ESTORIL, Portugal - Kaia Kanepi put the last few months behind her and got back into the WTA winner's circle on Saturday, and in dramatic fashion too, fighting hard to survive Carla Suárez Navarro in the Estoril Open final.
After an Australian season that saw her win her first Premier title in Brisbane, Kanepi sat out for a month and a half with a shoulder injury. It took her a little while to find her footing again - but then came the start of the clay court season.
As the No.6 seed in her first clay court event of the year in Estoril, Kanepi took out No.4 seed Petra Cetkovska and No.1 seed Roberta Vinci en route to the final, with Suárez Navarro waiting in the final, hungry for her first WTA title.
With trademark tenacity and some flashy one-handed backhands, the unseeded Suárez Navarro came close - after winning the first set she built a 5-3 lead in the second set, held two match points in the tie-break and, after missing out on those, even led 4-2 in the third - but Kanepi's power game was just too much, as she clawed back every time to prevail in two hours and 37 minutes, 36 76(6) 64.
"I've won a few matches from match points down but I've never won a final like this," Kanepi said. "I'll remember this final in a good way for a long time.
"This title means a lot. I was injured and it was tough to come back. And though my fitness trainer was with me here, I quit with my coach recently, so it means a lot I did this on my own. But that doesn't mean I don't need a coach now!"
Stepping onto the clay, the surface on which she reached her first WTA title, didn't hurt either. "I was looking forward to the clay court season. As a junior I grew up on clay, so I like this surface a lot. But I didn't play my best tennis today, and I definitely still have some things I want to work on and improve."
Kanepi is the only Estonian ever to win a WTA title and she now has three: Palermo in 2010, the aforementioned Brisbane title this year, and now Estoril.
"I was a point away, but Kaia played really well and credit to her for the way she recovered," the Spaniard said. "It was a good week for me and I'm motivated to keep working and getting better. I like clay a lot. I'm looking forward to Madrid."
"I've never played on blue clay," Kanepi said of the Madrid court surface. "I'm very excited to play on it this year, and to see how good we see the ball on it!"
Kanepi and Suárez Navarro could potentially play again in the second round in Madrid next week, should they get by their first round opponents (Kanepi opens against Lucie Safarova, Suárez Navarro starts against Jankovic).
Chuang Chia-Jung and Zhang Shuai beat No.3 seeds Yaroslava Shvedova and Galina Voskoboeva in the doubles final, 46 61 119. Chuang won an impressive 19th WTA doubles title while Zhang collected her second; and it was the first time the Taiwanese-Chinese duo won a WTA doubles title together.
"It was the first time we played together and we won, so for sure I'm happy," Chuang said. "We really started to find our tempo after the first set, and we just got better and better as the match went on. Hopefully we'll play together again."
"My partner is a very good doubles player - I hope we'll play together again!" Zhang said. "In the first set our opponents were playing very aggressively. But we changed some things, focused on each point and tried not to panic."