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Anett Kontaveit shattered Top 10 ceiling, major struggles persist
The No. 6 seed has stepped into a post-pandemic landscape eager to hit through any challenge in front of her. A major breakthrough remains her final hurdle after a second-round exit to Clara Tauson.
Published Jan 19, 2022
WATCH: Kontaveit picked up where she left off in 2021, reaching the semifinals in her first event of the season.
Anett Kontaveit was tired of being No. 20.
“I definitely did feel stuck at some points,” the Estonian admitted in Sydney. “I was between No. 20 and No. 30 in the rankings for quite a while and I wasn’t sure if that was all I was capable of achieving. That was in and of itself demotivating at times.”
A promising junior who reached the second week of a major tournament in just her third main draw appearance, Kontaveit quickly learned that transitioning onto the WTA circuit was only half the battle. At 22, she made her first push towards the elite level when she upset Angelique Kerber en route to the Internazionali BNL d’Italia quarterfinals, but too often found herself hitting a ceiling when faced with more fearless opposition. Impressive and aesthetic as her technique could be, there always seemed to be something missing.
Now 26 and at a career-high ranking of No. 7, the Game of Thrones super fan—she prefers Bridgerton these days—is officially on course to become the tour's resident Mother of Dragons. Kontaveit has converted the occasional deep run into a week-in, week-out consistency that helped her win 29 of her final 33 matches in 2021 and emphatically reset her career trajectory.
“I think the biggest change that I felt was just that I started to enjoy my matches a lot more,” she explained. “The change I made was very mental in that I began approaching matches differently and a little more positively.
“Of course, my confidence also grew with each match and I just felt more and more comfortable on court.”
I started to enjoy my matches a lot more. The change I made was very mental in that I began approaching matches differently and a little more positively. When I looked at them as just another challenge, I was able to put less pressure on myself, and that gave me a lot of freedom. Anett Kontaveit
Assisting in that comfort is coach Dmitry Tursunov, whom Kontaveit hired just before her mid-season surge began. A former ATP pro, Tursunov is credited with launching the career of Aryna Sabalenka, and has worked similar magic on his latest charge—transforming a solid ball striker into an all-out attacker.
“When I started working with Dmitry, I was ready to put my head down and really push myself a lot. He also helped me look at things from a more positive, easygoing perspective. That definitely transferred on court.”
She shook off a disappointing Grand Slam season to make an improbable run at a maiden WTA Finals berth, winning three titles in six weeks and scored statement wins over the likes of Simona Halep, Garbiñe Muguruza, and Maria Sakkari.
“It was pretty incredible for me, making so many of my dreams come true. It was definitely a lot of emotions, and I think it’s still slowly sinking in with getting used to being in the Top 10 and all the new things for me. It’s also very exciting, and I’m trying to look at everything like it’s a new challenge and deal with it the best that I can.”
Kontaveit already overcame her first challenge of the season: rebuilding her momentum in her first tournament since finishing runner-up in Guadalajara. She blitzed through her opening encounters and took part in an early match-of-the-year contender against Barbora Krejcikova in the Sydney International semifinals.
She carried that confidence onto a new social media platform, launching an official Twitter account at the behest of friendly rival Ons Jabeur.
“She’s such a lovely person, and we’re a similar age so we’ve known each other since juniors. It’s been nice to develop together and bring our games up from the juniors and into the pros. Having some friendly faces on tour really means a lot.”
Her Melbourne campaign got off to a good start with a 6-2, 6-3 win against Krejcikova’s doubles partner Katerina Siniakova, rallying from early breaks in both sets to ease into the second round.
“I came here quite early,” she said of her pre-season preparation, “I think about a week before the tournament, so I could get used to the warmer weather and hot conditions. Now I feel pretty good and I’ve gotten a bit of a tan on now.”
Things hit a snag shortly thereafter: up against an in-form Clara Tauson, Kontaveit found herself overmatched by the equally talented ball-striker and bowed out, 6-2, 6-4.
Her best run at a major was at this very tournament in 2020, the final major of the pre-pandemic era. Looking to best her quarterfinal finish will be her biggest challenge yet, and while she didn't get it done in Melbourne this week, it's a challenge Anett Kontaveit still looks primed to conquer in 2022.
“When I looked at my matches as just another challenge, I was able to put less pressure on myself, and that gave me a lot of freedom.”