MELBOURNE, January 20, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
At the age of 17, Amanda Anisimova, made the last 16 of an adult major after winning her first three matches in the Australian Open. Not bad for a American-born teenager of Russian parents from Freehold, New Jersey, a city whose most famous native is none other than the legendary rock-and-roll musician Bruce Springsteen.
At 5-feet-11 (180 cm), Anisimova has been touted by many in the sport – and among the media covering the year’s first major in Melbourne – as the next big thing in American women’s tennis. She has the talent and the poise. Ranked 87th, she worked hard to reach the second week in just her third major.
“Everything (has changed), like my game and my mentality,” said Anisimova, who won the U.S. Open junior singles title in 2017.
After beating No. 11 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, 6-3, 6-2, on Friday, that followed quality wins over No. 88 Monica Niculescu of Romania and No. 24 seed Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine, Anisimova said of her good fortunes, “This is an unreal feeling, I can’t believe this is happening right now.”
Anisimova became the first women’s or men’s player born in the 21st century (since 2000) to reach a Grand Slam fourth round.
“I believe in myself so much more than I ever did in this tournament,” Anisimova said before facing No. 8 seed Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic on Sunday, who came in on an eight-match winning streak having won Sydney before arriving in Melbourne.
Unfortunately for Anisimova, she faced Kvitova on a day when the Czech played at her very best level – and lost. Kvitova gave a master class in the first match of the day on Rod Laver Arena that lasted all of 59 minutes, which she easily won 6-2, 6-1, to reach her first Australian Open quarterfinal since 2012.
“I played much better than last year for sure,” said the 28-year-old Kvitova, who lost to Anisimova, 6-2, 6-4, last year on a hard court at Indian Wells. “It’s always pressure out there when you’re the favorite of the match.
“I’m trying to continue my performance from Sydney. I’m really enjoying it.”
Kvitova, who drew from her experience, was in impressive form from the beginning. Her powerful first serve was a difference maker. The two-time Wimbledon champion won 83 percent (25 of 30) of her first-serve points, hit 18 winners, and broke Anisimova five times in 11 chances. Meanwhile, the American struggled with her first serve, placing just 53 percent in play, and double-faulted six times. She hit just eight winners, won a mere seven points on Kvitova’s serve, and garnered no break-point opportunities. Kvitova, who outpointed Anisimova 61-36, now is eight-for-eight in sets won during this Melbourne fortnight.
It prompted New York Times tennis columnist Christopher Clarey to tweet after the match: “Not enough first serves and not enough consistency from Anisimova but it might not have mattered against this Kvitova.”
With comfortable temperatures that reached 24º Celsius by mid afternoon and another large crowd gathered at Melbourne Park, the first match of the day on Rod Laver Arena held much promise, but it just never materialized. A confident Kvitova jumped out to an early 3-1 advantage, broke again in the seventh game for a 5-2 lead, and served out the 30-minute opening set. The second set didn’t get any better for Anisimova, who despite losing will move up to No. 61 in the rankings.
After the match, Anisimova tweeted: “I got a tennis lesson today, but at least it was from one of the best in the world.”
Darren Cahill, a television analyst for U.S.-based ESPN and former coach of World No. 1 Simona Halep, said of Anisimova: “I think she’s going to be Top 10 in the next couple of years. She had a very good tournament.”
Barty delights home crowd
Later, five-time Grand Slam champion and 2008 Australian Open winner Maria Sharapova was upset by No. 15 seed Ashleigh Barty, the lone remaining Australian in the women’s draw, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, in a nerve wracking and pressure-filled match that wasn’t decided until the third match point when Barty fired an ace – her tournament-leading 30th – up the “T” to close it out. Then, she raised her arms in celebration and soaked in the applause.
The two hour and 22 minute victory lifted Barty into a first major quarterfinal in just her second fourth-round appearance after reaching the Round of 16 at last year’s U.S. Open. She’s also the first Aussie woman to reach the Australian Open quarterfinals since Jelena Dolic in 2009.
Barty overcame 45 unforced errors by hitting 28 winners, including six service aces, and she converted four of 10 break point opportunities. The No. 30 seed Sharapova, who was 181-9 in majors when winning the first set, was undone by 51 unforced errors and 10 double faults. Barty outpointed Sharapova 97-80.
“It was a little close, wasn’t it?” quipped Barty during her post-match interview. “I gave myself opportunities and I took a deep breath, and trusted the work I put in with my team.
“(Maria’s) an absolute champion. She was never ever going to go away.”
Barty left the sport of tennis to play cricket a few years ago. But since coming back, she’s become the top women’s player in Australia. “Playing on this beautiful court, in front of a packed house, there’s nothing better.”
Next, Barty will face Kvitova in the quarterfinal round on Tuesday. In their head-to-head, Kvitova is 3-0.
“Will be a fun one,” said Kvitova. “I mean, Australians, of course, will be on her side. But that was the same in Sydney. So, I’m kind of used to it.”
Collins upsets Kerber
No. 35 Danielle Collins of the United States, unseeded but playing brilliantly, stunned No. 2 seed and three-time major champion Angelique Kerber of Germany, 6-0, 6-2, in only 55 minutes, to advance to her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the Australian Open.
Collins, a former two-time NCAA champion at the University of Virginia, had never won a Grand Slam main draw match in five previous main draw appearances before this year’s Australian Open. In beating Kerber, the 2016 Australian Open winner, Collins relied on a crafty drop shot that kept Kerber off balance on Margaret Court Arena. She hit 29 winners to just six for Kerber and the German committed 17 unforced errors. Collins outpointed Kerber 56-27.
“I might not have won a Grand Slam match before this, but I got to tell you, I think it’s going to keep happening,” said Collins, during an on-court interview after her remarkable win.
Next, the unseeded Collins will face World No. 44 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia, who battled past No. 5 seed Sloane Stephens of the United States, 6-7(3), 6-3, 6-3.
By the numbers
• At age 17, Amanda Anisimova of the United States was the youngest woman to: Reach the fourth round of a major since Tamira Paszek in the 2007 U.S Open. Also, she was the youngest American to reach the fourth round of a major since Serena Williams in the 1998 French Open; and the youngest American since Jennifer Capriati in 1993 to reach the fourth round at the Australian Open.
• Five American women reached the Round of 16 at this year’s Australian Open – most since 2003. They include: No. 5 seed Sloane Stephens (age 25), No. 16 Serena Williams (37), No. 17 Madison Keys (23), No. 35 Danielle Collins (25) and No. 87 Amanda Anisimova (17).
What they’re saying
• As they met at the net after Serena Williams beat Dayana Yastremska, 6-2, 6-1, on Saturday, the 23-time Grand Slam champion let her motherly instincts take over as she hugged and consoled the young Ukranian: “You’re so young, you’re amazing,” she said. “You did so well. You did amazing. Don’t cry. You did really well.” Williams has dropped a mere nine games through her first three matches, but next gets World No. 1 Simona Halep in Monday’s Round of 16.
• As Simona Halep looks ahead to facing Serena Williams, during her press conference Saturday after beating Venus Williams, she gave due props to Serena: “In this moment, I’m No. 1 in the world, so I will take that. But for sure, she’s the best player in the world because she won so many Grand Slams.”
• No. 11 seed Borna Coric of Croatia after his third-round win against Filip Krajinovic of Serbia: “It is never easy to have your friend on the other side of the net. I wish Filip all the best for the rest of the season.”
• No. 28 seed Lucas Pouille after surviving a fifth-set thriller over Australian wild card Alexei Popyrin: “I never played Davis Cup against Australia, but now I know how it feels.” After failing to make it past the first round in five previous Australian Open tries, Pouille has reached the Round of 16 for the first time.
• Catherine Whitaker, co-host of “The Tennis Podcast,” reporting on the mood within Stefanos Tsitsipas’ camp ahead of his Round of 16 Clash with No. 3 seed Roger Federer: “If it lives up to what they’re expecting, it’s going to be brilliant.”
What they’re writing
Simon Cambers, British tennis writer for The Guardian, on Japan’s Naomi Osaka: “In TV interviews or press conferences, where some players choose to hide behind cliches, talking about round by round or their next match, Osaka is honest and at times, laugh-out-loud funny.
“On Saturday, having come from a set and a break down in Melbourne to beat Hsieh Su-wei of Taiwan to reach the last 16, she was asked to explain why, when she had fallen down at one stage during the match, she answered the umpire’s inquiry as to whether she was OK, with a simple: ‘No.’
“‘That was just funny to me,’ she says. ‘He was like: Naomi, are you OK? I mean, I was, but I wanted to see his reaction if I said no.’”
What they’re tweeting
• Hannah Wilks (@newballsplease), Live Tennis.com writer, commenting on Karolina Pliskova’s third-round win over Camila Giorgi: “Pliskova chasing down drop shots like a nimble young aircraft carrier.”
• Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg), New York Times tennis correspodent: “Monday’s #AusOpen R16 blockbuster will be Serena Williams’ first match against a WTA #1 since 2013. (Can’t play the #1 when you are the #1.)”
• Abigail Johnson (@abigailtennis) British tennis journalist: “Alexei Popyrin has shown what he’s about in Melbourne, but Lucas Pouille survives for a much-needed win, 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-7 (10), 4-6, 6-3. Had two match points in the third set. Good finish under pressure. Faces Borna Coric in the fourth round. That’s a decent draw for both.”