Anett Kontaveit captured her second title of the season, capping off a dominant week in Ostrava to win the 2021 J&T Banka Ostrava Open. In a week that saw her tally wins over Sorana Cirstea, Paula Badosa, Belinda Bencic, Petra Kvitova and Maria Sakkari without losing a set, the 25-year-old Estonian has now won 12 of her past 13 matches, including her first title of the season in Cleveland last month.
Now up to No.24, Kontaveit spoke to WTA Insider after her 6-2, 7-5 win over Sakkari in the Ostrava final Sunday to reflect on her winding journey through the 2021 season. As Kontaveit explains, her season began full of optimism before the effects of her hard quarantine ahead of the Australian Open began to spiral into a crisis of confidence. After ending her three-year collaboration with coach Nigel Sears in April, Kontaveit felt directionless before bringing on former ATP player Dmitry Tursunov in August. She's been playing with clarity ever since.
WTA Insider: What was your blueprint for success this week in Ostrava?
Kontaveit: It was a very strong tournament so I had to play very consistently throughout all the matches and I think that was one thing I was able to do really well. I think my level also raised. I started feeling more comfortable with each match.
I thought I was doing a good job staying consistent but also being aggressive, but nothing crazy. That's what I was trying to do. I was very proud of the way I was able to keep my focus throughout all my matches and keep it up there.
WTA Insider: You've mentioned over the past three tournaments that you've rediscovered your joy on the court. At what point did you feel like you had lost it?
Kontaveit: Last year when I finished my preseason I was very excited to start the season and everything. We happened to end up in the hard quarantine in Australia for a couple of weeks. Although I did well to make the final of the tournament immediately out of it [Grampians Trophy], I felt a little bit tired throughout the season after a few matches.
Maybe I didn't have the motivation, maybe I lost a sense of direction, where this was going. Then there was the low after making the final in Eastbourne. I lost a few first rounds. I changed coaches.
I wasn't sure if I was doing the right thing for some time. I was a little bit lost, I would say. With Dmitry joining the team, I feel like I'm doing the right thing again. I feel like the direction where I'm heading is right again.
I think the biggest thing is that I've really started to enjoy even the tough times. Even the close matches, the tough scores, I feel like I'm looking at it as a challenge. That's what I'm most happy about because I don't remember enjoying playing tennis this much for a while.
WTA Insider: It's a very natural thing for a player who has been consistently in the Top 50 for a few years to become worn down by the grind and the frustration.
Kontaveit: It's difficult to pinpoint one specific thing.
It could very much be that I was working so hard and I kept losing to Top 10 players consistently. I felt like I was doing well, I was playing really good tennis, and I was just falling short to these really good players. I'm trying so hard and it's not working against these players, but it's sort of silly because I was losing to these really good players who were playing really good tennis.
But I always have this thing where I always want to do better than what I'm doing. At some point I was thinking, "OK, maybe I'm just not meant to beat them or something." This demotivating thought went into my head.
Now I feel like I really got out of this negative thinking which can creep up sometimes. I think it does for everyone but I just had to snap out of it quicker.
WTA Insider: Was it as simple as hearing a new voice from your team? What do you think flipped the switch? You went from a five-match losing streak this summer right into winning 12 of your next 13 matches and two titles in your past three tournaments.
Kontaveit: I think he might have been the new voice. It's just brought this new energy and a little bit more self-belief to my game. It taught me how to be a little bit more positive.
I'm not sure if it's one specific thing or if it was something I needed to hear that sort of switched this thing in my head.
WTA Insider: So how do you feel like that joy translates to your game? What is it about that change in mindset that makes you a better tennis player?
Kontaveit: I think I've always had good shots technically. I don't think there's anything dramatically wrong with my game. It's so much in the head.
I just think I'm playing in a more positive and more secure way, not doing too much but being aggressive. I think I'm moving great. I'm looking at things in a more positive way, which I think translates in my game.
WTA Insider: Does it make it more difficult to engineer that motivation and positivity when you're from a country that doesn't have numbers on the tour? We're in the Czech Republic, where it feels like they could field multiple teams for the Billie Jean King Cup. That can help with motivation, having top players pushing each other.
Kontaveit: Estonia's a very small country. I probably won't have a full house of supporters in a foreign country, but this is what I'm used to. My family, friends, Estonian people are cheering for me through their computers and TV. I do feel the support from home is huge. I think there's also a lot of benefits from being from a small country. You're not just one of the 20 great players. It's me and there's Kaia [Kanepi].
There are pros and cons to it, but I don't like to think about, "Oh, what if I was from somewhere else." These are the cards that were dealt to me and I'm happy to be playing them.