There is a reason Aryna Sabalenka jumped from world No 78 at the beginning of 2017 to 11 by the end of it, and is touted as a future Grand Slam champion. The 5’11 player from Belarus is strong, powerful and has the artillery to blast past her opponents. But Sabalenka was reduced to a spectator on Friday, and became incidental to the most emphatic teen story of the Australian Open so far.
Amanda Anisimova, a young-and-upcoming player till last night, announced herself on the biggest stage with a stunning 6-3, 6-2 victory over the 11th seed in only 65 minutes. Early-round upsets are not particularly rare in the women’s field at Grand Slams but it was the way Anisimova went about her business that grabbed attention. She isn’t another fresh face with a forehand. Anisimova didn’t mow down Sabalenka with frantic winners; she executed every shot with power and precision. It was a measured and matured performance from the 17-year-old.
“This is an unreal feeling, I can’t believe that this is happening right now,” said the American, the youngest player left in the women’s draw. “I was just so excited. I was going to be playing on a big court. I was just trying to have fun out there, and I was really enjoying myself.
“It was probably one of the best matches of my life. I played really well today. She’s a really tough opponent, so I was just really preparing myself for a really tough match. I was putting it all out there. I was staying relaxed.”
By beating Sabalenka, Anisimova, at 17 years and five months, became the youngest player to make a fourth round of a major since Serena Williams in 1998. She is now also the youngest to reach the Australian Open fourth round since Jennifer Capriati in 1993 and the first player (male or female) born in the 2000s to make the round of 16 at a Grand Slam.
Even though Anisimova was a relative unknown coming into the Australian Open, she is no stranger to success on the tennis court.
Born to Russian parents, Olga and Konstantin Anisimov, in New Jersey, she took to the game when she was only two years old. Her parents had emigrated from Russia to give their kids a better life, and they later shifted base to Florida so she had access to better tennis academies. She was ranked as high as No 2 in juniors and won the US Open girls’ title in 2017.
A few months earlier, she had already made her Grand Slam debut, through a wildcard, at the French Open. She was then the youngest player to compete in the main draw since 2005. In 2016, Anisimova had been handed a wildcard into the US Open qualifying, at the age of 15. She defeated world no 124 Veronica Cepede in the first round but stumbled at the next stage. On her pro debut, at the ITF US$25,000 event in Curitiba, Brazil, she made it all the way to the finals.
She climbed through the WTA rankings quickly and ended 2018 at 87—the youngest player in the WTA top-100 in the year-end rankings. Anisimova’s first top-10 scalp came at the Indian Wells Masters tournament in 2018 where she defeated ninth seed Petra Kvitova 6-2, 6-4, snapping her 14-match winning streak in the process.
As it happens, Anisimova will have to get past Kvitova in the quarterfinal to keep her fairytale run going.
Five feet 11 inches tall, calm, her blond hair tied into a braided ponytail, and her Russian heritage has seen her being constantly likened to Maria Sharapova. The youngster has channeled that focus and controlled aggression, which had seen Sharapova win Wimbledon at 17 in 2004, during this Australian Open campaign.
“I have always looked up to her (Sharapova) and I was watching her when I was little. She’s a great person to look up to,” said Anisimova. “I always enjoyed watching her play and all of her interviews. She’s a great person off the court.”
She beat Romania’s Monica Niculescu 7-6, 6-4 in the first round then demolished the 24th seed, Lesia Tsurenko 6-0, 6-2 in the second. She was unstoppable against Sabalenka. Anisimova struck 21 winners, but more importantly she always seemed to have the right shot at the right time. In the second game of the second set, the American mishit one to go down 0-15, but served an ace on the very next point to make up ground. A defeated and dejected Sabalenka threw her arms up in the air.
Through the match, the Belarussian had only one break point opportunity, which she squandered away with a forehand error. Anisimova made only nine unforced errors in the match and won 40% of the receiving points.
Before coming to the Australian Open, the 17-year-old had not won a single Grand Slam match. Now she has won three in a row, without dropping a set.
“I want to win this tournament right now,” Anisimova declared on Friday.
Updated Date: Jan 18, 2019 21:12:07 IST