Defending champ Kenin crushed by Kanepi 

  • Matt Trollope

In yet another example of her giant-killing capabilities, Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi hit defending Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin off the court in straight sets on Thursday to reach the third round.

MORE: All the scores from Day 4 at AO 2021

With an irresistible combination of power, depth and general weight of shot, Kanepi dismantled the error-prone world No.4 6-3 6-2 in the biggest shock of the women’s tournament so far.

Or was it?

On paper, it was a mismatch, pitting a Grand Slam champion against the world No.65 at MCA.

Yet tennis fans are well aware of Kanepi, the 35-year-old who has been ranked as high as 15th and who has reached six Grand Slam quarterfinals – the first coming way back at Roland Garros in 2008.

She had won 20 of her past 22 matches coming into the contest, last week advancing to the WTA Gippsland Trophy final.

"This year I think it helped that I got many matches in previous week, to get used to the conditions. And I also played many matches on Margaret Court. And I also played there today, so I think that also helped, to feel better,” Kanepi assessed.

Plus, she had beaten 12 top-10 opponents throughout her career – seven of them at Grand Slam tournaments.

Kenin admitted she was nervous about the match-up.

MORE: ‘Couldn’t handle the pressure’: Kenin looks in the mirror after exit

“After my (first-round) match, I came off court, and I looked that she was winning. Maybe kind of broke down a little bit because obviously I remember I lost to her (in our previous meeting),” she said.

“She's obviously a tough player and she's playing big. We'll see how it's going to go.”

Given Kanepi's record against top-10 players in Slams, Thursday's result was hardly a surprise

It did not go well for Kenin, who finished the match with more than twice the number of errors to winners (10-22).

She missed three break-point opportunities in the opening game and throughout the first set could not control the ball, her groundstrokes routinely flying long and wide.

Two consecutive errors handed Kanepi a break and a 3-1 lead, and although Kenin appeared to settle in the next game when she moved ahead 0-40, Kanepi escaped via a combination of Kenin’s errors and her own powerful play to extend that lead to 4-1.

One break was all the Estonian needed; she held at love in her next two service games to take the opening set, prompting an overwhelmed Kenin to depart the court for the bathroom.

Upon her return, Kenin commenced the second set looking more secure – until her game once again unravelled.

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Kenin's title defence crumbled at the second hurdle

She netted two groundstrokes in the third game to trail 15-40, and two points later sent a backhand well long to surrender serve.

Now a set and a break up, Kanepi was unstoppable, acing the American to stretch her lead to 3-1.

Kenin’s backhand, normally so steady, brought her undone in the seventh game, with errors off that wing handing another break for Kanepi, who closed the match out in the next game with consecutive aces.

She finished with 10 aces among 22 winners, and it was over in just 64 minutes.

Kanepi barely celebrated, possibly because beating top-10 opponents at a major tournament is what she often does.

"I don't really like comparing anymore, I have learned that playing so many years tennis,” she laughed when asked how this win rated among her other notable victories. “I'll take one match and one tournament at a time and it all depends how I feel, and how the opponent plays and so on.

“My game plan was to play aggressive, as I normally do. I played good today, I served really good. I think it was a good win.”

Interestingly, the Australian Open is the only Grand Slam event at which she has not reached the quarterfinals.

But considering the form she produced on Thursday and the momentum she has built up, her next opponent, 28th seed Donna Vekic, may struggle to prevent her taking another step toward that elusive stage.