NEW YORK — A year ago at this time, Kaia Kanepi figures she probably was spending her September afternoons taking her dog for a walk. Or maybe reading a book.
Just look where she is now.
After a series of health issues kept her off the professional tennis tour for most of the past two seasons, Kanepi is ranked only 418th and yet she has made it all the way to the U.S. Open quarterfinals — the first female qualifier to do that in 36 years.
“I’m just very proud to be that far,” the 32-year-old Estonian said, “and to be able to play those important matches again.”
Kanepi won her fourth-round match Monday against 38th-ranked Daria Kasatkina 6-4, 6-4.
No one had ever advanced to the quarterfinals at Flushing Meadows while holding a ranking as low as Kanepi’s, although five women — including 2009 champion Kim Clijsters — did so while unranked entirely. That includes Barbara Gerken, who made it that far in 1981 as a qualifier.
Clijsters had recently come out of retirement and hadn’t played enough tournament matches to earn a ranking. She got into that year’s field via a wild card from the U.S. Tennis Association as a past champion in New York.
Kanepi was able to get into the tournament’s qualifying event by virtue of a protected ranking, and she won three matches in those rounds in order just to get a spot in the main draw.
This is her first Grand Slam tournament since 2015, when she lost in the first round at the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon, and the second round of the U.S. Open.
Since then, she missed months at a time because of problems with the soles of both feet and a virus known as a precursor to mononucleosis.
This is her sixth trip to a major quarterfinal, but first since Wimbledon in 2013. She is 0-5 in that round previously.
She described herself as “amazed” at having done so well in her Grand Slam return.
“I think it says I don’t like to give up,” Kanepi said.
And what does it say about her tennis game?
“It’s still the same,” she said. “Good as it was before.”
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