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Amazing Anett out-guts Sakkari to set up WTA Finals championship with Garbiñe in Guadalajara

Anett Kontaveit of Estonia celebrates her win against Maria Sakkari of Greece, during a tennis match of the singles semifinal of the AKRON WTA Finals tournament, in Guadalajara, Mexico, 16 November 2021. EPA-EFE/Francisco Guasco

By: Thomas Cluck

The thrills keep coming all night long in Mexico and the hottest woman on tour kept it up, delivering a gutsy, extraordinary performance on a night that demanded it in Guadalajara. 

Anett Kontaveit, the greatest tennis player and maybe athlete in Estonian history, made the biggest final of her still young career, edging out a heroic performance from another tennis trailblazer in her home country of Greece, Maria Sakkari, winning 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 to book a WTA Finals championship match with Spain’s Garbiñe Muguruza tomorrow evening.

Kontaveit, an 11th hour qualifier to the year-end championship for the first time and the eighth seed here, backed up her win of Group Teotihuacán with a dominant, near-flawless set of aggressive, first-strike tennis, pounding groundstrokes past an overmatched and fatigued Sakkari for the first 20 minutes or so of the match.

Coming back 24 hours after a herculean effort of over two hours and 45 minutes to get past the blasting power of top seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus yesterday and a tough group stage as well, Sakkari showcased her trademark grit and fight from her native Sparta, hanging in there and forcing a third and deciding set.

The fourth-seeded Sakkari got up an early break midway through the final set however with her back against the wall, the confidence of a woman who’s won 31 of her last 34 matches since August showed up as Kontaveit played two clutch games to get the break right back and go on a run, a run she wouldn’t relinquish and ride it to a memorable moment and the biggest win of her career so far.

No doubt some understandable fatigue from her exploits the night before played a role in the end for Sakkari today with Kontaveit having over a day’s more rest than her opponent heading into the last four but the pain of another semifinal loss, her seventh out of eight Final Four appearances in this 2021 season, will leave the Greek with a bitter taste about what could’ve been despite a brilliant campaign all around this year.

Greek tennis player Maria Sakkari (R), and Estonian Anett Kontaveit (L), greet each other during a tennis match of the singles semifinal of the AKRON WTA Finals tournament, in Guadalajara, Mexico, 16 November 2021. EPA-EFE/Francisco Guasco

The 2021 WTA season will end with the year-end showcase for the circuit of Kontaveit and Muguruza after the two-time Grand Slam champion dominated her countrywoman and compatriot Paula Badosa, who won Indian Wells last month and came out number one in Group Chichén-Itzá, in an overall solid showing 6-3, 6-3 to set up the second Kontaveit-Muguruza duel of the week.

In their affair in the round-robin stages on Sunday, it was Muguruza who played her best when she needed to with a win required of her to knock out the Czech Republic’s Karolina Pliskova, the three seed, with Kontaveit already the group champion and into the semis, taking advantage of an off day for her opponent to win 6-4, 6-4, a result that surely won’t mean as much with the massive implications of the Billie Jean King Trophy on the line on Wednesday.