After starting from qualies in Brisbane and eventually winning a set against Karolina Pliskova in the semifinals, Kaia Kanepi, #79 in the world, stormed past former Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova in the first round of the 2018 Australian Open.
The Estonian displayed a nearly flawless performance, leaving behind only four games to the #24 seed. Looking at the stats of the match, the difference in aces and winners stands quite impressive. Indeed, the Estonian scored 28 winners, massive when compared to the six Cibulkova hit. Something to be expected, given the offensive nature of Kanepi’s game, and Cibulkova’s great abilities in defending and counterpunching, but still quite astonishing.
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The Slovak reached the final four years ago, in 2014, when Li Na outclassed her in the final and conquered her second Grand Slam title. Since then, Cibulkova strived to gain a spot among the very best players in the world, dealing with slight injuries and up and downs. In 2016, she entered the Top 10 and she eventually won the WTA Finals in Singapore, the title that represents her biggest win to date. Last year, her results were pretty disappointing, as she failed to give continuity to such an achievement. Rumors circulated about the likelihood of a retirement from professional tennis, which were denied by the player herself, citing her willingness to zchieve her whole potential and to reach new highs.
Kaia Kanepi, on the other side, has had a career with injuries as a leitmotif. Indeed, her best ranking of #15 in the world dates back to 2012. Since then, her results have been severely compromised by bugs with her body that made her finish 2016 ranked #302. Despite her bad luck, she reached the quarterfinals twice in each Grand Slam tournament, except for the Australian Open, where she made it to the third round just once, in 2009. Her last surprising Slam quarterfinal was actually 2017 Us Open, where she played her first Slam main draw of the year, and took advantage of an open spot in the draw before surrendering to eventual finalist Madison Keys.
Therefore, despite the huge gap in the rankings, Kanepi’s win can not really be considered an upset. It’s true that the two straight set wins against Anastasia Sevastova and Elena Vesnina in Sydney, before surrendering to Angelique Kerber who has still to lose a match in 2018, created some well-thought expectations concerning Cibulkova’s shape, but Kanepi’s real value is much higher than her current ranking, especially when it comes to Grand Slam matches.
The women’s draw at the Australian Open is badly balanced, as loads of potential dangerous opponents landed in the first half. Hence, the bottom half – the one that played Monday – stands thoroughly open, and there are huge chances for many players to reach lifetime achievements. And, of course, Kanepi is among those.
In the second round, she is going to face Monica Puig, who survived an epic three-setter against local Sam Stosur. In the third round, she might take advantage of CoCo Vandeweghe’s early loss, resulting in no seeds left in that spot. Her potential opponent is thus going to be either Timea Babos or Carla Suarez-Navarro. If she manages to make it to the fourth round – which would already be her best result in the Aussie Slam – she is likely to meet Caroline Wozniacki, super in-shape #2 seed who has a chance to finally conquer her first Grand Slam title. Given the upsets that already happened today, and the players left in that spot of the draw, there could be no better fourth round match-up than Kanepi vs Wozniacki. We will see what happens. As for now, good luck to the Estonian, hoping she’ll manage to climb the rankings back where she belongs.
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