ESTORIL, Portugal - Kaia Kanepi had a spectacular start to the season, winning her first Premier-level title in Brisbane. Her momentum was stopped by a shoulder injury, forcing her to miss a month and a half, but now it seems to be building again, and Friday she reached the final of the Estoril Open.
Kanepi would end up missing seven weeks between January and March due to the injury, having to withdraw from Premier-level events in Paris, Doha and Dubai; and when she came back she struggled, losing her opening matches at Indian Wells and Miami. But then she made the quarterfinals of Copenhagen.
Having already upset No.4 seed Petra Cetkovska in the quarterfinals in Estoril, the No.6-seeded Kanepi continued her run through the draw with a 62 75 semifinal upset of No.1 seed Roberta Vinci, showing off some impressive mental fortitude as well - she rallied from 5-2 down in the second set.
"In the second set I knew I just had to keep playing my game - I didn't think about the score, I just tried to play the game," Kanepi said. "I didn't go into the match thinking I had never beaten her, I just tried to go in and play well and try to win. Every day's a new day, and every match is a new match."
Kanepi is now on the verge of her third WTA title, having won on the clay of Palermo in 2010 and the aforementioned hardcourt title in Brisbane this year.
"You can get injured or sick at any time, and it's a big disappointment, but I took the time to do other things and get motivated again," the Estonian said. "I just hope to get more matches on the clay now and improve day by day."
Awaiting Kanepi in the final will be a player with perhaps even more motivation: Carla Suárez Navarro. The Spaniard won seven games in a row to close out Italian qualifier Karin Knapp, 64 60, and move within one step of her first WTA title - she has twice been a runner-up, on the clay of Marbella in 2009 and 2010.
"In the second set I think she was a little bit tired, and I started playing really well," Suárez Navarro said. "I lost the two finals I played before, but this is another place and another player, and I'll really try to enjoy this final."
Suárez Navarro talked about the challenges of playing Kanepi. "She has a great serve, but I have a good return game," she said. "Kaia has experience in finals and won a big tournament at the beginning of the season, so we will see."
Suárez Navarro has also struggled with injuries the last few years - after her breakthrough seasons in 2008 and 2009, she missed large chunks of 2010 and 2011 with ankle and elbow injuries. She was as high as No.22 in 2009.
"The last two years I couldn't play well, I couldn't play complete seasons," said the Spaniard, who is currently ranked No.58 in the world. "I'm trying to improve my serve, play more aggressively and work on my concentration in matches.
"If I can do those things I think I can be in the top again."
Kanepi and Suárez Navarro have split two career meetings, one on grass and one on hardcourts - this will be their first career meeting on clay courts.