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With a 6-0 set over world No. 4 Karolina Pliskova, Anett Kontaveit wins for the 28th time in her last 30 matches
The Estonian qualified for the semifinals of the WTA Finals, and is playing better than anyone in the game right now.
Published Nov 13, 2021
MATCH POINT: Kontaveit closes out Pliskova, 6-4, 6-0, and reaches the final four at the WTA Finals.
Picture the wise tennis philosophers, gathered on the mountaintop, engaged in deep contemplation as they ponder how a match twists and turns. Can one point truly change everything? Or is something so singular meaningless, merely a passing moment amid a torrent of those energy exchanges more commonly known as rallies?
These questions surface in the wake of Anett Kontaveit’s 6-4, 6-0 victory over Karolina Pliskova in the WTA Finals. Through the first nine games, all appeared even. Though Pliskova had held three break points at 1-all, once those were erased, little separated the two as they exchanged one powerful baseline drive after another.
Then came one point that triggered the deluge. Pliskova served at 4-5, 30-love. Based on the way each was serving—there were no break points since that third game—a tiebreaker seemed likely. Kontaveit struck a forehand return that ticked the net and dropped over for a winner. Who’d have imagined this would turn the switch?
But at 30-all, Kontaveit cracked a blistering crosscourt backhand to earn a set point. She quickly cashed it, charging the net to dispatch a Pliskova lob with a conclusive overhead. aid Pliskova, “Somehow unlucky the last game of the first set.”
It was a jolting end to what for nearly ten games had been a tug-of-war. The cord snapped, Kontaveit sprinted through the second set.
“I just thought she went for it, like full power,” said Pliskova. “She hit I don't know how many winners the second set. Super deep balls she played. There was not much I could do.”
Said Kontaveit, “I think it was very important for me to be as consistent as possible. Took some time to get used to her serves. Yeah, I felt like my game was getting better and better as the match went on.”
At this event, the 25-year-old Estonian is seeded eighth and Pliskova third. But recent form tells a different story. Prior to this match, Kontaveit had won 27 of her last 29 matches, a dazzling late-year effort highlighted by four titles and victories over Grand Slam winners Petra Kvitova, Garbine Muguruza, Bianca Andreescu and Simona Halep.
“I think it's just really trusting my shots a little bit more, just going for it, but going for it with margins,” said Kontaveit. “I think that's been very important, not to go for too much, but still stay aggressive and be in charge whenever possible. When it's not possible, just stay in the rallies, be as consistent as possible.”
Remarkably, prior to commencing this run, Kontaveit had lost five straight matches—the fifth being her first working with former ATP pro Dimitry Tursunov. Having previously coached Aryna Sabalenka, Tursunov has significant experience guiding a big-hitting baseliner.
Maybe some players, they have choices, but I don't. I don't even want a choice. I just want to play my game and my plan. Karolina Pliskova
In contrast, this was only Pliskova’s fourth match since the US Open. Wednesday night she was pushed to the limit by Garbine Muguruza, winning in a third-set tiebreaker. On Friday, despite having won all three of her previous matches versus Kontaveit, Pliskova was helpless in the second set. Let’s also add that this tournament’s high-altitude conditions are hardly conducive to tactical adjustments.
“With every shot here, the ball takes off a little bit,” said Kontaveit. “It's just trying to get used to it, play solid in your service games, not give any easy points, try to stay as focused as you can, make as many first serves as possible.”
Then again, it’s not likely we’ll suddenly see either of those players start to hit slice backhands or come to net frequently.
“Like I don't really have the choice to run and play high balls,” said Pliskova with her usual candor. “Maybe some players, they have choices, but I don't. I don't even want a choice. I just want to play my game and my plan.”
Having now won both of her first two round-robin matches, Kontaveit became the first player to qualify for a spot in the semis. Pliskova, now 1-1, is still in contention and on Sunday will play Roland Garros champion Barbora Krejcikova.