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Australian Open

35 and loving it — Kanepi joins Hsieh as Week 1 party-crashers

Matt Zemek

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Two widely popular players on the women’s tour have made big splashes in Week 1 of the 2021 Australian Open.

Hsieh Su-Wei has a winning sense of humor and a warm, playful personality which endear her to fans. She also has a delightful off-pace game — the Fabrice Santoro of women’s tennis — which is eye-pleasing and endlessly interesting. Tennis diehards love her, and it’s easy to see why.

Kaia Kanepi is an athlete who can strike the ball beautifully — that always wins respect and admiration from the public — but beyond that, she has overcome one injury after another to persist as a professional tennis player. Setback after setback has visited her career. Still, Kanepi pushes onward in search of the perfect marriage of fitness, form, and circumstance.

Maybe, just maybe, she will get on a prolonged run and reach a semifinal or final in Melbourne. It’s hardly ludicrous to think she can do it, after seeing her dismiss defending Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin, 3 and 2, in 64 minutes on Day 4 of the fortnight Down Under.

A healthy Kanepi playing at her best is a threat to everyone on tour, from Naomi Osaka on down… and Kanepi is in a wide-open quarter of the draw in the half opposite Osaka. If you were to tell me Kanepi could meet Osaka in the final, I would not laugh at you. I would take you quite seriously. She could lose to Donna Vekic in a superb third-round matchup, but everything truly is possible for Kanepi at this tournament… and her perseverance should be commended. It’s a winning attitude leading to yet another upset of a top-10 opponent for the Estonian.

Hsieh Su-Wei, like Kanepi, advanced to the third round of this tournament by beating a top-10 seed. Hsieh flummoxed a rusty Bianca Andreescu to advance in the draw. Hsieh and Kanepi have both carved out well-deserved reputations as being players high seeds want absolutely no part of in the first week of a major-tournament draw. Their games are completely different, but their knack for bothering top players is a strong point of commonality between the two.

Both at 35 years of age, they manifest a clear and abiding love of tennis which shines through in what they do, and how they do it.

We live in a time when tennis players and other professional athletes are carving out longer careers due to advancements in sports medicine, nutrition, and holistic health and wellness. Kaia Kanepi and Hsieh Su-Wei, if playing in the 1990s, might have been out of luck in terms of playing into their mid-30s and beyond, a point Mert Ertunga raised with me on a podcast last year. In this era, however, they have found an enduring youth.

Who knows? That fountain might flow into the semifinals or better at this Australian Open. Yet, even if these wins over top-10 seeds don’t lead to something bigger this fortnight, Kanepi and Hsieh still have a lot to be proud of.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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