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2017 US Open
Catching up with Kaia Kanepi
The comeback continues for former World No.15 Kaia Kanepi, who outlasted Francesca Schiavone in three sets to win her first Grand Slam main draw match in two years at the US Open. WTA Insider interviewed the Estonian veteran after the match.
WTA Insider David Kane
August 30, 2017
NEW YORK, NY, USA - Court 15 is one of the few places relatively untouched by the yearly renovations around the grounds of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, making it the perfect stage for a nostalgic match-up between two 2010 US Open quarterfinalists, Kaia Kanepi and Francesca Schiavone.
Kanepi is a former World No.15 who battled through qualifying after spending nearly two years off tour due to Epstein-Barr virus and plantar fasciitis in both feet.
“I actually did not know if I would come back again,” she admitted to WTA Insider after a rain-delayed 0-6, 6-4, 6-2 win over Schiavone. “For three months, I didn’t even treat the injury, because I just didn’t care.”
The Estonian star would be forgiven for a little cynicism given her career-long ordeal with long term injuries, ironically earning that career-high ranking while healing an Achilles injury back in 2012.
Three months earlier, she had reached a second French Open quarterfinal, and maintained a bizarrely consistent streak where, in between injuries, she managed to reach the second week at a Grand Slam six times in eight years - once as a qualifier.
The turnaround started less as inspiration and more as necessity.
“I started thinking, ‘Okay, I’m tired of waking up every day with pain. I should get my feet in good condition.’ That’s when I started making treatments, and by December I began actually training a bit with a discus thrower in Estonia, just for fun. I still didn’t know if I want to come back.
“In January or February I thought, ‘Well, I’ve been training already, so maybe I should try one more time to come back.’”
That comeback began in June, when she won a 25K ITF Challenger title against another resurgent veteran in former World No.8 Patty Schnyder.
“When I played my first match I won quite easily, in one hour, but the next day my body was really tight. It takes time to get used to it, but the body comes around eventually.”
She won another title at home in Estonia before coming to Flushing to play her first hardcourt tournament since January 2015.
“There are so many new faces that it’s a bit strange to be back. But some players are saying, ‘Welcome back, nice to see you’ which is a good feeling, that players are happy to see me.”
Schiavone was one of those well-wishers. A former champion at the French, the Italian was complementary of her opponent in post-match press.
“I think she came back strong and solid with her shots. She has to improve her movement, but that’s how she normally plays. If she serves more strongly, I think she’ll play at a high level again.”
It has indeed been vintage Kanepi off the ground. Equally blunt and precise off the court, she aims to take a more mature approach to this latest chapter of her intriguing career.
“I’ve learned that the most important thing is your health, and you shouldn't ignore any pain. I’ve done that in the past, and now I don’t want to do it again. If I feel any pain I won’t play, but I feel really good. I have been playing a lot lately and my body is really not used to it, so that’s why I have some tape.
“It’s a great feeling to be in the city, so I like to walk around because it’s so different. It makes me want to play better, and keeps me from thinking about how far I’ve had to come to make it here. I’m just enjoying being back on the court, and playing well.”
It will be 2010 all over again for Kanepi in the next round. The 32-year-old next takes on Yanina Wickmayer in a rematch of their Round of 16 encounter from seven years ago.
Monday, September 4, 2017
K. KANEPI/D. Kasatkina
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. Another great win. Another quarterfinal. How do you put this all into context, given everything that's happened for the last couple years?
KAIA KANEPI: I didn't expect that. I hope to qualify and keep going, see what happens with my tennis. Yeah, it's pretty amazing where I am now compared to where I was few months ago.
Q. What were you doing 12 months ago? Like, if it was this time of last year, do you remember what you were doing in early September?
KAIA KANEPI: Probably walking with my dog or reading books (smiling). Figuring out what I want to do in my life.
Q. You say figuring out what you wanted to do. How close did you come to not returning to tennis?
KAIA KANEPI: Started playing tennis in January again, and I stopped in June last year.
Q. Were you thinking about not continuing with the career and retiring?
KAIA KANEPI: I wasn't sure, actually. I didn't set any time for myself what will I decide at the end. I just tried to live normal life and enjoy it and slowly figuring out.
Q. You come from Estonia, and then there are some people from Latvia, some others from Ukraine. How do you explain all this? Surprising? Is normal? It's not a great tradition until 10 years ago, maybe, or 15. Why all these good players, players like you, come from these small countries where maybe you don't have that much help when you start your career? Or maybe you have. I don't know.
KAIA KANEPI: I have really good coach when I was growing up, so I think I was a bit lucky with this.
Q. At home? You had a good coach at home?
KAIA KANEPI: Yeah, at home. I think tennis is really popular all over the world, so it's normal that players are coming from different countries. Estonia and (indiscernible) and Russia, we want to fight and we like sports. So maybe that's why.
Q. But 10 years ago it didn't exist almost. I'm not talking about Russia, but I'm talking about Latvia. Now we have Sevastova, Ostapenko, Gulbis, and all this. And there is Svitolina and all these others. Do you think it's normal?
KAIA KANEPI: Yeah.
Q. You said that you're surprised at what's happened. What's your feeling? What's it mean to you that you're this far at the US Open?
KAIA KANEPI: I'm really happy (smiling). I don't know what else to say. And also amazed that I'm that good.
KAIA KANEPI: Why?
Q. Why are you amazed?
KAIA KANEPI: Well, compared to where I was a few months ago, I didn't play that well, and I didn't expect me to play that well so fast after starting my comeback.
Q. Still, a few years ago you had five match points versus Kvitova in Wimbledon. There, then, you had reason to dream to become a great, great tennis player, no? Yes or no?
KAIA KANEPI: Yeah, I dreamed to be a great tennis player when I was very young.
Q. And now you don't dream it anymore?
KAIA KANEPI: Well, I think now I am a great tennis player (smiling).
Q. When you were away from the game, you said you were trying to figure things out. I had read that you went to Hawaii for a while and you went to Finland and drove on icy roads and, like, some sort of professional driving school? What happened that made you say, It's time to go back? I think I belong in tennis.
KAIA KANEPI: I started doing fitness in December with a discus thrower. Then I did it for a few months already and my feet got better. I didn't feel pain anymore. And then I thought I have already done some training. Then why not try to come back.
Q. What is it that you missed about tennis? Did you miss anything about being on tour, about having to play professionally, playing at the slams, or was it more just like I want to go try and do this because I want to try and do it? How did you react?
KAIA KANEPI: I missed adrenaline when I am at the tournaments. I missed winning. And I missed that feeling when you play well.
Q. Do you have that feeling today?
KAIA KANEPI: Yeah, I have.
Q. Are you playing pain-free? Are you 100% now, or is it on and off?
KAIA KANEPI: It's 100% now. I don't feel any pain.
Q. We don't know who your next opponent will be, so if it would be all right, I'd like to ask you about each of the possibilities. If you were to play Madison and you have only played her once and it was a long time ago, so things are a lot different for both of you, what do you think the key to a match with Keys would be?
KAIA KANEPI: I think making less errors than she is, because we are both aggressive players.
Q. How would you describe her game, if you could elaborate, and how it matches with yours?
KAIA KANEPI: As I said, she's aggressive. It's really tough to say more, because she hits hard and she wants to win points fast. And I'm the same.
Q. How about Svitolina?
KAIA KANEPI: She plays more. She makes less mistakes. But I haven't played her for a long time, and I haven't played top players for a very long time. I don't know yet what to expect.
Q. What's it like to be in that mix now and playing the top players? What feeling does that give you?
KAIA KANEPI: I'm just very proud to be that far and to be able to play those important matches again.
Q. What do you think is the biggest reason of playing this good in this tournament? You get better techniques or you have done a lot of fitness or you enjoy playing the tennis?
KAIA KANEPI: I have always loved being in New York. Even after I went to Hawaii, I came two days to New York just to stay in the city, because I didn't play US Open last year. I wanted to be in the city.
I like the atmosphere. I like being here. I love the courts and the climate, and I think that the courts suit my game really well.
Q. Did you ever pick another place where to stay, where to live apart from your home country? I understand you don't like to elaborate too much, but if you could try.
KAIA KANEPI: I love Hawaii (smiling). I like Estonia, but it's tough to say where I would like to live except Estonia.
Q. Making the quarterfinals here after everything that's happened, what do you think that this says about your character and your game that you can come two years after playing a Grand Slam and come through qualifying and make a quarterfinal?
KAIA KANEPI: I think it says I don't like to give up.
Q. What does it say about your game?
KAIA KANEPI: It's still the same, good, as it was before.