Citi Open: Kanepi Working As Hard As She Can For As Long As She Has Desire

Kaia Kanepi (photo: Ryan Loco/Citi Open)

WASHINGTON, August 6, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Kaia Kanepi maintains a quiet demeanor when she’s on the tennis court. She’s all business – and is the other, less-well-known Estonian on the WTA Tour. She’s not to be confused with Anett Kontaveit, currently the World No. 2, who happens to be 11 years younger than Kanepi and more likely to garner headlines or win tournaments.

The 37-year-old Kanepi from Haapsalu, Estonia, who turned pro in 1999, has won four career titles on the WTA Tour as well as 20 ITF titles and twice been an Olympian. As for the better-known Kontaveit, well, she won four WTA titles last year, alone. A former World No. 15, it seems that Kanepi’s game truly comes to life this time of the year as the North American hard-court season comes to life, such as this week at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C.

Currently ranked 37th, Kanepi has strung together three quality wins in her tournament debut to reach Saturday’s semifinals against No. 88 Daria Saville of Australia, who has also been outstanding. Kanepi became the first Estonian to reach a Citi Open semifinal after beating unseeded Anna Kalinskaya of Russia, 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-3, in her 44th career quarterfinal-round appearance Friday afternoon.

The trio of Washington triumphs improved her season win-loss record to 18-10 and her win against Kalinskaya was her 250th career singles victory on tour-level. The 18 victories are the most for her since 2014.

As luck had it, the sixth-seeded Kanepi was first on Stadium court and it enabled her to beat the rain, which started during the next women’s quarterfinal match between Saville and Rebecca Marino of Canada and interrupted play for three hours. Saville won 6-1, 7-5 to reach her first semifinal berth of the year.

“It was a very tough match,” Kanepi said during a post-match press conference of her tussle with Kalinskaya, in which temperatures hovered around 90 degrees Fahrenheit (about 100 degrees on the court). “It was so hot on the court. I think she played really well.

“I don’t know actually how I managed to win. Just tried to play my game, but she also played her game really well.”

During her on-court interview with Rennae Stubbs, Kanepi was asked how she climatized herself to the Washington heat and humidity since she comes from a country where the conditions are very different. “I think it’s because I have played so many years on tour and mostly playing in sunny conditions,” she said.

Although Kanepi considers clay her favorite surface, her game energizes on hard courts, too. She builds her game around powerful ground strokes and her first serve is one of the strongest on tour. Against Kalinskaya, Kanepi hit 12 aces – nine of them in the opening set – and finished with 48 winners. She outpointed her opponent 114-99.

She’s always a threat to do well in the majors, where she’s 68-55 and a seven-time quarterfinalist. She’s reached the quarters in all four Grand Slams, including twice at the US Open and Wimbledon. This year, she reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open for the first time before losing to Iga Swiatek. Don’t be surprised if she becomes a bracket buster at the US Open later this month.

“I actually like the climate at the US Open,” Kanepi admitted. “I like the humidity. It’s not that humid as here. I like to play in the hot and humid, yeah, quite tough conditions.”

Unfortunately for Kanepi, her career has had its share of setbacks, including an ordeal with long-term injuries. There was an Achilles injury that happened back in 2012 around the time that she was achieving her career-high ranking. More recently, in 2017, she spent nearly two years off tour due to Epstein-Barr virus and plantar fasciitis in both feet.

“I wasn’t sure I’m gonna play. Tennis again, because I didn’t treat my injury,” Kanepi admitted in press Friday. “I was so tired of this sport and traveling, and my health wasn’t really well.

“But, I slowly started practicing and I changed my fitness coach. The way he approached, I liked it. I liked to train, and I still like to train.”

At Kanepi’s age, it’s worth understanding just what motivates her to excel and to keep coming back for more. Her answer is simple, yet it speaks volumes about her. “I like to train and I don’t like to be in the same place for too long,” she said. “Working as hard as I can, I’m enjoying it.”

Around the Citi Open

• Men’s top seed Andrey Rublev of Russia, seeking his fourth ATP Tour title this season, reached the Citi Open semifinals after successfully pulling double duty on Friday. After the World No. 8 earned a satisfying 6-4, 7-6 (8) win over American Maxime Cressy during the afternoon, he beat another American in the quarterfinals under the Stadium lights. Rublev defeated wild card J.J. Wolf,  6-2, 6-3, to advance to Saturday’s semifinal round. The World No. 8 outpointed Wolf 65-44. He hit eight aces and struck 21 winners to just seven unforced errors. Rublev saved all four break points he faced from the 99th-ranked Wolf.

“Of course, I’m happy to be for second time in semifinal at Washington,” Rublev said during a late-night press conference. He was a semifinalist here in 2018. “Obviously, I’m happy, and I want to do my best [Saturday] to see if I can go farther.

“So, yeah, we’ll see. It’s [been] a long day. It’s really late. Waiting for my dinner (smiling).”

Next, Rublev will face Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka, who survived a grueling 7-6 (5), 4-6, 7-5 quarterfinal victory over No. 16 seed Daniel Evans of Great Britain that lasted three hours and 34 minutes on John Harris court. The win over Evans boosted Nishioka’s career head-to-head against the Briton to 5-0.

“I never gave up and that’s the way I think I won today. I just focused on making a lot of balls and to play long rallies. I knew he didn’t want to because he was getting tired,” Nishioka said, quoted by the ATP Tour website.

Nick Kyrgios completed his third-round rain-interrupted match against No. 4 seed Reilly Opelka of the United States that started Thursday in just 14 minutes. It resulted in a 7-6 (1), 6-2 win and advanced the Australian into a Friday night quarterfinal showdown with No. 10 seed Frances Tiafoe of the United States. Kyrgios and Opelka, possessor of the biggest serve in men’s tennis, combined for 25 aces (12 for Kyrgios and 13 for Opelka).

Kyrgios, the 2019 Citi Open champion, and Tiafoe took court around 10:30 p.m. and put on quite a show for the fans that filled Stadium court. There were plenty of tweeners and drop shots and dazzling winners that made the wait worth it.

The mercurial Aussie finally won at 12:58 a.m. Saturday after saving five match points during a 26-point second-set tie-break to win 6-7 (5), 7-6 (12), 6-2. Kyrgios slammed 35 aces, saved all three break points he faced and outpointed Tiafoe 116-105.

“It wasn’t easy to be honest,” Kyrgios said afterward. “Playing Reilly this morning in the heat was not ideal. Came out fast and strong, got it done. Then I was able to just get some rest and eventually just pull through. An amazing match with Frances. I  knew it was going to be crazy. I’m just glad that today’s over and I can get some rest.”

Next, Kyrgios will oppose No. 115 Mikael Ymer of Sweden, who fought off the comeback effort of 54th-ranked American Sebastian Korda to win 6-2, 5-7, 6-3. Ymer recovered after squandering a double-break lead at 5-2 in the second set. He led 5-1 in the final set before he finally won with his eighth break of Korda on his fifth match point. Ymer outpointed Korda 101-81.

• Women’s No. 2 seed Emma Raducanu of Great Britain fell in straight sets to Liudmila Samsonova of Russia, 7-6 (6), 6-1, in an hour and 46 minutes on John Harris court to reach her second semifinal of the season. The 23-year-old, 60th-ranked Samsonova hit nine aces and broke Raducanu’s serve five times. She outpointed the reigning US Open champion 79-67 to advance to the last four.

• Women’s No. 4 seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, who was the last to reach the quarterfinals following a rain-delayed 7-6 (7), 6-2 win over Tereza Martincova of the Czech Republic Friday afternoon, in which the first set lasted 80 minutes alone, returned Friday night and was eliminated from the Citi Open by Chinese lucky loser Wang Xiyu, 6-1, 6-3, in 79 minutes on the Grandstand court.

Friday’s Citi Open ATP results

Friday’s Citi Open WTA results

Saturday’s Citi Open order of play

By the numbers

Yoshihito Nishioka is through to his first ATP Tour semifinal since Delray Beach in 2020.

“Quotable …”

“I think it’s pretty cool to have the ability kind of to be called, you know, the next big thing in American tennis. We have a lot of great guys in American tennis that are coming up, and to be part of that group it’s really special. 

“It’s motivating [me] to do bigger, better things. And to be recognized as someone that has a chance to do some of those things, it’s pretty cool.”

Sebastian Korda, 22, of the United States, in press this week, on the attention he’s receiving as arguably the face of American men’s tennis for the next generation.