Led by Kaia Kanepi and Anett Kontaveit, Estonia is living the tennis dream despite its small population

Kaia Kanepi at the 2021 Australian Open
Kaia Kanepi at the 2021 Australian Open

Estonia, with a population of just 1.3 million, is not one of the countries that usually finds a mention in the tennis discourse. The Baltic nation has never had a Grand Slam champion, nor does it have the bench strength to match powerhouses like the US or Czech Republic.

In fact, countries like Spain, Italy, Russia and Czech Republic have more players in the top 10 of the world rankings - men's and women's combined - than Estonia does in the top 100.

And yet, Estonian tennis fans have had plenty to celebrate over the course of the last fortnight. Two of the country's biggest tennis icons, Kaia Kanepi and Anett Kontaveit - both representing completely different eras of tennis - have delivered several big wins at the start of the season Down Under. And their success has not gone unnoticed.

Anett Kontaveit, the first top 10 tennis player from Estonia

Anett Kontaveit opened the season with a semifinal run at the Sydney Classic, where she lost in a three-set marathon to Barbora Krejcikova.

Kontaveit's run at the Australian Open was cut short by a spirited Clara Tauson in the second round. But the 25-year-old proved, over the course of her breakthrough 2021 season, that she has the weapons to override a slow start.

t AnetKontaveit at the J&T Banka Ostrava Open 2021
t AnetKontaveit at the J&T Banka Ostrava Open 2021

Kontaveit ended last year with a flourish, taking home four trophies in her last eight tournaments. She also reached the summit clash of the season-ending WTA Finals in Guadalajara.

What made Kontaveit's titanic effort even more impressive was the added pressure of her needing to win all those matches to secure the berth at the WTA Finals. She obviously did that, achieving another first for Estonian tennis in the process.

Kontaveit's season-ending ranking of No. 7 - a career high - also marked the first time that a player from her country was ranked inside the top 10. No wonder then that home fans have started following the rising star around the globe, donning Estonian flag-themed jerseys bearing her initials.

Before there was Anett Kontaveit, there was Kaia Kanepi

Estonian fans have made their presence felt on the show courts at Melbourne Park this week too. Only this time, their jerseys have been bearing a different name.

The fans, outnumbered as they have been at times, have ensured their presence courtside to will Kaia Kanepi - the 36-year-old former Estonian No. 1 - on.

Estonian fans donning K-A-I-A jerseys at the 2022 Australian Open.
Estonian fans donning K-A-I-A jerseys at the 2022 Australian Open.

Known for her power-packed game and big-stage exploits, Kanepi has completed the set of Grand Slam quarterfinals by staging yet another surprise run in Melbourne. The Estonian's ground game fired on all cylinders as she thrilled the crowds with upset wins over the likes of Angelique Kerber and Aryna Sabalenka.

Following her win over Sabalenka, Kanepi said she was pleasantly surprised by the result, given that her belief in completing the quarterfinal set had all but faded.

The soft-spoken Estonian, who was born in the small seaside town of Hapsalu that has a population of just around 9,300 people, continues to break new ground for herself and her country on the world stage.

Kanepi very nearly joined the likes of Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Kim Clijsters and Simona Halep in scoring a 10th win over a top 10 opponent at Slams. Her three-set loss to Swiatek might have ended her run, but she had plenty to take away from her time Down Under.

Kaia Kanepi at the 2022 Australian Open.
Kaia Kanepi at the 2022 Australian Open.

After the match, the 36-year-old talked about going back to racing trucks on frozen lakes, an off-court hobby that keeps her - and several other Estonians - busy during the country's harsh winter.

For now, Kanepi has managed to do the hard work in lifting her world ranking just enough to ensure direct entry into the upcoming Grand Slams. That must only mean more travel for the Estonian tennis fans.

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