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By Adrianna Outlaw | Monday, January 24, 2022

Kaia Kanepi

Kaia Kanepi stunned second-seeded Aryna Sabalenka 5-7, 6-2, 7-6(10-7) to battle into her first AO quarterfinal in a match interrupted by seagulls.

Photo credit: Getty

Kaia Kanepi calmed craziness shocking Aryna Sabalenka to battle into her first Australian Open quarterfinal.

World No. 115 Kanepi squeezed out a tense tiebreaker topping the second-ranked Sabalenka 5-7, 6-2, 7-6(10-7) to battle into the Melbourne quarterfinals.

More: Cornet Fights Off Halep for First Major Quarterfinal

The 36-year-old Kanepi withstood insane pressure, the unpredictably explosive Sabalenka, a swarm of seagulls stalling play by landing on court and the deep disappointment of seeing four match points slip from her grip when she initially served for the match with shaky hands at 5-4. 

"Actually, I thought I was going to lose after the match points I had on my serve," Kanepi said. "It was really difficult to come back. I don't know how I managed to win."

Through it all, the oldest woman still standing in the draw kept fighting to stop Sabalenka for the second time in as many meetings.

"I think I would be more happy if I won after two, three match points," Kanepi said. "It was really close that I lost the match. I feel a bit exhausted right now. It was really difficult."

Serving for the quarterfinal at 5-4 in the decider, Kanepi earned triple match point but felt the enormity of the moment as pressure restricted her right arm.

"I was really tight, yeah," Kanepi said. "My hand was shaking when I started serving. I didn't make any first serves in, and that added to the pressure."

Saving four match points in all in that 10th game, Belarusian broke back on a forehand error then plowed through a love hold for 6-5.

Wimbledon and US Open semifinalist Sabalenka battled double fault woes throughout the tournament yet still put herself in position to prevail tonight. Sabalenka slapped 15 double faults, including a jittery three double fault game to donate the break and a 5-4 lead to Kanepi in the final set.

"Of course I'm really disappointed in the game today," Sabalenka said. "I had all the opportunities and I didn't use it.

"I would say I started well, but then I lose focus and, yeah, then it became really emotional and, yeah, I couldn't find a way back."

Deadlocked at 7-all in the tiebreaker, Kanepi drew three straight unforced errors from Sabalenka to seal a topsy turvy two hour, 19-minute win.

It's a painful departure for the second-seeded Sabalenka, whose exit means only three Top 10 seeds—world No. 1 Ash Barty, fourth-seeded Roland Garros champion Barbora Krejcikova and seventh-seeded Iga Swiatek— made it to the elite eight.

Kanepi will try to rest and recover ahead of her quarterfinal clash vs. 2020 Roland Garros champion Swiatek.

"I haven't watched her, I never played her, and I don't know how her ball feels, so we'll see when I play her," Kanepi said. "What I expect is to play good."


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