Kaia Kanepi out in US Open as Sabalenka pulls off major turnaround
Kaia Kanepi is out of the US Open after losing the comeback of the tournament – so far – from Belarusian player and world number six Aryna Sabalenka, who won 2:6, 7:6 (8), 6:4, in round two
Kanepi was on the brink of victory at 5:1 up in the second set, having won the opener 6:2, but Sabalenka, who plays under a neutral flag due to sanctions placed on her country over its alliance with the Russian Federation, rescued two match points, pulled back to win the set on a tie-break and then won the decider.
Kanepi, 34th in the world, had beaten Tereza Martincova (Czech Republic, WTA 71) 7:6 (4), 6:3 in round one, while Sabalenka, also seeded sixth in the tournament, defeated U.S player Catherine Harrison in her round one game. Harrison had had to qualify to reach the main table.
Kanepi and Sabalenka's head-to-head was 2:0 in favor of the Estonian, 37, from Haapsalu, the last win coming in the last 16 of this year's Australian Open.
Kanepi has beaten world top 10 players seven times in rounds one and two of grand slam tournaments - including Sabalenka as noted, and also Garbine Muguruza at this year's French open - a record among active players, though overall Kanepi had lost 15 times to top 10 players through her long career, heading into Thursday's game.
Kanepi was also Estonia's last representative standing, after Anett Kontaveit went out Wednesday against Serena Williams, playing in the last big tournament of her career and playing in front of a highly partisan crowd.
In the opening set at the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center, Kanepi went 3:1 up after she had broken Sabalenka's service twice – the latter had returned the favor – and the Estonian broke again in game seven, going on to win the set 6:2.
In the second set, Kanepi raced to a 5:1 lead after breaking twice, and seemed set on winning the match. However, Sabalenka stepped things up a gear and strung together five game victories in a row, to go 6:5 up. Things ended up in a tie-break, almost a replay of the set in miniature as Kanepi went 5:2 up, only for Sabalenka to win the next four and face a set point. While Kanepi rescued that point, Sabalenka did the same with two set points – for Kanepi match points – the Estonian had, going from 7:8 down to 10:8 in the fast pace tie-break, to take the set.
Things were even-stevens through much of the deciding set; Sabalenka broke Kanepi's serve in game five and saved a break point in the next game. The Estonian found herself 4:5, and while Kanepi saved two match points, it was third time lucky for the Belarusian, who pulled off a major turnaround.
The comeback of the tournament.@SabalenkaA rallies from 6-2, 5-1 down to STUN Kaia Kanepi. pic.twitter.com/CWJH0pi4MS— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 1, 2022
Kanepi served up nine aces and committed five double faults to Sabalenka's three and 11, and realized five out of nine break points, a smaller proportion (four out of six) than Sabalenka managed.
Sabalenka next plays Clara Burel of France, in round three.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte