MIAMI, FL, USA - Anett Kontaveit was in uncharted territory on Tuesday afternoon, aiming to reach the biggest semifinal of her young career against an always tricky Hsieh Su-wei at the Miami Open.
"I wasn't feeling great from the first points, for some reason," she explained after rallying from 0-4 in the final set to win, 3-6, 6-2, 7-5. "I was quite nervous and not playing my best tennis, for sure, making so many unforced errors.
Typically comfortable on big stages, the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open runner-up struggled to deal with Hsieh's eclectic arsenal, but even more with her own emotions as the Chinese Taipei veteran moved ahead by a set and a break.
"I felt like towards the end I was starting to get more loose and play a lot better. It was very close, but I think I really had to deal with myself today."
Though Kontaveit found herself two points from defeat, the 24-year-old was able to pull off a stunning comeback after consulting coach Nigel Sears.
"Nigel was great," she said of Sears, who previously worked with former Top 5 stars Daniela Hantuchova and Ana Ivanovic. "In the first and the third set, he was trying to encourage me. He could tell I was a bit nervous, so he was trying to tell me what I need to do and be positive and believe in yourself."
Kontaveit has worked with Sears for the last year, during which she has earned some of her best results, reaching the Internazionali BNL d'Italia semifinals and the Wuhan finals, helping her qualify for the Hengqin Life WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai for the first time.
The Estonian was soon applying his advice, and channeled her intensity into a laser focus that led her into a first Premier Mandatory semifinal.
"I feel like my game is heading in the right direction. Today probably wasn't the best match that I have ever played, but I'm so happy to be through it. I feel like I fought really well and I never gave up.
"I'm really, really happy with the improvements I'm making, and being more positive with myself, whatever the score is, and all these little things that are getting better."
Kontaveit has been on the rise throughout the Sunshine Swing, narrowly losing to former World No.1 Karolina Pliskova at last week's BNP Paribas Open, and battled through multiple drama-filled clashes with Amanda Anisimova and Ajla Tomljanovic before shocking Hsieh, a former practice partner.
"I actually enjoy watching her matches a lot," she admitted on Monday. "She mixes it up so much, and she's fun to watch. She's done really great, and it's tough to find your rhythm against her."
Kontaveit will have a day off before playing either Petra Kvitova - whom she beat at the Brisbane International in January - or Ashleigh Barty, and will likely try to make a long-awaited trip to Miami's Wynwood Walls.
"I have always enjoyed coming to Miami. I think it's a great tournament. It's a great city. I do actually feel well here."