Anett Kontaveit says that reaching her first Grand Slam quarter-final at Australian Open on Monday helps banish the heartbreak of pulling out of the US Open with an illness that torpedoed her 2019 season and required surgery.
The 24-year-old became the first Estonian woman to reach the last eight in Melbourne after battling past Polish teenager Iga Swiatek 6-7 (4/7), 7-5, 7-5 in 2hrs 42mins. The 28th seed faces a tough test next against fourth seed Simona Halep, one of the favourites for the title.
Kontaveit has had a turbulent few months, forced to pull out of her third-round clash with Belinda Bencic in New York after falling unwell with a viral illness. She later required surgery and did not play a match for the rest of last year.
“It was really hard, so tough to retire at a Grand Slam. It was a really tough couple of months after that,” she said, after holding off a late charge from the 18-year-old Swiatek.
“But I’m so happy I’m through that now. I started training in mid-November, and it’s been only uphill [getting better] from there,” Kontaveit added with a smile.
The Estonian’s return to full form and fitness was in evidence when she thrashed the Swiss sixth seed Bencic 6-0, 6-1 in the third round in Melbourne.
Her British coach Nigel Sears says her forced exit at the US Open checked some stunning momentum at Flushing Meadows, where she was the 21st seed.
“[She] got an internal infection that got out of control very quickly,” he said at the Australian Open.
“I suddenly had a phone call early in the morning that she was on her way to hospital, she ended up being hospitalised for a week in New York and then had surgery for a procedure to remove an abscess.
“She couldn’t do anything for three or four months, lost quite a lot of weight. It was hugely disappointing.”
Swiatek comeback falls short
All that was forgotten on Monday when Kontaveit recovered from a set down to unseeded Swiatek, holding off the teenager’s recovery from 5-1 down in the decider for a victory that she said left her shaking.
Poland’s Swiatek, the youngest player left in the draw after Coco Gauff’s exit, grabbed the first set on a tie-break. Swiatek, who shocked Croat 19th seed Donna Vekic in the third round, needed a medical timeout and heavy strapping to her left thigh before the start of the second set.
Neither player could consistently hold serve and they exchanged breaks throughout the second set, but the more experienced Kontaveit finally held in game 11 and broke once more to level the match.
Kontaveit motored into a 5-1 lead in the deciding set before Swiatek threatened a late comeback, winning four games in a row for 5-5 before the Estonian held serve and then broke for the match.
However, it now gets tougher for Kontaveit and two-time Grand Slam champion Halep will be the strong favourite in their last-eight encounter.
“She’s incredibly consistent,” said the Estonian. “She’s playing so well, moving so well, and I have definitely got to be consistent but try and play my game and be aggressive.”