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Kaia Kanepi notched another upset in her lengthy career with her 12th win over a Top 10 player. The Estonian beat world No.7 Aryna Sabalenkaa 6-1, 2-6, 6-1 on Tuesday at the Gippsland Trophy.
"When I play well and aggressive, I think it’s tough for anybody to beat me," Kanepi said in her post-match interview on court. "I got some rhythm after my first match [when she rallied from 6-1, 5-2 down against Aussie Astra Sharma] and today, I found it much better to play."
The victory by former Top 15 player Kanepi brought No.4 seed Sabalenka’s winning streak to a halt after a back-and-forth one hour and 38 minutes of play at Melbourne Park. Sabalenka had won her previous 15 matches, including title runs at Ostrava and Linz in 2020 and Abu Dhabi to start this season.
World No.94 Kanepi, who at 35 is the oldest player in the Gippsland Trophy draw this week, ousted then-World No.1 Simona Halep at the 2018 US Open for her most recent Top 10 victory before Tuesday's win. Kanepi converted six of her seven break points en route to her upset of Sabalenka on Margaret Court Arena.
Six-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist Kanepi matched Sabalenka in power while the No.4 seed struggled with unforced errors in the opening set, which she won in just 27 minutes. But the tables quickly turned in the second set as the Sabalenka magic reappeared, and she never faced a break point in that set while the miscues mounted from Kanepi.
As quickly as the second set got away from Kanepi, she worked quickly in the decider. Kanepi broke for 2-0 with a ferocious return winner, then rolled from there to 5-0. Sabalenka got on the scoreboard at 5-1, and Kanepi missed five match points and faced a break point in the following game, but the unseeded player held on, finishing the match with a putaway on her sixth chance.
Boulter comes back to upset Gauff
World No.371 Katie Boulter of Great Britain staged a comeback win in the second round of the Gippsland Trophy, charging back from a set down to notch a 3-6, 7-5, 6-2 victory over No.14 seed Coco Gauff of the United States.
Boulter, who has struggled with injuries and played only three WTA main-draw matches last season, engineered the comeback in one hour and 43 minutes of play, after Gauff served for the match at 6-3, 5-4. Boulter now moves into the round of 16, where she will face No.2 seed Naomi Osaka after the reigning US Open champion eased to a 6-2, 6-2 win over Alizé Cornet.
Read more: 'I was definitely nervous going into it' - Osaka triumphs in return
"I remember playing her [Boulter] in Wimbledon one year," Osaka recalled. "I don't remember what year it was, but I do remember thinking she was a really good player, and then I heard that she got injured and now she's back.
"I'm looking forward to playing her. It's really interesting to play players that are around the same age as me because I feel like we all have the same goals and stuff."
Sixteen-year-old Gauff, the youngest player in the Gippsland Trophy draw, used excellent play in the forecourt to ease ahead by a set. A key break by the American teen at 4-4 in the second set put her ahead at 5-4 and gave her a chance to serve out the match.
But an inspired run by Boulter saw her take 13 of the next 14 points, winning the last three games of that set to level the match at one set apiece. Boulter moved ahead for good by cracking a forehand winner down the line to break for 4-2 in the final set, and confidently cruised from there.
Top 10 seeds Konta, Mertens claim victories in season-opening matches
A strong day for Great Britain was supported by No.5 seed Johanna Konta, who beat a familiar foe in her first match in 2021. Konta ousted Bernarda Pera of the United States, 6-2, 6-3, to move into the Gippsland Trophy round of 16.
Konta and Pera's three previous meetings all took place within a four-month span at the start of 2018, and Pera triumphed in two of the trio, including an upset at the Australian Open. World No.14 Konta, though, had little trouble this time around, collecting her win in 81 minutes.
Konta was unbroken in the opening frame as she cruised to the one-set advantage, taking two-thirds of Pera's second-service points. Pera broke Konta in the second game of the second set to keep things level at 1-1, but Konta earned a decisive break in the third game and held on from there, setting up a round of 16 clash with either Aliaksandra Sasnovich or Irina-Camelia Begu.
No.7 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium also emerged victorious in her first tilt of 2021, dispatching Japan’s Mayo Hibi, 6-2, 6-2 in 75 minutes. World No.20 Mertens fired eight aces and won nine of Hibi’s 11 second service points to zip through to the round of 16.
"It was my first match of 2021, so I was really excited to start again and play tennis, play matches," the Belgian assessed. "Of course, the first match is always a little bit strange again, but overall, I felt happy and good with my game."