With Elina Svitolina becoming the seventh player to qualify for the WTA Finals Shenzhen on Monday, the last remaining spot is down to Bertens or Belinda Bencic (technically it belongs to Serena Williams, but she seemingly has no intention of playing). Bertens has a 165-point lead on Bencic, and certainly has the advantage over the Dubai champion: If Bencic fails to reach the Kremlin Cup final, Bertens is in.
This means that the final Shenzhen spot could come down to a semifinal clash between the two women in Moscow – but that’s a few crucial days (and more significantly, rounds) away. Bencic has already begun her Kremlin Cup campaign, securing her place in the quarterfinals with a gritty win over Polona Hercog; can Bertens follow suit as she takes on Kaia Kanepi on Thursday?
Bertens lost her opening match in Moscow last year when she made her debut, losing to Aliaksandra Sasnovich, and obviously does not want to repeat the experience. The Dutch player is looking for the twelfth quarterfinal-or-better finish of a season which has seen her win the Mutua Madrid Open and St Petersburg Ladies Trophy (the latter, crucially, on indoor hard courts), reach finals in Palermo and ‘s-Hertogenbosch and the semifinals of Sydney, Stuttgart, Rome, Eastbourne and, most recently, Beijing, where she scored some great wins over Donna Vekic, Dayana Yastremska, Hercog and Svitolina before losing very narrowly to Ashleigh Barty.
Bertens returned to indoor hard courts for the first time since winning St Petersburg in February at last week’s Upper Austria Ladies Linz, where she beat Alison van Uytvanck and Misakoi Doi but lost in the quarterfinals to eventual champion Coco Gauff.
It’s good that Bertens got those matches in on this surface, because she has a very tough opening opponent in Moscow – and a defeat could open the door for Bencic at the Kremlin Cup.
Kaia Kanepi has already won four matches in Moscow without dropping a set, winning three to reach the main draw – admittedly all were against players ranked outside the top 100, and one ended in a retirement – and dusting Timea Babos 6-1, 6-3 to reach the second round.
Estonia’s Kanepi has been ranked as high as world no. 15, and even that doesn’t quite feel high enough for a player who has been a Grand Slam quarterfinalist six times and beaten top-10 players seven times at majors, most recently Simona Halep in the first round of the US Open in 2018.
Kanepi’s career has been plagued by injuries, most recently plantar fasciitis in both feet which kept her off court entirely from June 2016-June 2017. Returning to action as the world no. 630 in June 2017, Kanepi started 2018 inside the top 100 after her US Open quarterfinal run and made it back into the top 50 after winning the Brescia $60k in June 2018, going on to reach the round of 16 at the US Open but shutting down her season afterwards.
In 2019, Kanepi started the season at world no. 71 and leading Halep by a set in the first round of the Australian Open before the Romanian came back to win in three. The Estonian has played an extremely limited schedule in 2019 – just 13 events including Moscow, while Bertens has played 24 – and although she’s had occasional good results, like making the last 16 at the French Open, it hasn’t been enough to stop her ranking sliding outside the top 100 after losing to Donna Vekic in the second round of the US Open.
Moscow is just Kanepi’s second event since the US Open, with the only other she has played the ITF $60 in Caldas da Rainha a few weeks ago where she lost to the world no. 115 in the quarterfinals. And yet, Kanepi is such a good player (when she wants to be) that an upset win for the world no. 109 over a player ranked 101 places above her seems far from impossible.
Bertens and Kanepi have met just once before, and indeed it was Kanepi who triumphed on that occasion, winning 6-4, 6-4 in Seoul in 2012. Bertens is certainly a much better player since that match, while I’m not sure Kanepi is, but the Estonian really is a tremendously dangerous player when she gets on a bit of a roll – very powerful, an exceptional ballstriker from the back of the court but also excellent at finishing off points at net – and Bertens cannot afford to be uneven or complacent if she wants to keep pace with Bencic in Moscow in the race for the final WTA Finals spot.
Bertens vs Kanepi Kremlin Cup tennis is live from Moscow on Wednesday at Thursday at 11am local/9am BST
Bertens vs Kanepi tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Shenzhen hopeful Bertens faces dangerous Kanepi in Kremlin Cup opener
St Petersburg champion Kiki Bertens returns to the indoor hard courts of Russia as she opens her Kremlin Cup campaign…
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