SO SWEET IT IS: Kaia Kanepi shows she’s back in her winning form.
RIGA - Kaia Kanepi has claimed her second Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) singles title of the season, last week winning the Estoril Open in Portugal. Capping off an emotional four weeks, the 26-year-old rallied back in the final against Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro, saving two match points in the second set to prevail 3-6, 7-6 (6), 6-4, marking her maiden WTA tour victory on clay, and the third overall WTA title of her career.
The victory in Estoril was a throwback to an era gone by when players won without the assistance of a coach – a dilemma that the then-world’s no. 34 player found herself in following the resignation of her coach, Silver Karjus at the end of March.
“Naturally, it was a major victory in the sense that the tournament passed without coaching. Only with help from my physical training coach Krisstjan [Pruus], I am really very satisfied,” Kanepi was quoted as saying on Estonian Television following the win.
Kanepi began the week in Portugal strongly, dropping just one game in her opening match against American Sloane Stevens, moving into the second round with a 6-1, 6-0 victory. Coming up against another American in the second round, Vania King, the challenge was only a little more difficult with Kanepi easing past the world no.52, 6-3, 6-4.
The first real challenge for Kanepi came in the quarter-finals where she met tournament fourth seed and world no. 28, Petra Cetkovska. Winning the opening set 6-3, Kanepi dropped the second to her Czech opponent 3-6, sending the match to a deciding third set. There Kanepi prevailed, 6-3, seeing her move into the semis of a tournament for the first time since she won the Brisbane International back in January.
Kanepi’s prize for knocking out the tournament’s fourth seed was a date with tournament no.1 seed, Roberta Vinci of Italy. Kanepi wasted little time in claiming the opening set from the world no. 23, winning it 6-2. However, in the second set the Estonian number one was forced to dig deep, rallying back from 5-2 down to win five straight games and claim the set 7-5 to move into the final.
The meeting in the final with Suarez Navarro marked the third time that Kanepi came up against the Spaniard, the most recent being in 2011 in the Fed Cup when Kanepi won the encounter 6-3, 6-2. Trailing 4-1 in the opening set, Kanepi won the next two games to be trailing 4-3. However, Suarez Navarro regained her composure, taking the next two games and subsequently the first set.
In the second set, Suarez Navarro was on the verge of victory, having fought her way back from 3-1 down to be serving for the match at 5-3. But Kanepi continued to fight gallantly, breaking back before winning on her own serve to tie the set at five-apiece.
It was then Kanepi’s turn to blow a golden opportunity, breaking Suarez Navarro to go 6-5 up, before failing to win on her own serve to see the set go to a tie-break. Again in the tie-break, Suarez Navarro took control to lead 6-4. But Kanepi failed to go away, winning the next four points to finally take the set in 78 minutes. In the final set, Suarez Navarro’s energy noticeably dropped in the knowledge that she had blown a golden opportunity in the previous set.
Kanepi pounced, breaking her opponent at 5-4 to claim the set 6-4.
“I have won a few matches from match point down, but I have never won a final like this,” Kanepi was quoted as saying on www.estorilopen.net, adding, “I will always remember this week.”
Estoril was the second tournament that Kanepi entered without a coach, the first being in Copenhagen earlier in April. In Copenhagen, Kanepi fell in the quarter-finals in the singles draw but produced the best doubles result of her career. Teaming up Sofia Arvidsson of Sweden, the pairing made it to the final before finally being halted by Kimiko Date-Krumm and Rika Fujiwara, 6-2, 6-4, 10-5.
April marked a turning point in the season for Kanepi, who has not only had to deal with the resignation of her coach, but also a second significant injury lay-off in as many seasons, missing over a month of tennis after picking up a shoulder injury in the second round of the Australian Open.
The win in Estoril has, however, had some slight negative impacts. Following on from Saturday’s victory, Kanepi was required to make her way from Portugal to Spain to compete in her opening match of the prestigious Madrid Open on Monday.
There, however, a lack of significant rest caught up on the now world no. 26, as she was easily hustled out of the tournament in straight sets (6-4, 6-4) in the opening round by the Czech Republic’s Lucie Safarova.