Kanepi will face 23-year-old Russian Lyudmila Samsonova in her second singles final in as many years on Sunday in Italy. Before that, Kanepi had not reached the finals since 2013. She’ll be chasing her fifth singles title in a career that began in 1999, making her route more of a Sunday drive than a dead sprint.
The key to her longevity, Kanepi, is learning to take her time.
She now arrives at races earlier so she can adjust to the environment, shake off the jet lag and get comfortable. She takes extra rest between events to recover, and that comfort brings confidence on the court.
The strategy has helped her excel in areas she didn’t develop as a young player. Kanepi’s title is also distinguished – she peaked at number 15 (in 2012) and in 2009 was the first Estonian to enter the top 20 – and for that she is feared on tour and enjoys a bit of a cult following. Among fans, they are often drawn in places where they are unseeded and threaten top players. But she hasn’t seen consistent flashes on tennis’ biggest stages.
She reached her fifth career quarterfinal at the Australian Open in January, a feat that set the tone for her year. In the year Her 19 match wins in 2022 are the most since 2013.
“I never thought I’d be working in the Australian quarter. “I thought, ‘It’s just not my place,'” Kanepi said. But I played really well, and I continued to play well. I didn’t put any pressure on myself to achieve something different.”
Kanepi, who is ranked 37th, was disciplined by the court when she drew this week’s draw. Samsonova will be her highest-ranked opponent so far at No. 60. She never faced anyone over 71 heading into the finals.
The Russian, meanwhile, defeated No. 95 Xiyu Wang 6-1 6-1, No. 10 Emma Raducanu, No. 30 Elise Mertens and No. 69 Ajla Tomljanovic earlier in the day.
“It’s amazing – I didn’t expect this. I came after a month of preparation. It was a lot, ohhhh, a lot of hard work,” said Samsonova. “We were focused on everything.”
Sunday’s game pits power against power. Both women stand 5-foot-11, though the lankier Samsonova has more reach than Kanepi and also won her belt over the Estonian in straight sets at Wimbledon last year.
Samsonova represented Italy until 2018, when she switched to playing under the flag of her country, Russia; Competing against great tennis talent took the pressure off and allowed her to flourish. Last year she reached the final of her only singles match in Berlin and won the title.
“Kai, I like her game. She plays well. I think it’s going to be a match where I have to focus a lot because I think whoever hits the first shots better will rule the game,” Samsonova said. “Obviously experience makes a difference. But I think I have a bit of experience now.
Kanepi will be partly banking on her confidence and her patriotic hard work at Samsonova. She said she played her best game of the tournament on Saturday as she continues to show more comfort on the court and extend her strong season and career.
And whenever she decides to retire, she always has a backup option in the form of a sports car waiting in her garage. Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X, to be exact.
“I have a car like this, I can drive it, I like it. I don’t like to go fast,” Kanepi smiled.
Pegula took second place in the City Open
Citi Open singles champion Jessica Pegula may have missed her chance to repeat earlier this week, but she didn’t leave Washington empty-handed. The 28-year-old defeated Anna Kalinskaya and Catherine McNally 6-3, 5-7, 12-10 to take the doubles title with Kiwi partner Erin Rutliff on Saturday.
It was the third tour-level doubles title of Pegula’s career and her second of 2022, following her win with Coco Gauff in Qatar in February. It is Rutliff’s second career title.