A tie-break was the reward, but Kanepi, playing her first match since the US Open, unleashed a barrage of scorching shots to wrestle away the initiative. A winner off each groundstroke wing punched 5-1 onto the scoreboard, and a deft pick-up volley completed a top-draw tie-break and captivating set.
Halep looked in severe trouble when Kanepi’s fierce forehand helped claim an early 2-1 break in set two. The top seed didn’t back down, and capitalised upon a loose game from the Estonian to draw level.
The world No.1 was ramping up the pressure, but a break point at 4-3 was wiped out by a booming Kanepi ace. Eventually, the Romanian’s patience and persistence paid dividends.
Three set points at 5-4 were dismissed when Kanepi cut an acute volley and Halep missed a brace of routine returns. However, the fourth chance was taken as Kanepi catapulted a backhand long past the baseline to send the match into a decider.
“It was a big challenge,” admitted Halep, referring to her opponent’s firepower. “First round of Grand Slam is not easy. Losing against her in US Open, so it was a bit of pressure on my shoulders.
“I had nothing to lose. I know that she's hitting the ball very strong, is going to take time to get the leading in the match.”
The duo were locked on serve until 3-2 in the final set. Kanepi accelerated to 40-0, but Halep kept probing and snatched away five successive points to steal the pivotal break en route to a memorable victory.