World No. 6 Annette 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 talks to Insider about her meteoric rise and her passions off the court.
  • She also discussed the unique challenge of playing around the world as a warrior 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 the WTA singles rankings, thanks to the incredible form, a new coach, and a series of victories that brought her to the championship match last year’s WTA Finals.

Kontaveit talks 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 as she waged war in Ukraine, not far from her homeland.

This interview has been slightly edited for length and clarity.

Anett Kontaveit at 2022 St.  Petersburg Ladies' Trophy.

Kontaveit at 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 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 just sitting around and doing nothing. So I wanted to participate in whatever was happening.

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

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

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

Anett Kontaveit.

The WTA Tour Finals during the Kontaveit.

REUTERS / Henry Romero

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

When did you have that realization?

The work got more serious after juniors. It’s a tough transition between juniors and the women’s game. And I think I had a hard time getting used to it, and I think it was a tough, tough change for me. That’s when I started realizing that it’s more serious. But it was a quick change from juniors straight to the top 100. It took a while, and it was a tough process.

Sharapova and Azarenka, who watched you grow up?

When I started playing against them, that’s when it really felt weird. But now I feel like I’ve really got my spot here and I belong here. It’s not as crazy as it sounds. It just sort of feels natural now. But surely 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 2015.

Kontaveit competes against Victoria Azarenka at Wimbledon 2015.

REUTERS / Stefan Wermuth

How much has 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, having good results and working on the right things, I think I have some new perspectives on the game and how I feel about my own game. He’s been a very good addition so far.

What’s your next goal for this big stage?

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

So when are you training and competing, how do you spend your time?

When I’m 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 spend time like I do. I think I do all the normal stuff people do; Go out to dinners, go to the movies when I can, and just hang out with friends.

The French Open at Anett Kontaveit.

The French Open at Kontaveit.

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 have been able to do so much, but it is something that I have just started, I have a lot of home 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, have my little plants everywhere.

I hear you like to cook, too.

I 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 much of that, because when you’re living by yourself, there’s no one else to eat it but you. So you just don’t do it better. I still cook occasionally, but I do enjoy it a lot. So my favorite thing to do is fish tacos, and I’ve been doing quite a bit lately. 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 by traveling to different places and experiencing different cultures. I tried and found something that I enjoyed and just tried to cook things in different places. In Estonia we don’t really have our own cuisines. We have some things, but it’s not as big and our cuisines are influenced by other cuisines as well. The stuff that I cooked for is mainly influenced by places I’ve been to or stuff I’ve tried.

What’s it like traveling all over the world for tennis?

I think it’s a must. It really widens your perspective; You see different people, different cultures, all of you experience. And I think it just helps. I like communicating and spending time with people, so I think it has helped me understand a little bit better and different backgrounds and where they are 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. Last year I went. 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 Russia and Estonia’s Proximity to Russia in the ongoing war?

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. So it’s a little nerve-wracking, but I’ve almost felt like the court is on the verge of getting out of your mind.

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

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