Aryna Sabalenka vs. Kaia Kanepi: Another Big Test for World Number Two (Jan. 24)
William West/Getty. Pictured: Kaia Kanepi hits a forehand at the Australian Open.
Aryna Sabalenka vs. Kaia Kanepi
|Time | TV||5 a.m. ET | ESPN+|
|Odds via BetMGM. For tips on watching tennis matches, click here.|
World number 115 Kaia Kanepi is searching for here seventh-career slam quarterfinal and first at the Australian Open, but that didn’t look to be the case for her in the first set of her match with Aussie Maddison Inglis.
In that first set, Kanepi only won 54% of her service points and 24% of her return points. She created zero break point opportunities on Inglis’ weaker serve. For a player with a serve as big as Kanepi’s, getting broken twice while winning a touch over 50% of her service points is not an acceptable performance.
However, Kanepi turned the match around. She stormed back for a 2-6, 6-2, 6-0 victory, winning the final seven games of the match. During the final two sets, Kanepi won 94% of her first-serve points, while Inglis only won 30% of her overall service points.
In fact, Inglis holding to take the first set 6-2 was the last time Inglis held all match.
For Kanepi, the first set against Inglis was her first set lost all week. It has been a great week for the Estonian, including an impressive upset of the world number 20 Angelique Kerber.
Overall over the course of the tournament so far, Kanepi has hit 82 winners and 82 unforced errors. For a player who goes for as much as Kanepi from the baseline, that is an impressive statistic.
Aryna Sabalenka isn’t at her best, but she’s finding a way to survive. Sabalenka came back from a set down against Market a Vondrousova and won 4-6, 6-3, 6-1. The world number two did a better job reining in her serve and only hitting a relatively low 10 double faults.
Sabalenka was hit-and-miss during the match, with 36 winners and 36 unforced errors, but during the times she found her range from the baseline she was near-unplayable. The Australian Open courts are faster and she was able to blast through Vondrousova.
While Sabalenka is still winning, she has dropped a set to Storm Sanders, Xinyu Wang, and Vondrousova at the tournament thus far. She also went 0-2 in the warmup events. Something else to note is that the Belarusian still hasn’t had a match all season with single-digit double faults.
But while the game isn’t totally there yet, Sabalenka’s intent to be aggressive and play her ground game is not a problem. Against Vondrousova, Sabalenka came to the net 24 times, winning 15 of those points. She was determined to attack and make Vondrousova feel a lot of pressure with her game and she succeeded.
This is a fascinating match between two power players who will desperately be trying to take control of rallies. I think that each player would prefer to play less powerful baseline-centric players, as it will be hard for either player to consistently dictate in this match.
Don’t be fooled by Kanepi’s ranking of world number 115, as her six major quarterfinals indicate, she is an experienced player with a massive game. Simply put, she knocks the cover off the ball.
While it is a small sample size, Kanepi is tied for 32nd in women’s tennis for percentage of service points won this season at 60.4%. She is 39th in service games won percentage, sitting at 72.4%.
In terms of Elo ratings, Kanepi is 51st in hard-court Elo. While Sabalenka is 15th in hard-court Elo, I mention this to show that Kanepi is far from your typical player currently outside the top 100 (although she will re-enter the top 100 soon, as shown by the live rankings).
In their one previous meeting last year in an Australian hard-court warmup event, Kanepi won 6-1, 2-6, 6-1. This was at a time when Sabalenka’s level was higher than it is now, having won Abu Dhabi in her previous event. However, Kanepi did not let her get in a rhythm.
Sabalenka was made uncomfortable by Kanepi’s big game, feeling extreme pressure even on her own serve. Kanepi held Sabalenka to 50% of her service points won and broke the Belarusian’s serve six times, and that’s with Sabalenka only giving away only four points with double faults.
While Kanepi would certainly prefer to not play someone with Sabalenka’s power, if I’m going to get a 4.5-game cushion for the Estonian at -135 against a still fairly-inconsistent Sabalenka, it’s hard to look away. Kanepi’s raw power makes her a different type of opponent than Sabalenka has had to deal with all season during her struggles.
I’ll look for Kanepi to keep this close at the very least.
Pick: Kanepi +4.5 Games (-135 at BetMGM)