Kaia Kanepi celebrates after her victory. Photo: AP Photo/Peter Morgan

NEW YORK - Estonia's world number 418 Kaia Kanepi, who was once pushed to the brink of retirement by illness and crippling pain in both feet, reached the US Open quarter-finals on Tuesday and declared: "I'm amazed I'm this good."

The 32-year-old became only the second qualifier to reach the last eight in New York when she defeated Russia's Daria Kasatkina 6-4, 6-4.

But this time last year, she was at home in Tallinn wondering if she would or even wanted to play tennis again despite having made five Grand Slam quarter-finals.

"I'm amazed that I'm this good," she said. Her shock is well-founded.

In 2016, she appeared in just one WTA event in Rabat, losing in the first round before a battle with the effects of Epstein-Barr virus and then plantar fasciitis in both feet forced her off tour.

But after passing her time by walking her dog Bossu, taking a vacation in Hawaii and racing cars on Finland's treacherous ice roads, she decided to try tennis once more.

"In June last year, I didn't care if I didn't play tennis again," said Kanepi.

"I just tried to live a normal life and enjoy it and slowly figuring out. But it's very important to do what you love. If you do, then things will come."

She got back into shape by training with with Estonia's 2008 Olympic discus thrower Gerd Kanter.

Once she was fit, she returned to action, playing two second-tier ITF events in Estonia and Germany while failing to qualify for Wimbledon and Bucharest.

Using a protected ranking, she entered qualifying at the US Open and has not looked back, picking up her first main draw wins in the best part of two years.

"It's very tough to believe where I am now after all that has happened. I didn't expect it," said Kanepi.

She will face Madison Keys of the United States for a place in the semi-finals. 

Keys, the US 15th seed, advanced to her first US Open quarter-final  by defeating Ukraine's fourth-seeded Elina Svitolina 7-6 (7/2), 1-6, 6-4.

It will be Kanepi's sixth quarter-final at the majors and second in New York after also reaching the last eight in 2010.

"Now I am a great tennis player," she said after seeing off Kastakina.

It's a feeling aided by being back in New York where she first played back in 2002.

"I have always loved being in New York. Even after I went to Hawaii, I came two days to New York just to stay in the city," she explained.

"I wanted to be in the city. I like the atmosphere. I like being here. I love the courts and the climate, and I think that the courts suit my game really well."

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