ROME, Italy - Estonian qualifier Anett Kontaveit backed up her breakout 2017 season in a big way on Wednesday, stunning top seed and World No.1 Angelique Kerber, 6-4, 6-0, to reach the third round of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia.
"It feels great," a beaming Kontaveit said after the match. "It's my first time beating the No.1 in the world, so, you know, I'm super excited."
Kontaveit has been on fire since the start of the spring, when she roared into her first WTA final at the inaugural Ladies Open Biel Bienne. The former junior prodigy followed up that form with a first Top 10 win at the Porsche Grand Prix, outlasting reigning Roland Garros winner Garbiñe Muguruza in three tough sets en route to the quarterfinals.
"I think it does feel like an advantage in a way that I have had a few matches," she said of the opportunity to play qualifying. "I feel comfortable on the courts here. Yeah, I think it's been good."
Kerber, by contrast, is yet to fine the scintillating form that took her to three major finals in 2016 - winning two - though she regained the No.1 ranking on Monday. The German struggled for consistency beneath the Estonian's weight of shot, managing just seven winners to 22 unforced errors.
"Everybody knows I'm not a clay court specialist," Kerber reminded journalists in her post-match press conference. "I was not playing good last year, as well. I had a great year, but I mean, these few weeks I was not playing good.
"I think I need one good match to get also my confidence back and then to seeing that it works, actually. Because I'm working hard, I'm trying to practice really hard and trying to improving the movement, especially on clay, because it's not 100%.
"I'm not feeling so well on this surface."
Kontaveit nonetheless trailed 2-4 to start the match, only to roll through the final 10 games, hitting a whopping 32 winners to 18 unforced errors, winning 73% of her first serve points, and converting five of eight break point opportunities, including one on match point.
"I think I believe in myself more. I have more confidence, and I'm feeling really comfortable on the tennis court.
"I just take it match by match. I've had my little goals. I have actually achieved some of my goals for this year!"
Up next for the qualifier will be No.16 seed Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, who benefited from an ill-timed injury from wildcard Maria Sharapova as she trailed, 6-4, 3-6, 1-2 in the final set.
"As soon as I got here, I was feeling great. This place is amazing. I love the courts. I love the atmosphere here. There are so many people watching. It does feel a little bit special to a player."