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Kaia Kanepi, driven but not burdened, seeks cherished Washington championship

By Jane Voigt, Tennis With An Accent

Washington D.C. – Making her tournament debut at the Citi Open, Kaia Kanepi has made this first trip to Washington a capital success. On Saturday, Kanepi (seeded No. 6) trounced Daria Saville to reach the final, 6-3, 6-1. The Estonian’s powerful ground game and serve, which precede her wherever she plays, overwhelmed Saville.

In an on-court interview, Kanepi was respectful. She told fans that she probably wouldn’t do anything differently to prepare for Sunday’s final. However, she did concede that she “doesn’t read the news” at home, where she is considered a superstar.

“I think I played my best match today,” Kanepi told the media. “Everything was very smooth for me. I think I hit a lot of lines. It’s tough to do it every day, so I think today was a good day for me.”

Kanepi attributes her good play to her rhythm and steadiness this year.

“I have played consistently good, I think,” she said. “Some places where I wasn’t used to play well I played well like the Australian Open, Indian Wells, Miami… Indian Wells, especially.”

Her quarterfinal run in Melbourne seemed to add to her confidence: “Then I continued playing well. I didn’t actually put any pressure on myself to achieve something special.”

Kanepi is the only seeded player left in the draw that featured the 2019 women’s champion Jessica Pegula as the top seed and the reigning U.S. Open champion Emma Raducanu as the second seed.

Pegula lost in the second round to Saville and Raducanu lost in the third round to the woman she will meet in the final, Lyudmila Samsonova. Nonetheless, Pegula can leave D.C. with her head held high after winning the women’s doubles title alongside Erin Routliffe on Saturday. They defeated Anna Kalinskaya and Catherine McNally, 6-3, 5-7, 12-10.

Kanepi has four career titles, the last one coming almost 10 years ago, in 2013 in Brussels. She opened last season by reaching her first final in eight years at Gippsland. She lost in that final to Elise Mertens, who had played here in Washington as the fifth seed. She lost in the opening round to Samsonova.

Kanepi is scheduled to play two WTA 1000 tournaments before the U.S. Open: Toronto, which runs August 8-14, and Cincinnati, which runs August 13-21. If she continues to perform well, she could be seeded in New York. Many players would sigh with relief if that were to happen.

Kanepi has been called “the resident Grand Slam specialist” by The Guardian, having scored wins over 19 seeded players in the first week of Grand Slam tournaments. Only three other active players have more: Victoria Azarenka, Venus Williams, and Serena Williams.

However, Kaia doesn’t think a seed would mean much to her, remembering that she has reached the quarterfinals of six Grand Slams without needing that advantage, the last at this year’s Australian Open where she succumbed to world number one Iga Swiatek.

“The players who are not seeded are also really good, so normally it doesn’t matter much,” she said as she smiled. “You just don’t play seeds in the first round.”

Kanepi says she likes to drive “very good cars … who doesn’t?”, but not necessarily fast cars, “like in a straight line.” Instead, “I like to do more like drifting, not really to drive fast. So I have a car which I can do it with.” She currently drives a Mitsubishi Evolution X.

X marks the spot for Kanepi, who is one win away from lifting a championship trophy in D.C.

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