Anett Kontaveit denied Maria Sakkari her dream of taking the J&T Banka Ostrava Open title after a drought of two years, with a comprehensive 6-2 7-5 over the Greek 4th seed in Sunday’s final.
Maria is such a good player, and we’ve had a lot of tough matches between us, and I knew I had to play well to beat her. I think I managed to serve pretty well and play aggressive, but be as consistent as possible. When you’re winning matches, it definitely gives you confidence. Anett Kontaveit
The unseeded Estonian blitzed past the 26-year old Greek in the opening set and although the second was considerably tighter, Kontaveit prevailed in an hour a half.
She did not drop a set all week, and maintained her flawless play with her 6th Top 20 victory of the year over the World No 12 to win is her 3rd WTA title, the biggest of her career, which follows her win in Cleveland in late August.
The 24-year old from Tallinn started working with former Russian player Dmitry Tursunov as her coach last month.
“I still can’t believe it, it was such a good week for me,” Kontaveit said during the trophy ceremony. “First, of course, I would like to congratulate Maria and her team on such a great year.
“I’ve watched your matches, I’ve cheered for you from the TV, and I’m really happy that you’re doing so well, and I have so much respect for you on and off the court, I think you’re an amazing person.
“Like you said, we started the year in quarantine in Australia, talking to each other every day and trying to keep ourselves sane in the hotel room.”
“We’ve played each other quite a few times, but you known I’m just so happy we get to share the court, and congrats to you.”
Coming into the final, Sakkari had held a 5-3 lead in their head-to-head record at tour level, and was looking for her first title of 2021, having taken out top seed Iga Swiatek in the semi-finals.
Kontaveit’s route to the final saw her overcoming Sorana Cirstea of Romania, ranked 37, Spain’s Paula Bodosa, ranked 27, and 3rd seed Belinda Bencic from Switzerland, who is No 11 in the world, all in straight sets.
The Estonian, who also saw off local favourite Petra Kvitova, the World No 10 in front of a home crowd, has now won 12 of her last 13 matches, and is now up to No 24, up from 30 at the start of the week.
Speaking to WTA Insider after her win, she explained how her season had 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 Tursunov in August and has been playing with clarity ever since.
“It was a very strong tournament [here in Ostrava], 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,” she said. “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.
“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.”
In the final, Kontaveit took a commanding 3-1 lead, and broke Sakkari’s serve for a second time on her way to pocketing a relatively easy first set, dropping just 2 of her first serve points, while committing only 3 simple errors.
The second set was more evenly-matched, with the Estonian having to rescue a break point in opening game, and neither player facing a break point across the first 11 games thereafter, despite their service games being pushed to deuce.
In the 12th game, serving to stay in the match, the pressure told on Sakkari and she faced 3 championship points and, at the end of a lengthy rally, Kontaveit went on to convert on the first with a winner to take the title.
Kontaveit finished with 26 winners to 17 unforced errors, while Sakkari had 20 winners but had 23 miscues.
The biggest factor separating the two, however, was in the second-serve points each won, with Kontaveit taking almost 67% of her’s while Sakkari could only manage 27%.
Kontaveit served up 2 aces, had a 78 percent success rate on her first serve and won 76 percent of points on her first delivery.
Sakkari managed 3 aces but committed a double-fault and had a 67 percent success rate on her first serve.
The Estonian also converted 3 of 4 break points, while Sakkari had only one break point in in the match, which Kontaveit rescued early on in the second set.
“Maria is such a good player, and we’ve had a lot of tough matches between us, and I knew I had to play well to beat her,” Kontaveit said during her post-match press conference. “I think I managed to serve pretty well and play aggressive, but be as consistent as possible.
“When you’re winning matches, it definitely gives you confidence.
“I feel like I am definitely playing better than I was in the middle of the season, and I think good things can come of it.
“I’ve really had a very good time on court, and I think I’ve enjoyed it after a while, and that’s the thing I’m really most happy about.
“One of my friends who’s here this week to play doubles, she told me, ‘While we’re here, we might as well enjoy it,’ and that really sort of stuck with me this week.”
Despite her loss, Sakkari breaks into the top-10 of the WTA rankings for the first time in her career on Monday, which is a big take-away for the Greek.
In the Ostrava doubles final, India’s Sania Mirza & Shuai Zhang from China defeated American Kaitlyn Christian & Erin Routliffe from New Zealand, 6-3-6-2.
The 2nd-seeded Indo-Chinese pair proved too good for the No 3 seed in the match, which lasted an hour 4 minutes.
Earlier, Mirza & Zhang had defeated the Japanese pair Eri Hozumi & Makoto Ninomiya, 6-2 7-5, in the semi-finals of the WTA 500 indoor event.
“We did it,” an elated Mirza tweeted with the winners’ trophy.
Doubles stalwarts Mirza & Zhang had never teamed up before last week in Luxembourg, where they fell in the quarter-finals to eventual champions Greet Minnen & Alison van Uytvanck from Belgium.
This week, however, they were commanding in the final, winning 76 per cent of points behind both their first and second serves, and staving off both break points they faced in the tilt.
This is former doubles World No 1 Mirza’s 43rd WTA doubles title of her career, and her second title since she returned from maternity leave in 2020.
Meanwhile, Zhang is on a hot run in doubles, having won 3 of her last 5 doubles tournaments, including her second Grand Slam title at the 2021 US Open alongside Sam Stosur.