World No. 6 Anett Kontaveit on Tennis Rise, Hobbies, War in Ukraine

  • Anett Kontaveit is the No. 6 tennis player in the world, according to the WTA rankings.
  • The 26-year-old Estonian star spoke to Insider about her meteoric rise and her passions off the court.
  • She also discussed the unique challenge of playing around the world as war is waged close to home.

Anett Kontaveit is playing some of her best tennis — and some of the best tennis on the circuit — right now.

The 26-year-old Estonian superstar has risen to world No. 6 in to the WTA singles rankings, thanks to incredible form, a new coach, and a series of victories that brought her to the championship match of last year’s WTA Finals.

Kontaveit spoke to Insider about her meteoric rise to the top of the tennis world, her passions off the court, and the unique challenge of jet-setting around the globe to compete as war is waged in Ukraine, not far from her homeland.

This interview has been slightly edited for length and clarity.

Anett Kontaveit at the 2022 St. Petersburg Ladies' Trophy.

 

Kontaveit at the 2022 St. Petersburg Ladies’ Trophy.

REUTERS/Anton Vaganov

Let’s start at the very beginning. When did you first discover your love of tennis?

Actually, my mom is a tennis coach. So when I was very, very small I was always sort of walking around the house with a racket, or I’d be waiting for my mom to finish coaching. I think I started going to practices when I was six years old, but even before that, I never liked to just sit around and do nothing. So I wanted to participate in whatever was happening.

I started playing from when I was pretty young, but I started going to group lessons with other kids when I was six years old. And I think I just liked tennis always because when I was a kid, I started hitting the ball straight away, and it came pretty quickly for me. So I was good at it and that’s why I really liked doing it. I hated losing in anything that I was doing. And I was beating a lot of kids in Estonia at my age. So I, I really liked playing tennis for that main reason, I think.

Was there any player in particular who you tried to emulate when you were young?

I’ve never actually had a specific idol. I mean, I do remember watching tennis on TV, and I remember always either [Maria] Sharapova or [Victoria] Azarenka playing, but I never thought, “Oh, I wanna be like them,” or “I wanna be there.”

Anett Kontaveit.

 

Kontaveit during the WTA Tour Finals.

REUTERS/Henry Romero

I never thought until I was, I mean, maybe after playing juniors or something, I thought that maybe there’s a chance that I would get even to the top 100 in the women’s game. So I never thought that it was possible to get this high from a small country, and I didn’t know what it took. So I just sort of enjoyed playing, and that’s what I was doing, but it wasn’t like I knew that I was gonna be like a top player. I never had that.

When did you have that realization that you’d made it and that you actually are a top-tier player?

The work got more serious after juniors. It’s a tough transition between juniors and the women’s game. And I think I had to start working a lot harder than what I was used to, and I think that was a tough, tough change for me. That’s when I started realizing that it’s more serious. But it wasn’t a quick change from juniors straight to the top 100. It took quite a while, and it was a tough process.

How surreal is it for you to have reached this moment and play against stars like Sharapova and Azarenka, who you grew up watching?

When I started playing against them, that’s when it really felt weird. But now I feel like I’ve really earned my spot here and I belong here. It doesn’t feel like it’s something crazy anymore. It just sort of feels natural now. But definitely in the beginning, when I was playing my first matches, when I was a lot younger and I was playing against them, that was pretty surreal. You used to watch them on TV and then you’re playing against them, and it’s just strange.

Anett Kontaveit competes against Victoria Azarenka at Wimbledon in 2015.

 

Kontaveit competes against Victoria Azarenka at Wimbledon in 2015.

REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

How much has adding a new coach helped push your game to new heights?

He’s definitely helped. I think I was really ready to put my head down and work very hard. And when we started working together, I think it was a great moment for us to start, and the results followed very quickly. It’s been a great dynamic so far. I mean, with having good results and working on the right things, I think he’s definitely given me some new perspectives on the game and how I feel about my own game as well. He’s been a very good addition so far.

What’s your big goal for this next stage of your career?

It’s definitely changed from me being super happy with reaching a semifinal or final, to me thinking every time that I have a chance to win a tournament. I really want it. So it’s changed with the way I’m thinking of approaching tournaments. Of course, every time I go to a tournament, I wanna win it, but obviously no one wins a tournament every week. So I think my main goal is just to keep improving, and I think that’s the most important thing. The results will follow, if you set your mind to working hard.

So when you aren’t training and competing, how do you spend your time?

When I’m at home, I really enjoy doing pottery. I’ve done these vases at home and going to classes, which is really fun. And I have a lot of friends at home who I like to spend time with. I think I do all the normal stuff people do; go out to dinners, go to movies when I can, and just hang out with friends.

Anett Kontaveit at the French Open.

 

Kontaveit at the French Open.

Reuters / Benoit Tessier

I really enjoy my plants. I actually got really obsessed with growing plants when the pandemic first started and we were all stuck at home. I started, like, growing tomatoes and everything from seeds and just got really into that. But now that I’ve been more on the road again I haven’t been able to do that as much, but it was something I really started to like when I was at home a lot and now my apartment is just filled with plants.

It’s such a nice — I think plants really give your home this atmosphere and, like, this homey feeling. So I actually love, love having my little plants there everywhere.

I hear you like to cook, too.

I do like to cook. I used to make a lot. When I was living with my parents, I baked a lot of cakes and stuff. I haven’t done as much of that, because when you’re living by yourself, there’s no one else to eat it but you. So you just better not do it. I still cook occasionally, but I do enjoy it a lot. So I think my favorite thing to do is fish tacos, and I’ve been doing quite a lot recently. There’s other stuff that I’ve done, and it’s just a nice change.

Is your cooking influenced by Estonian cuisine at all?

Actually I think my cooking is more inspired from traveling to different places and experiencing different cultures. I try to find something that I enjoyed and just try to cook the things that I’ve tried in different places. In Estonia we don’t really have our own cuisines. We have some things, but it’s not big and our cuisines are influenced by other cuisines as well. The stuff that I like to cook is mainly just influenced by places I’ve been to or stuff that I’ve tried.

What has it been like traveling all over the world for tennis?

I think it’s definitely taught me a lot. It really widens your perspective; you see different people, different cultures, you experience all of that. And I think it just helps you understand. I like communicating and spending time with people, so I think it has helped me understand other people a little bit better and the different backgrounds and where they’re coming from.

Anett Kontaveit.

 

Kontaveit at the Australian Open.

REUTERS/Asanka Brendon Ratnayake

Do you have a favorite place you’ve visited?

I really like Melbourne. I really like London. I’m a city person, so I like big cities. I love Chicago actually. I went last year. Chicago was fantastic. But I think home is always the sweetest. Wherever you go, it can be fantastic and a really nice place. But when you come back home, it’s always really special.

With the ongoing war in Ukraine and Estonia’s proximity to Russia, has it been challenging to focus on your game when you’re away competing?

It has been difficult to see, and of course everybody at home is anxious. I think everyone in the world is anxious about it. And of course our country is so close to everything that’s happening. So it’s definitely a little nerve-wracking, but I’ve almost felt like sometimes being on court is one of the few things that really takes your mind away from all the terrible things that are happening there.

But sometimes these things do come with you on court. It’s tough to focus on what you have to do on court or just be in the moment and be there on the court and not think of anything else. Sometimes it’s just inevitable that you do think about other things or it does distract you from matches — whatever the issue is that you’re having or the problem that you have in your mind. Of course sometimes it does distract you from tournaments or the goal or whatever you’re trying to achieve.

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