WATCH: Kontaveit addressed the Kremlin Cup crowd after winning her third title of 2021.

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The final stretch of the WTA Race is notorious for its eleventh-hour conclusion. Returning to the calendar after a COVID-impacted hiatus, the 2021 Race to Guadalajara has been no different, appearing to some onlookers more like a Squid Game when only half the field was certain at the start of October.

Paula Badosa sent the first shock wave when she captured all 1000 points on offer at the BNP Paribas Open, officially booking her maiden Finals berth alongside Iga Swiatek and Garbiñe Muguruza when defending champ Ashleigh Barty withdrew.

Whether the Race awaits a third and final twist comes down to Anett Kontaveit, who is currently in hot pursuit of the eighth and final spot on offer in Guadalajara.

“Before Ostrava, no one was thinking about me having even the slightest chance,” Kontaveit mused in her pre-tournament press conference on Tuesday, “so I’m not putting so much pressure on myself.

“I’m definitely going to give everything that I have. I’ve gotten so many positive emotions from these last few tournaments that right now, I don’t even really feel too tired because I’m still on that high! At the same time, I’m going to have to take it match by match, trying my hardest.”

In the midst of a summer-fall surge that has yielded victories in Cleveland, Ostrava, and Moscow, the Estonian needs to win one more title—this time at a 250 in Cluj-Nepoca—to unseat presumptive combatant Ons Jabeur.

Kontaveit fell to Jabeur in their most recent meeting at the BNP Paribas Open.

Kontaveit fell to Jabeur in their most recent meeting at the BNP Paribas Open.

Jabeur appeared to have guaranteed her historic berth when she finished runner-up to Muguruza in Chicago and reached her first WTA 1000 semifinal in Indian Wells, but an elbow injury forced her out of her first round in Moscow and led her to withdraw from the inaugural event in Courmayeur—where she was slated to be the top seed.

Kontaveit will open against a dangerous qualifier in Aleksandra Krunic, a former Top 40 player who has reached two major doubles quarterfinals in 2021.

“It’s definitely going to be difficult. She was playing really well in qualifying and so has already had a few matches here. I’m just coming from another tournament so it’s going to be a very quick turnaround. I’m hoping to have a hit today and be as ready as I can be. I’m going to take it as another challenge.”

On hand to help her navigate this latest hurdle is coach Dmitry Tursunov, whose hire has catalyzed Kontaveit’s rapid ascent up the rankings—and could even help her score a Top 10 debut next week with a strong result in Romania.

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“It helped that I started working with Dmitry, to add some fresh eyes to my team and a little bit of a new perspective,” she said. “I was looking for a coach for a while. I didn’t have anything stable since after I stopped working with Nigel Sears.

“Dmitry brings a lot of positive emotions, and has helped me take things a bit more easily. I’ve played so many matches towards the end of the season, so it’s definitely been positive towards the end.”

The good times may keep rolling for Kontaveit should she make it to Guadalajara. After all, Dominika Cibulkova and Svetlana Kuznetsova each won titles to qualify under the wire in 2016 and took Singapore by storm, winning the title and reaching the semifinals, respectively. Caroline Garcia swept to wins in Wuhan and Beijing the following year, winning her round robin group en route to the semis. In the last four WTA Finals, 11 of the 16 semifinalists were seeded outside the Top 4, underscoring the powerful momentum carried by the later qualifiers.

Seeded second in Cluj, Kontaveit will first have to conquer a field that includes former world No. 1 Simona Halep, US Open champion Emma Raducanu, and Wimbledon quarterfinalist Ajla Tomljanovic.

“It’s the ultimate goal, but I have to win the tournament,” the 25-year-old wisely reminded the media over Zoom. “That’s just so far away right now. I’m not thinking about [the WTA Finals] too much.

“This is what we’re all playing for, so it would be a really big deal,” she later concedes of the potentially career-changing opportunity. “It would mean a lot.”