Anett Kontaveit has played the last top-flight competitive singles game of her career, after going down 6:1, 6:2 to Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic at Wimbledon on Thursday.
Fans will be able to see her compete in SW19 in one more category, however, namely the mixed doubles, while the emotional response and well-wishes from her fellow WTA competitors speaks to the genuine popularity and esteem with which the 27-year-old Estonian was held throughout her career.
Born in Tallinn on Christmas Eve 1995 and initially coached by her mother, Ülle Milk, whom the latter recalls she first lost to when Anett was aged around 11, Kontaveit made her professional debut in 2010, inspired by the top-flight success of her compatriot, Kaia Kanepi.
In the following years, she won six high-level WTA tournaments, with 2021 being the most successful year.
At the end of that season, she became the first Estonian woman tennis player – indeed the first Estonian tennis player overall – to reach the prestigious year-end WTA tournament, held that year in Guadalajara, Mexico.
As a result of this form, just a year ago, Kontaveit ranked second in the world, while she was an important draw in the inaugural WTA250 tournament held in Tallinn in autumn 2022, where she reached the final.
However a persistent, underlying spinal issue cut short her 2023 season almost as it began, and it was later revealed that the back injury would remain with her for the rest of her pro career.
While it was thought at first that this could be managed via the right treatment and training, Kontaveit announced her imminent retirement last month, adding that Wimbledon would be her last competitive, top-flight tournament.
Kontaveit's grand slam career-best: Quarter finals in Australia
Her overall grand-slam record is round three for Wimbledon, round at the French and U.S. opens, and the quarter finals at the Australian Open, which she attained in 2020.
As for the current Wimbledon, which started Monday and has been dogged by the mandatory rain shower delays, Kontaveit saw off Lucrezia Stefanini (Italy) in straight sets on Wednesday – a game put back from Monday and itself held up by rain.
Bouzkova and Kontaveit had played only once before Thursday
While Bouzkova, 24, ranked 32nd in the world, played her round one encounter on Monday, defeating Swiss qualifier Simona Waltert, Kontaveit, now ranked 81st in the world, had not had as much rest in between rounds.
Bouzkova's form was not spectacular going into the encounter either – she had just won four competitive games on the trot and had not had a win in either of the first two grand slams of 2023, in Australia and France.
Wimbledon is, however, the grand slam where she so far has met with the most success, reaching the quarter finals last year.
Bouzkova had defeated Simona Waltert (Switzerland, WTA 115th), who had to qualify for the main Wimbledon draw, 6:1, 6:4 on Monday
Kontaveit and Bouzkova had only played each other once before, when the Estonian lost 6:3, 6:3 WTA tournament in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 2020.
In the opening set on Thursday, Bouzkova immediately broke the Estonian's serve, soon going 3-0 up in games.
While Kontaveit had three break points presented to her in game five, she was unable to convert them, with Bouzkova winning three consecutive games to take the set 6.3.
In the second set, while Kontaveit rescued a break point against her in the third game, the Czech player then won five games in a row, to take the set, again 6:3, and with it the match.
Bouzkova will next face Caroline Garcia (France).
Stats show Kontaveit served up one ace in the game and committed two double faults to Bouzkova's zero and two respectively, while the Estonian committed 36 unforced errors, more than double that of the Czech player.
Bouzkova also converted four out of eight break points presented to her, and rescued all three service break points she herself faced.
The entire encounter lasted around an hour.
Tributes roll in from fellow players
In the post-match interview, Kontaveit said she had had a hard time matching Bouzkova's pace of play and had committed plenty of unforced errors, not really finding her game until towards the end, when it was too late.
The injury issue and the fact she'd had two games in two days also took its toll, she said.
That this was her last ever grand slam and competitive appearance also made the press conference a tough one.
"I have many emotions; some sadness, and some joy," she said, having to fight back the tears.
Bouzkova herself had this to say about her most recent opponent: "Congratulations on your incredible career, Anett. You will be missed and we all wish to see you come back."
On the announcement of her retirement from top-flight tennis last month, Kontaveit said at the time that "This is an extremely emotional decision for me because I love tennis. I love the game, which has been the center of my life, my passion and my goal has been to achieve the best results. Every professional player knows how difficult it is to reach the top in tennis and even more difficult to stay there. To win any title, you have to work not only physically, but also mentally."
One of the first to congratulate the Estonian on her career was reigning number one and four-time grand slam winner Iga Swiatek of Poland, who tweeted "Congratulations on your career and thank you for every memory."
The pair played each other five times in total, with Kontaveit winning two of these encounters.
Kontaveit's former doubles partner and current world number 10, Darja Kasatkina, also lauded the Estonian, calling her one of her best friends on the circuit. "Finding out that she's retiring quite early considering her age, it was heartbreaking," Kasatkina commented on the WTA website. "But, I am sure that Anett will find happiness in life. She has so many interests. She is a very interesting person and she will definitely find her niche."
Another of Kontaveit's competitor-friends, Tunisian Ons Jabeur, last year's Wimbledon runner-up, also marked the occasion, tweeting "Anett my friend, your joy, your warmth and energy will be missed. Congratulations on an amazing career. Thank you for all the memories. Lots of love "
. Anett my friend, your joy, your warmth and energy will be missed. Congratulations on an amazing career ❤️ Thank you for all the memories ❤️ Lots of love pic.twitter.com/4JykShmCn3— Ons Jabeur (@Ons_Jabeur) July 6, 2023
From the archives, ETV's Pealtnägija also has this segment with Anett Kontaveit from almost exactly 10 years ago (link in Estonian).
Kontaveit took to the court one more time at Wimbledon, Friday evening, in the mixed doubles, where she partnered with Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland. The pair sadly went down 6:3, 6:4 to Yang Zhaoxuan (PRC) and Kevin Krawietz (Germany), meaning the last chapter of the Estonian's pro career is now written.
Anett, thank you for sharing the court with me today - it was a privilege.— Emil Ruusuvuori (@EmilRuusuvuori) July 7, 2023
You are and have been such a great role model for tennis, especially in Baltics and also in Nordics. Enjoy and all the best for the future pic.twitter.com/qOxhEvhjD7
Editor's Note: This piece was updated to include the results of Kontaveit's mixed doubles match played Friday evening at Wimbledon.
Editor: Andrew Whyte