Former World No 2 Anett Kontaveit ended her career at Wimbledon on Thursday when the Estonian lost her 2nd-round match to 2022 quarter-finalist Marie Bouzkova, the No 32 seed from the Czech Republic.
There’s a lot of emotions. There’s sadness, there’s happiness, there’s a bit of everything. It was incredible to have so many people cheering for me. Of course, the match didn’t go the way I wanted it to, but I was so happy to be able to play in front of so many people that love me and were able to see me play for the last time – in singles. Anett Kontaveit
The 27-year-old, who is hanging up her racket due to lumbar disc degeneration, rose to No 2 just last year and won her opener over Italy’s Lucrezia Stefanini on Wednesday, 6-4 6-4, but fell to Bouzkova, 6-1 6-2.
A few weeks ago, Kontaveit announced her retirement news on Instagram, saying that ‘after several doctor’s visits and consultations with my medical team, I have been advised that I have lumbar disc degeneration in my back. This does not allow for full-scale training or continued competition’.
Kontaveit began her rise to No 2 in 2021, when she captured the titles in Cleveland (WTA 250), Ostrava (500), Moscow (500) and Cluj-Napoca (250).
Ranked 30th after that season’s US Open, the surge catapulted her all the way into the Top 8, gaining her admission into the WTA Finals, where she finished as the runner-up to Garbiñe Muguruza.
Kontaveit reached 4 finals in 2022, and won her 6th career title in St Petersburg, with the marathon 5-7 7-6(4) 7-5 victory over Maria Sakkari lasting 2 hours and 57 minutes, and bringing her a 20th consecutive win on indoor hard courts.
There were to be no more epic finals for Kontaveit, though, although she did take part in another epic match, Serena Williams’ last victory, at the 2022 US Open.
“I thought I didn’t play a bad match at all,” Konatveit said after her 7-6(4) 2-6 6-2 loss to the American. “Yeah, she definitely raised her level in the third set. She played amazing.”
Her defeat on Thursday can similarly be viewed with a silver lining, given the physical discomfort Kontaveit is experiencing.
“It definitely is emotional, and yeah, it feels a little different,” she said about her impending retirement after Wednesday’s win. “But really excited that I get to play a few more matches here hopefully, and just do my best every time I walk on the court, and that’s what I have been doing my whole career. Really want to do that for the one last time.”
She shed some tears while talking to the Estonian media at the press conference after her 2nd-round loss, who congratulated her on her career, before she wiped them away as she responded to a interviewer’s question.
“Anett started tearing up as soon as she started talking to Estonian press getting congratulated on her career and sharing her initial thoughts,” a tweet describing the situation read.
Earlier in the day, Kontaveit’s mother, Ülle Milk, had also broken down in tears watching her daughter wave at the crowd after her 2nd-round defeat on Court 18.
Kontaveit had yet to play the final match of her career, though, as she was also competing in the mixed doubles partnering Emil Ruusuvuori from Finland.
The pair took on the duo of Zhaoxuan Yang & Kevin Krawietz in the opening round but bowed out on Friday, 6-3 6-4, so Kontaveit is officially now fully retired.
Kontaveit has always been a favourite in the locker room and with fans.
Daria Kasatkina told WTAtennis.com: “I feel really sad about it, because Anett is one of my big friends on tour. Knowing that she’s going to finish quite early, considering her age, it’s breaking my heart.
“But I’m pretty sure Anett, she’s gonna be a happy person in life. She got so many interests. She’s a very interesting person, and I think she will find her place, for sure.”
Many tributes have been coming in on social media, led by World No 1 Iga Swiatek, who wrote: “Congratulations on your career and thank you for every memory @AnettKontaveit,” on Twitter.
Swiatek played against Kontaveit 5 times and claimed 3 wins, with their final meeting coming in 2022 February, when the Pole defeated her in the Doha final.
“I was very, very sad;” Ons Jabeur. “I honestly tried to convince her not to, but it didn’t work out.”
“Everyone’s been really nice and said some really nice and kind words, wishing me luck for the next chapters,” Kontaveit told WTA Insider. “It’s been very heartwarming and I appreciate that they’re all so nice and supportive about it.
“I think I was a pretty social person, and so I’m really glad that there are so many girls who care about me, who I get along with, and who really wish me well.
“It has been great to be able to share this kind of journey with Ons and Maria, for example, because we’ve kind of grown up together. I’ve known them from juniors and I’m really happy to see them do well. It’s been amazing that I’ve been able to do well too.
“So to play at this high level at the same time, play in finals against each other, it’s been really special.”
At the same time, Kontaveit admitted there was both sadness and happiness after playing the final singles match of her career.
“There’s a lot of emotions. There’s sadness, there’s happiness, there’s a bit of everything,” she said. “It was incredible to have so many people cheering for me.
“Of course, the match didn’t go the way I wanted it to, but I was so happy to be able to play in front of so many people that love me and were able to see me play for the last time – in singles,” Kontaveit said after the match.
Asked if there was a possibility of her returning to tennis one day, she said: “I’m pretty firm with this decision.
“When I stand up for too long or sit down for too long in the same position, it [my back] starts bothering me. I hope that, if I don’t give it that much exercise with tennis, it will feel better in everyday life.”
Asked what the immediate future holds for her, Kontaveit responded: “I’m studying psychology at Indiana University, so I’m going to do that. I’ll take more classes, so I’ll have more to do. Hopefully I’ll go on some spontaneous trips. I have to find friends who are not working. It’s very difficult.
“But other than that, I don’t have big plans. I think I need to learn how to relax a little bit, take some time off and figure out what I want to do. I think studying is a big commitment already, so I’ll deal with that for now.
“I think I want to stay connected with tennis. I don’t know exactly how I’m going to do it right now, but maybe do something with Estonian tennis and a side of studying, and then we’ll see. I’m not promising anything right now. We’ll just see what kind of ideas I get.
“But yeah, I think it would be good to use this experience that I’ve gained from the tour later on in life.”
As for her thoughts on being a professional tennis player, Kontaveit said: “It’s been one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done, and one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. It has been my whole life.
“It’s taught me so many things and I’m very, very grateful that I’ve been able to do this.”