Kanepi narrowly missed an overhead shot when she was up a break point. Cibulkova would then recover to hold serve and go on to take the set in a tie-break by winning the last seven points in a row.
Had Kanepi won the break point, the match and the championship would have been in her clutches with her just needing to hold her own serve to take the set, 7-5.
“When you have a long rally, then suddenly have an easy ball in front of you, you can sometimes get a bit tight. I think that’s what happened on the overhead,” Kanepi was quoted as saying on wtatennis.com in regards to the missed overhead shot.
In the final set both players had their chances as each player broke the other on various occasions, but it was Cibulkova who was able to break one more time than Kanepi to claim the set and her first WTA title.
Despite winning her maiden title on tour in Palermo, Italy back in July 2010, Sunday marked the first time that Kanepi has played in a final at the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) premier level. The win in Palermo came in a tournament which is only classified as an international event, the lowest level of events on the WTA tour.
Kanepi was doing her best to remain upbeat after Sunday’s defeat. “Obviously, I was disappointed about the loss, but after sitting down for a few minutes and watching the ceremony and everything, I felt pretty positive about this week. I’m looking forward to what’s to come for me,” wtatennis.com also quoted the Estonian as saying.
The appearance in the final in Moscow brings to an end what has been a difficult season for the Estonian, who has had to battle for a major part of the season with Achilles tendonitis, an injury that saw her sidelined for the period from her first round exit at Wimbledon until her first round appearance at the U.S. Open two months later.
The injury came at a bad time for Kanepi, who finally looked to be coming into some form at the right time when she made it to the round of 32 at the French Open following a string of indifferent results.
Kanepi has come back strongly in her return to the court, which of course was highlighted by the finals appearance in Moscow. In the weeks preceding Moscow she had also knocked off the world no. 1 Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark in the round of 16 in Tokyo, Japan to advance to the quarterfinals before falling to the same opponent at the same stage a week later in Beijing, China.
It is now likely that Kanepi’s ranking will remain at 34 for the remainder of the season, 12 places higher than in 2010, when she finished off the year ranked 22nd in the world.