Kanepi back into the world top 20

  • 2012-06-13
  • By Jared Grellet

WITHIN REACH: Playing in the French open, Kaia Kanepi reached the quater-finals and secured at spot in the London Olympics.

RIGA - A run to the French Open quarter-finals before falling to eventual champion Maria Sharapova has seen Estonian Kaia Kanepi return to her previous best world ranking of 16. Going into the second Grand Slam of the year ranked 23rd in the world, Kanepi, who turned 27 on Sunday, was seeking to win the first Grand Slam of her career.
Given the Estonian number one’s form in the build-up to Roland Garros, it was a goal that appeared to be realistically in her reach – even more so after her dominant performances through the opening rounds.

Easing her way past Russia’s Alexandra Panova 6-3, 6-3 in the opening round, and Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu, 6-4, 6-1 in the second round, Kanepi’s first real challenge of the two-week tournament came in the third round, when she came up against former world no. 1 Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark.
Kanepi and Wozniacki – who currently sits ranked ninth in the world – had met on four previous occasions with Wozniacki leading the head-to-head battle, 3-1. However, having beaten the Dane as recently as September last year, whilst Wozniacki was still ranked one in the world, Kanepi went into the match with the knowledge that she contained the fire power to once more knock down the 21-year-old.

Easily taking the opening set, 6-1, Wozniacki put up more of a fight for Kanepi in the second, eventually taking the set in a tie-breaker to force a third and deciding set. Kanepi, appearing frustrated for having allowed the match to go to three sets, ran out to a 5-1 lead in the third before stuttering slightly, allowing Wozniacki to claim the next two games and come back into the match.

However, the right-hander reclaimed her composure and closed out the match, claiming her second top-ten ranked victim of the year.
“It was difficult to start the third set, but luckily I got going well. In the end it was again difficult to close out the match. It took a lot of mental power to win today,” Kanepi was reported as saying on her official homepage following her victory over Wozniacki.

Faced with an arguably easier opponent in the round of 16, Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands, Kanepi once more stormed ahead early, taking the first set 6-1. But the world no.88 struck back in the second, winning 6-4 to send Kanepi’s second consecutive match to a third and deciding set.
In the third set, Kanepi was assisted as much by the self-destruction of her opponent as she was by her own good play, as Rus fell apart, winning just five points as Kanepi convincingly claimed the set, 6-0, to move into the French Open quarter-finals for the second time in her career.

Few players had looked more impressive than Kanepi in the women’s draw in Paris, but one of those happened to be her next opponent, Russian Maria Sharapova.
Having suffered a major setback three years ago when a serious shoulder injury threatened her career, 25-year-old Sharapova was showing at the French Open that her journey back to the top of the world was almost complete.
At no stage did the second-seeded Russian look threatened by Kanepi, catapulting herself into the semis with a 74-minute, 6-2, 6-3 win. Kanepi was gracious in defeat, admitting that at no stage had she truly been in the game.
“There is not much to tell, the balls were swept off the court and it was not competitive at all,” she said, adding, “She played very well, returned well, served well, was better in every aspect of the game. It is sad that the match was so short. I wanted to be out there longer.”

Despite being knocked out in the quarter-finals, the positive news is that Kanepi’s spot at the London Olympics is now guaranteed. Given her current form, the Estonian could have a very real chance of medalling.
In order to so, however, Kanepi must carefully manage her injuries as sore heels continue to plague the athlete, forcing her to cut back on the number of tournaments in which she is now competing. This week Kanepi is back in Estonia resting and it remains unclear if she will enter any grass tournaments prior to Wimbledon, which begins on June 25.

The part-time doubles player also enjoyed relative success in Paris with Chinese partner Shuai Zhang. Due to this being an Olympic year, Kanepi was not able to play with regular partner Sofia Arvidsson of Sweden, who had instead opted to compete in Paris with fellow Swede Johanna Larsson as the pair attempted to qualify for the Olympics doubles draw.
Kanepi and Zhang made an unlikely run to the round of 16 with a shock 6-3, 7-5 first round win over the top-seeded American pairing of Lisa Raymond and Liezel Huber, and a straightforward 6-4, 6-3 win over Stephanie Foretz Gacon and Kristina Mladenovic. However, the Australian duo of Anastasia Rodionova and Jarmila Gajdosova ended Kanepi and Zheng’s run at the round of 16 with a 6-4, 7-5 victory.

Kanepi was not the only Estonian female making headlines in Paris, with youngster Anett Kontaveit making it into the semi-finals of the French Open youth draw. Appearing in her first French Open, the 16-year-old, who is currently ranked 414th in the world, eased through the first four rounds before finally losing out to world no.164, Annika Beck of Germany, 6-3 6-3. Beck went on to win the final.