Kaia Kanepi, Estonia’s dark horse is a force to be reckoned with, who causes problems for many players at the Grand Slams, and has just won the ITF tournament in Istanbul, her second consecutive title, after defeating former World No 2 Vera Zvonareva in straight sets in the final on Saturday.
The ITF Women's World Tennis Tour offers approximately 500 tournaments across 65 countries and incorporates five prize money levels of tournaments: $15,000, $25,000, $60,000, $80,000 and $100,000 ITF statement
The former World No 15 returned to the winners’ circle last week after collecting her first title of the year on French soil at W25 Cherbourg-en-Cotentin where defeated Britain’s Harriet Dart in the final of the ITF World Tennis Tour event.
Kanepi’s 6-4 6-4 win over Dart was her second straight win over a Brit, having also beaten 21-year-old Jodie Anna Burrage in straight sets in the semi-finals.
The 35-year-old Estonian, whose previous 3 tournament appearances in 2020 had come at Grand Slams, collected her first professional title since December.
With just one WTA Tour event left on the calendar, players are garnering valuable points at the lower level of professional tennis in the build up to next season.
The ITF Women’s World Tennis Tour provides entry-level and mid-level professional tournaments and provides a professional pathway between the ITF Junior World Tennis Tour and the WTA Tour. The results of ITF tournaments are incorporated into the WTA Ranking, which enables professionals to progress through to the elite levels of women’s professional tennis.
The ITF Women’s World Tennis Tour offers approximately 500 tournaments across 65 countries and incorporates five prize money levels of tournaments: $15,000, $25,000, $60,000, $80,000 and $100,000
Tournaments at $15,000 level include reserved main draw places for Top-100 ranked ITF Juniors, providing a smooth pathway for the best new talent to break through into elite professional tennis. The ITF Women’s World Tennis Tour is also designed to target prize money effectively to help reduce costs for players and ultimately enable more players to make a living.
In the final of the W25 Istanbul, Kanepi took out Zvonareva, 6-3 6-3, in an hour and 35 minutes, capping off a dominating performance in Istanbul by winning 5 consecutive games to end the match, serving up 3 aces in the process and offering up zero double-faults.
The Estonian has won 10 of her last 11 matches, and is now a 17-time ITF tournament champion, having won two consecutive ITF tournaments without dropping a single set in the process.
Kanepi is using the ITF series to capture points to gain direct entry in the first Grand Slam of next season, the Australian Open, in January, hoping to elevate herself back up the rankings.
The 35-year old achieved her career-high ranking of No 15 on August 20, 2012 and has won four singles titles on the WTA Tour, breaking new ground for Estonian tennis over the years.
She reached her first final in 2006, becoming the first Estonian player to do so, at the Gaz de France Stars where she lost to Kim Clijsters, and then won her first singles title in Palermo in 2010, also becoming the first Estonian to win a title.
She has reached 6 Grand Slam quarter-finals in three different championships, the French Open in 2008 and 2012, Wimbledon in 2010 and 2013, and the US Open in 2010 and 2017, becoming the first Estonian to achieve this and was the first from her country to be ranked inside the World’s top 20.
Kanepi’s numerous achievements have made her Estonia’s most famous and successful professional tennis player in history.
A former Junior World No 1, she turned professional in 2000, and while she has enjoyed a successful career, she has also been plagued by injuries, initially a sore shoulder and then more seriously a bilateral achilles’ heel injury which caused Kanepi to withdraw from Birmingham, Eastbourne and Wimbledon Championships in 2012, and eventually also from the Summer Olympics in London.
Despite not having played since the French Open she nevertheless reached a career on 15 in August that year and returned in September to compete at the Korea Open where she reached her third final of the year, losing to top seed Caroline Wozniacki.
On-going heel problems, however, forced her withdrawal from the China Open and she was out for the rest of the season.
At the start of 2013, her continuing Achilles tendon bilateral injury caused Kanepi to withdraw from the Australian Open, and she did not return to the tour until April and won her fourth WTA title in Brussels ahead of Paris.
At Wimbledon, Kanepi advanced to the quarter-finals for the first time since 2010 defeating British wildcard Tara Moore, 7th seed Angelique Kerber, Alison Riske, and home crowd favourite Laura Robson before losing to 23rd seed and eventual finalist, Sabine Lisicki.
She ended the year ranked No 30 and the following year at the Wimbledon Championships, Kanepi upset 7th seed Jelena Janković, but lost in the second round to Yaroslava Shvedova and, after failing to defend her quarter-final points, she fell out of the top 50.
At the US Open, Kanepi reached the 4th round after victories over Pauline Parmentier, 24th seed and 2011 champion Sam Stosur, and 15th seed Carla Suárez Navarro, but lost to top seed and eventual champion Serena Williams.
A viral illness forced Kanepi to withdraw from Tasmania at the start of 2015 and a back injury took her out of contention in Dubai and resultant poor form saw her drop to 126 by the year end.
She was forced to retire from Brisbane and another lean year followed that took her down to 302 in the rankings, a force apparently spent, and she took another a long injury break in June the following year, returning to win the tournament in Essen, Germany after 7th seed Patty Schnyder retired from their championship match.
Unable to obtain a wildcard or protected ranking for the main draw, Kanepi received a protected ranking to play in the qualifying for the US Open, making it through to her first Grand Slam main draw in two years, and scoring victories over Francesca Schiavone, Yanina Wickmayer and Naomi Osaka to reach the second week at a major since the 2014 US Open.
She then defeated Daria Kasatkina to advance to her second US Open quarter-final, her 6th overall, where she lost to 15th seed and eventual finalist, Madison Keys.
Nonetheless, she made history by becoming only the second qualifier in US Open history to make the quarters and the first to do so since Barbara Gerken in 1981.
Following the US Open, Kanepi’s ranking skyrocketed from 418 to 110.
2018 saw her move up the rankings after runs to the quarter-final in Brisbane and the 3rd round of Melbourne and winning the title at Brescia
At the US Open, Kanepi upset top seed Simona Halep in the first round becoming the first player in US Open history and just 6th in Grand Slam history to beat the top-seeded player in the first round.
She then advanced to the 4th round and was defeated by 17th seed Serena Williams.
Despite not playing any more tournaments for the rest of the season, Kanepi ended the year ranked 58, while indifferent results over 2019 saw her drop back down to 101, she is currently ranked No 105.
Nevertheless, as she hones her skills at the lower level, she is a player that most would wish to avoid in any major draw, with a game built around powerful groundstrokes and a serve considered to be one of the strongest on the WTA Tour, which she frequently strikes at 170-180km.