Anett Kontaveit, the honorary Briton with a cut-glass accent, relishes Birmingham test against Johanna Konta

Simon Briggs
Kontaveit will take on British no1 Johanna Konta at the Nature Valley Classic in Birmingham - AFP

As befits the prime build-up tournament for Wimbledon, next week’s Nature Valley Classic in Birmingham will feature an eclectic cast playing under a variety of flags, from Japanese to Australian and Romanian.

And then there is world No. 20 Anett Kontaveit, who is Estonian, but can perhaps be adopted as an honorary Brit for the duration of this grass-court season. Not only is Kontaveit coached by Nigel Sears – Andy Murray’s father-in-law – but she has a cut-glass English accent, and guiltily admits that she is addicted to watching posh reality-TV fluff Made In Chelsea.

“I can’t help it,” laughed Kontaveit when we met in Madrid last month. “I am not trying to sound British. I just sort of adopt the accent. I think it started when I was playing Under-14 tournaments, and I got to know a group of British girls: Katy Dunne, Pippa Horn and Jess Ren.

“When I was 15 or 16 I visited Jess in London. It was so exciting. We did sightseeing stuff, like the Tower of London, and went shopping. I doubt that many people in London thought I was British, but maybe in America they do. I don’t speak anything else, only a tiny bit of Russian. Estonian is actually like a secret language, it’s in its own linguistic group with Finnish and Hungarian so it’s not much help when I travel.”

While in-form British players might be hard to identify right now – Johanna Konta and Dan Evans notwithstanding – our coaches seem increasingly in vogue. Apart from Kontaveit and Sears, Andrew Bettles is working with Ukraine’s world No. 7 Elina Svitolina – another honorary Brit who owns an apartment in Chelsea – while Liam Smith looks after Svitolina’s ex-boyfriend Gael Monfils.

Kontaveit is coached by Nigel Sears – Andy Murray’s father-in-law Credit: GETTY IMAGES

In Kontaveit’s case, she likes Tallinn too much to relocate. But she did enjoy the opportunity to practise on the All England Club’s green clay in late April, thanks to her coach’s eminent connections. Also on the court were British 16-year-old Emma Radacanu – who skipped the French Open’s junior event at the start of this month because she was doing her GCSEs – and Andy Murray himself.

“That one got a lot of attention!” said Kontaveit. “I think Emma posted the video initially and I shared it on Instagram. Andy was just there for a short time, he was building his fitness back up. But it was enjoyable to go to the All England Club with Nige [Sears]. We’ve been working together for about a year now, starting just after last year’s French Open, and he has helped me a lot, especially with my mentality.”

Kontaveit’s game has a timeless elegance that should suit the strawberries-and-cream vibe of Wimbledon. She is tall and stately, moves without apparent hurry, and uses a booming forehand to dominate all but the most potent opposition. “People always ask me what my favourite surface is, and I don’t know the answer!” she says. “It depends what I played well on last, but I won my first tournament last year on the grass, in Holland.

“Since I got to the semi-finals of Miami recently, more people have been recognising me. I always thought Estonians were quite shy and if they see you they wouldn’t say anything. But then I was tanking my car in Tallinn and this guy was like ‘Oh nice game.’ Just random people would say something to me which I was pretty surprised about. I haven’t decided yet if I like it or not!”

Immediately after that run in Miami at the end of March, Kontaveit climbed to No. 14 in the rankings – a new record for her country, just pipping the 15th place that Kaia Kanepi achieved in 2012. This was a point of huge pride for her mother Ulle, who had trained her as a child in the twin arts of tennis and Estonian folk dancing.

Kontaveit reached a career high of No. 14 in the rankings in March Credit: AP

“Mum coached me until I was 11,” said Anett. “I think she was No. 2 in Estonia when she was younger. But Estonia was part of the Soviet Union then so it was very difficult to travel, she had to stay inside the USSR. I don’t know how many top players got to go to the slams. My dad, he worked at the port of Tallinn for a long time and now he is working in a ship company.”

Eastern European tennis parents can be notorious control freaks. Tellingly, though, Sears feels he can speak his mind without checking with mum first. Perhaps this is why Kontaveit comes across as unaffected and lively: as close to a normal 23-year-old as you are likely to find on the tour, with a fixation for big-budget TV dramas such as Game of Thrones. “I thought the last season was okay,” she said. “Maybe a bit rushed but I still enjoyed it.”

Kontaveit’s life will change again if can make the transition from steady performer to serial title winner. She has already established her credentials; now she knows what she needs to do – “bring my A-game every week, and deal with tough situations better” – if she is to compete with the top women in this volatile era. And from there, perhaps, to win the award she most covets: Estonia’s equivalent of BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

“We’re a country of just 1.3m people so we don’t produce heaps of athletes,” Kontaveit said. “There’s Kaia, of course, and Jurgen Zopp [a 31-year-old whose ranking topped out at No. 71], so tennis is becoming more and more popular and they’re building indoor centres all over the place.

“Otherwise, there’s a teenage slopestyle skier [Kelly Sildaru, who won a gold medal at the Winter X Games when just 13], a javelin-thrower [Magnus Kirt, last year’s European Championships bronze-medallist] and a rally driver [Ott Tanak]. I haven’t yet been chosen for the ‘female athlete of the year’ award but I hope I’m getting closer.”

Could Wimbledon be the place where it all comes together? The year’s most prestigious tournament, staged in Kontaveit’s favourite destination – a deep run would tick all the boxes for our spiritual tennis cousin.