Anett Kontaveit continued her remarkable run by outpacing Greece’s Maria Sakkari over 3 tight sets to claim the St Petersburg Ladies Trophy on Sunday, the Estonian’s 4th straight WTA Tour indoor title and 19th Top 10 win of her career.
I'm very happy to be able to continue this form last year to this year and keep a consistently high level. I think that's the thing that I'm most proud of because I think I think every time a new year starts, you sort of have these doubts and you're not so sure how the year is going to go. But I'm really happy that I've been able to play good tennis and also have positive results this year.
“It was such a tough battle,” Kontaveit told WTA Insider later. “I was behind in the score so many times that I couldn’t quite believe that I managed to pull that off.
“Really, just so proud of myself with the way I managed to stick in the match, and just keep fighting, and just feel, like, I never, never gave up.
“Just so happy with the way I managed to put up a really good fight and, eventually, just keep calm and get through it.”
The two top seeds have quite the rivalry, coming into their latest meeting having faced off 12 times before and each grabbing 6 wins apiece.
Kontaveit has now made it 3 wins in a row, though, after winning their 2 most recent battles, defeating Sakkari in the Ostrava final and in round-robin play at the Akron WTA Finals last year.
Sakkari came so close to fulfilling her quest for another WTA singles title since bagging the clay court title in Rabat in 2019, but was denied by an inspired Kontaveit, who came from a set down and a break in the 3rd to defeat her Greek opponent, 5-7 7-6(4) 7-5, in 2 hours 57 minutes to improve her head-to-head record against the top seed to 7-6.
Kontaveit now joins an elite group in becoming just the 6th player since 1989 to record 20 consecutive indoor wins, which includes her runs to titles at Ostrava, Moscow and Cluj-Napoca at the end of last season that has raised her ranking from 30 into the Top 10.
The other 5 players to have achieved that unbeaten feat are all major champions and former World No 1s: Steffi Graf (with 43 wins), Monica Seles (32), Lindsay Davenport(22), Justine Henin (22) and Jana Novotna (21).
“Yeah, I’m not sure what to say about that,” she told WTA Insider after the match, reflecting on her indoor success. “I like to hit the ball.
“Indoors there’s no wind, there’s no sun, there’s nothing that’s affecting you. But I think that would also help everyone else.
“So I don’t know. I don’t know what it is. I can’t really put my finger on it.”
While Sakkari drops one spot to World No 8, Kontaveit now moves up 3 spots to a career-high of No 6 in the WTA rankings,
The 26-year-old seemed to be carrying her successes of 2021 into the new season when she made the semi-finals at the WTA 500 event in Sydney, but then she exited the Australian Open early with an upset loss to Dane Clara Tauson in straight sets.
“It was definitely a tough one to take,” Kontaveit told the WTA. “Of course I was expecting so much more from myself and from this Australian Open.
“I came back home and I worked really, really hard.
“A bit of the pre-season training that I couldn’t do because of the season being so long and having health issues, I managed to do a really good training block and get myself in a little bit better shape.
“I think tennis is great because we get a new chance almost every week.”
The hard work paid off as Kontaveit is back in the winners’ circle after her hard-fought tussle with Sakkari.
Very little separated the pair, with both breaking serve 4 times and having nearly equal effectiveness returning first and second serves.
Kontaveit surged to a 5-2 lead in the opening set, but she failed to serve out the set at 5-3, and the Greek came back, breaking twice, and serving out the set, firing winners from both wings to notch up her fifth straight game.
Sakkari extended that run to 7 games in a row as she moved ahead 2-0 in the second, but she failed to hold on to it for long, though, as Kontaveit broke back to bring the set back on serve at 3-3.
After Kontaveit saved 2 break points to hold for 6-5, the Estonian grabbed a set point, but Sakkari swiped that away and they moved into a tiebreak in which a pair of un-returnable serves by Kontaveit gave her a 6-3 lead and 3 more set points, and the No 2 seed converted the second after a Sakkari backhand found the net.
The top seed regrouped at the start of the decider, garnering a break for 2-0 and fending off 3 break points to stretch her lead to 4-1.
Sakkari served for the match at 5-3, but her backhand crucially let her down as she miscued, and Kontaveit pulled back on serve again, grabbing her lifeline, and she broke the Greek yet again with a forehand passing winner to earn herself a 6-5 lead.
Kontaveit did not falter after reeling off 5 straight games and she swiped the final set to keep her indoor winning streak alive.
“I’m very happy to be able to continue this form last year to this year and keep a consistently high level,” she said. “I think that’s the thing that I’m most proud of because I think I think every time a new year starts, you sort of have these doubts and you’re not so sure how the year is going to go.
“But I’m really happy that I’ve been able to play good tennis and also have positive results this year.”
Kontaveit was in St Petersburg without her coach Dmitry Tursunov, who is generally acknowledged as the stabilising influence that turned around the Estonian’s career after they started collaborating last year.
“We analyse the matches [on the phone] and he gives tactical advice and also about how I have to approach the match,” she told WTA Insider. “I think when you’re playing the match you don’t think about how to hit a forehand or how to hit a backhand.
“It’s just very important that you’re mentally ready to play the game, and just ready to fight for everything.
“That’s sort of the point that he’s trying to get through, by the phone, or if he’s here in person.”
Kasatkina joins good friend Daria Kasatkina as the only two players to have won both Moscow and St Petersburg.
“Very happy. The tournaments, both Moscow and here, are incredibly well organised,” she said. “Even when we walk on the court, there’s a show, there’s so much effort put into these tournaments and we’re treated incredibly nice.
“Dasha’s from here, so for her, it’s a fantastic stat to have. And I’m also very happy to have been able to win both those tournaments.
“I think it’s a great achievement.”
Earlier on Sunday, the St Petersburg Ladies Trophy doubles championship was decided with Russia’s Anna Kalinskaya & Caty McNally from the United States defeating Poland’s Alicja Rosolska & Erin Routliffe of New Zealand, 6-3 6-7(5) [10-4].
Rosolska & Routliffe gritted out a nearly hour-long second set to push the final into a decisive match tiebreak, but Kalinskaya & McNally won the first 5 points of the breaker and eased home from there in the 1-hour 39-minute contest.
Kalinskaya & McNally teamed up for the first time this week, and took the title by winning their semi-final as well as the final in match tiebreaks.
On home soil, Kalinskaya claimed her 3rd WTA doubles title, while the occasion marks McNally’s 5th career WTA doubles title.