Anett Kontaveit won the VTB Kremlin Cup in Moscow in thrilling fashion Sunday, defeating Ekaterina Alexandrova (Russia) in three close sets, 4:6, 6:4, 7:5, coming back from the brink of defeat in set two and taking advantage of several key errors on her opponent's part, the last one of them decisive.
Kontaveit almost did not take part in the tournament at all, and was only able to do so after getting a wild-card draw from tournament organizers, she said in the post-match interview.
The win is Kontaveit's third tournament victory, and her fifth final, of the 2021 season, and along with her other recent successes has propelled the 25-year-old to a joint-career-high 14th place in the WTA rankings, up from 20th, to be announced Monday.
She has now won 10 indoor games in a row; her last WTA tournament victory coming indoors at Ostrava, the Czech Republic, at the end of last month, while she has won 21 of her 23 last competitive matches.
Kontaveit hired a new coach, former player Dmitry Tursunov, on a trial basis ahead of August's U.S. Open. Her post-match comments suggested the 38-year-old trainer, who previously coached former world number one Aryna Sabalenka, had passed the audition.
Kontaveit's route to the final had seen her triumph in two sets each time, including a 6:1, 6:1 domination of world number five Garbine Muguruza (Spain) in the quarter-finals. Sunday at the Luzhniki Palace of Sports, in front of a dispersed crowd, was to prove less of a formality, however.
In the opening set, Kontaveit, who Alexandrova chose to serve first after winning the toss, saved six break-points, losing only one in game five, while her opponent won 83 percent of her points from her service, and had a 77 percent first serve accuracy. Alexandrova took the set 6:4.
The start of set two and Alexandrova, ranked 37th in the world, seemed to have things almost in the bag as she raced to 4:0 up, before Kontaveit mounted the come-back which continued right through to the end of the match.
However, despite a niggling situation with her hip, Alexandrova managed to break Kontaveit's service at game nine, and suddenly the score-line was 5:4 in her favor, with it looking to go her way as she was serving next, only to have her service broken by the Estonian, who then went to take the second set 6:4.
In this lynchpin set, the same 5-4 score-line in Alexandrova's favor seemed to point to eventual victory, but again, Kontaveit broke, to make things 5:5.
While it looked like a tie-break situation was beckoning, Kontaveit comprehensively held her serve to make it 6:5, and, as so characteristic of the encounter, every gain Alexandrova made in points, Kontaveit had an answer for until it was deuce again.
Alexandra served up an advantage, only for Kontaveit to bring it back to deuce and then the Russian player to serve up a gut-wrenching double fault. All the Estonian needed to do was win the next point – which she duly did as Alexandandrova hit long on the forehand.
The entire encounter lasted two hours and 22 minutes, Kontaveit winning 114 points, Alexandrova 109.
Kontaveit much stronger than opponent on second serve
Both players served up five aces and committed six double faults, showing just how close it was. The second serve statistics showed what made the difference – Kontaveit was successful 51 percent of the time, Alexandrova 35 percent.
Giving her post-game official remarks in English, Kontaveit said that: "I'm still a little bit speechless. Congratulations to Ekaterina, you played such great tennis today and you've had a wonderful week so I'd like to congratulate you and your team for this great effort."
"I'm so glad that we're playing in front of people again; in these difficult times, I'm so grateful that we have a crowd here. Thankyou everybody who came to watch and support."
"I would like to thank my coach Dmitry, thankyou so much for coming here and helping me and being behind me and I hope we can work together for a long time."
Video highlights of the final are below.
Kontaveit is second only behind Asheigh Barty in terms of tournament wins this season, joint with Barbora Kreijcikova (Czech Republic) and is next in action in the WTA250 tournament in Romania in the new week.
She last ranked as high as 14th in the world in April 2019.
Editor: Andrew Whyte