TALLINN, Estonia - Merko Cup hosts Estonia's narrow 6-5 victory over Latvia in the Baltic exhibition team event this week, which came down to the final rubber, was almost wholly due to the performances of their leading WTA players, World No.22 Anett Kontaveit and World No.99 Kaia Kanepi.
In format that featured two women's singles and two men's singles contests on each day, along with a men's doubles match on the first day and a women's doubles and deciding mixed doubles on the second day, Kontaveit and Kanepi both went unbeaten at the Tondi Tenniseskuskus in Tallinn, the Estonian capital - despite facing the formidable, contrasting Latvian duo of World No.41 Jelena Ostapenko and World No.43 Anastasija Sevastova.
On Wednesday, Australian Open quarterfinalist Kontaveit kicked the competition off with a straightforward 6-1, 6-2 win over Sevastova, while former World No.15 Kanepi was also able to dispatch Ostapenko in straight sets 6-3, 6-4. However, the home pair's male counterparts were not as successful: Vladimir Ivanov fell to Karlis Ozolins and Jurgen Zopp to Ernests Gulbis in both singles and doubles to put the hosts 2-3 down at the end of the first day.
The same pattern repeated on Thursday, albeit with much tighter contests as the first four rubbers were all decided by match tiebreaks. A series of edge-of-seat thrillers saw Kanepi rebound from a 0-4 first-set deficit to overcome Sevastova 7-6(1), 2-6, [10-5] before joining forces with Kontaveit to pull off a 4-6, 7-5, [10-7] comeback against Ostapenko and Sevastova in doubles - in both cases holding off valiant but ultimately too-late charges in the deciding tiebreaks from the Latvians.
Again, though, the men's reverse singles would both go to Latvia, with Ozolins edging Zopp and Gulbis fending off Ivanov. With Estonia down 4-5 overall, though, Kontaveit rose to the occasion - though took the scenic route, nearly losing a 6-2, 4-1 lead over 2017 Roland Garros champion Ostapenko before scraping through 6-2, 6-7(1), [10-7], winning the last five points of the match from 5-7 down in the match tiebreak.
That result sent the Merko Cup to a one-set mixed doubles shootout in which all four players were substituted on and off court at various junctures, with Kanepi and Zopp breaking Sevastova and Gulbis in the final game to seal victory.