WASHINGTON, March 12, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
Sixteen-year-old American Amanda Anisimova had not won a tour-level match until she arrived at Indian Wells last week. Now, she’s on top of the tennis world. Given a wild card entry into the BNP Paribas Open, a WTA Premier event in the scenic California desert, Anisimova in just a few days has been nothing short of phenomenal – and she’s fearless, too. Whether she’s hitting ripping forehands or two-fisted backhands – both with equal determination and success – the 149th-ranked Anisimova has been impressive. She’s not dropped a set in winning her first three matches while tearing through the 96-player singles draw round by round.
In Sunday’s Stadium 1 opener, Anisimova defeated two-time Wimbledon champion and No. 9 seed Petra Kvitova, 6-2, 6-4, to advance to the fourth round. The loss ended Kvitova’s 14-match winning streak.
As Anisimova, the reigning U.S. Open junior champion, zeroed in on her latest victory – two days earlier, she advanced with an impressive win over No. 23 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova – it prompted Tennis Channel commentator Brett Haber to say, “She’s too young to be nervous.”
Indeed, playing composed and focused, Anisimova placed 63 percent of her first serves in play and won 70 percent (23 of 33) of her first-serve points while losing just 19 points on her serve against Kvitova. She broke her opponent five times, outpointed Kvitova 59-46, and won on her first match-point opportunity. She played smart and made good shot selections.
“I’m shaking right now. This is the biggest stage I’ve ever played on against the strongest person I’ve ever played in a tournament,” said Anisimova after beating Kvitova in just 69 minutes. “It’s just crazy.”
Just who is Anisimova? Well, she’s the daughter of Russian parents who moved to the United States. The 5-foot-11 Anisimova was born in 2001 in Freehold, New Jersey, before moving to Aventura, Florida, and learning to play tennis at the very young age of two. Last year, at age 15, she earned a wild card entry into the main draw of the French Open.
“This girl is going to be good. She has the look and poise – the attitude – to be a great player,” said Tennis Channel analyst and Hall of Famer Martina Navratilova, in describing Anisimova after beating Kvitova.
Looking back on her biggest win as a professional, in defeating Kvitova, Anisimova said: “She’s the best player I have ever played, and it was the biggest court I have ever played on. So it was definitely nerve-racking kind of, but I was enjoying it so much out there. And I was playing my best. It was a good day.”
Next, Anisimova will face her third straight seeded player – and second consecutive top 10 player – when she plays No. 5 seed Karolina Pliskova in the round of 16 on Tuesday.
• Front and center, Anisimova is part of a talented group of young American women who are starting to gain notice that also includes Caroline Dolehide and Danielle Collins. Each received a wild card entry into the Indian Wells main draw – and each has been impressive.
On Sunday, Dolehide was a tie-break away from a huge upset of World No. 1 and top seed Simona Halep, before the Romanian overcame danger and came back to win 1-6, 7-6 (3), 6-2. The powerful, 19-year-old Dolehide, ranked 165th, showed much versatility in her game – and it added up to impressive wins over Shelby Rogers and No. 30 seed Dominika Cibulkova. Whether hitting huge, right-handed ground strokes or one-handed slice backhands, there’s much to like about Dolehide’s attacking game. Meanwhile, the 117th-ranked Collins, 24, a two-time NCAA singles champion, upset No. 15 seed Madison Keys, 6-3, 7-6 (1), and looked impressive. Plus, there’s 100th-ranked qualifier Sachia Vickery, 22, who scored an upset of World No. 3 Garbiñe Muguruza in the second round before losing to 44th-ranked Naomi Osaka in the third round on Sunday night.
News and notes:
• On Sunday afternoon, No. 10 seed Novak Djokovic lost to New York-born Japanese qualifier Taro Daniel in just his second tournament of the season and first match since undergoing elbow surgery last month. The 109th-ranked Daniel beat Djokovic, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-1. After starting well, the former World No. 1 and five-time Indian Wells champion committed 58 unforced errors and struggled to find any sense of rhythm and timing during his two hour and 30 minute match on Stadium 1 court.
“Obviously having only played a couple of matches in nine months, you’re still, in a way, battling inside of your mind whether you’re fit or not,” said Djokovic following his loss while answering questions from the media. His match against the 25-year-old Daniel was his first since losing in the fourth round at the Australian Open. Some observed he might be battling the flu.
“For me, it felt like the first match I ever played on the tour. Very weird. I mean, I just completely lost rhythm, everything. Just struggled also a little bit with the health the last couple of weeks,” said Djokovic.
“The Djokovic I know is like the Djokovic I have seen on TV, and he never misses a ball,” said Daniel after winning his second match in the main draw, which followed two qualifying draw wins. “He puts the ball wherever he wants. Today, obviously he was missing a lot of balls, but, I mean, even then you still have to beat him.”
On Sunday night, fresh off his win over Australian wild card Alex de Minaur, Juan Martin del Potro chimed in on Djokovic. He commented, “It’s not easy to deal with this kind of frustration after injuries. … You come here and you lose in the first round. It’s not easy. But he’s strong enough to deal with that, and I love him and I want to see him in the top positions very soon.”
• Serena Williams will face a very familiar opponent – her older sister Venus – as she continues her comeback. On Saturday, both Serena and Venus Williams advanced with straight-set, second-round victories. Come Monday night in front of a sellout crowd, the Williams sisters will finally play each other at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden 17 years after the semifinal that never happened, which led to a very long and bitter boycott by both players.
Serena was set to meet Venus in a 2001 semifinal match, but Venus withdrew just minutes before the start of the match, citing tendinitis in her right knee. It sparked a lot of protest and controversy throughout the tennis world, and some conspiracy theorists went so far as to suggest that a family arrangement made by the players’ father and coach, Richard Williams, decided who would win their matches.
As New York Times tennis columnist Christopher Clarey wrote over the weekend, “But when Richard Williams and Venus Williams arrived at the stadium two days later to watch Serena Williams play the 2001 final against Kim Clijsters, they were met with a chorus of boos from the crowd of nearly 16,000 as the father and his daughter walked down the stairs to their court side seats.”
After Serena beat Clijsters, she and Venus vowed not to return to the tournament – and for many years they didn’t. Finally, Serena returned in 2015 and Venus ended her boycott the following year.
“I literally didn’t even think about it,” said Serena Williams on Saturday following her win over Kiki Bertens. “That’s, you know, totally gone out of my mind. First of all, 17 years ago seems like forever ago. Yikes.”
Because Serena is unseeded, following her year-long absence from the WTA Tour while taking maternity leave, she will face eighth-seeded Venus in only the third round, which is their earliest meeting in a tour-level event since they faced each other for the first time in the second round of the 1998 Australian Open, won by Venus 7-6 (4), 6-1. The last time the Williams sisters faced each other – in their 28th meeting – Serena beat Venus to win the 2017 Australian Open title.
“I think it’s a huge difference to play her in the semifinals or even the quarterfinals or a final as opposed to a third round,” said Serena Williams, 36, in describing her 29th career matchup against her 37-year-old sister. “We can always stay in a tournament longer if the both of us are in the tournament. And having to play each other in the third round, one of us is going to be gone. So it’s definitely a lot easier to play later on.”
About the author
Michael Dickens is a Washington, D.C.-area freelance journalist who writes and blogs about tennis.