Amanda Anisimova: ‘I Know My Game Is There’

Amanda Anisimova (photo: @IMGTennis/Twitter)

DUBAI/WASHINGTON, March 9, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Nineteen-year-old Amanda Anisimova made her much-awaited season debut Monday evening at the WTA 1000 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. Much-awaited because she hadn’t appeared in WTA tour-level match since Roland Garros last fall. Since then, she tested positive for COVID-19, which grounded her for the Australian Open and other Aussie Summer Series events. Last week, Anisimova pulled out of the Qatar Total Open after injuring her ankle in a freak accident.

So, it’s only perfectly normal that the New Jersey-born and Miami, Fla.-bred Anisimova broke out a big smile after hitting an aggressive forehand winner to secure her first victory of the year in her first WTA tour-level match. She looked toward her coach, Alex Kuznetsov, and her mother, Olga.

The World No. 32 Anisimova beat qualifier Ana Konjuh of Croatia, 6-2, 6-2, in 49 minutes. Her last win? Try last October at the French Open, where she was a semifinalist in 2019, in the second round against fellow American Bernarda Pera. With the same dominance that she beat Pera, 6-2, 6-0, she lost listlessly in the third round to World No 2 and top-seed Simona Halep, 6-0, 6-1. Her 2020 season abruptly ended after that defeat, with a 2020 win-loss record of 11-10 (6-6 after the resumption of the WTA tour in August).

Time sometimes has a way of heeling losses and Anisimova looked and seemed a different player on a hard court in Dubai than she did on Paris clay last October. She showed signs of regaining her depth, speed and power.

“Last year was pretty difficult for me on tour,” Anisimova told Tennis TourTalk during a brief one-to-one interview that took place about half an hour after she secured her Dubai victory. “I found a lot more motivation this year. I’ve been working really hard and training a lot. I’m really excited for this season. It hasn’t felt like such a big break. …

“A week ago, everyone was telling me that I wasn’t going to be able to play; it was disappointing. I was really hopeful I would be able to play in this tournament.”

Monday evening against Konjuh, Anisimova won 83 percent (25 of 30) of her first-serve points, saved three of three break points she faced and converted four of eight break-point opportunities.

Because of pandemic health and safety protocols, fans are not permitted to attend this year’s Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. So, perhaps, it was ideal that Anisimova’s first match was tucked away on Court 1, away from Centre Court in the main stadium, against an ideal, first-round opponent to build confidence against. On Tuesday, though, Anisimova will play No. 9 and World No. 16 Garbiñe Muguruza in the second round for the first time. “I feel good, I feel healthy. I’m look forward to my next match,” she said.

“Being out of my comfort zone, like, the past couple of months has really helped me mentally, just become stronger. It showed my focus was really there today. …

“I’m playing the main draw of a really big tournament; it’s a good situation for me.”

Regardless of how Anisimova fares against Muguruza or, if she prevails, during the rest of the week in Dubai, her game seems headed in the right direction. The spark is returning. Next, she’ll head home and prepare for the Miami Open later this month. Her attitude, she said, is to take it one tournament at a time.

“It gives me a lot of confidence because after the last couple of months, I haven’t had the ideal training or anything, Anisimova said. “It’s hard to get confidence anywhere, but I think I played really well. To know my game is there after everything, it feels really nice. I feel good about my second round [opponent]. Going into the next tournaments, I know my game is there.”

What they’re saying

Garbiñe Muguruza was asked by Tennis TourTalk during her virtual media session that followed her first-round win Monday evening in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships to explain how difficult it is to go from playing in a championship final in Doha one night and, then, two nights later start all over in Dubai.

“It’s a weird feeling,” Muguruza said with a hint of laughter as she began to speak. “I’ve played for many years this Middle East Swing and I’ve also played well other years. I’ve felt that rushing from one tournament to another – even if you well – you don’t have time to celebrate. Right? Even if you win Doha or make the final, you have to rush to Dubai and switch the brain, kind of. The conditions are so very different. Different balls, different surface – even different temperature as well. It’s a challenge and an opportunity that I enjoy taking.”

• When Petra Kvitova won the Qatar Total Open title Saturday evening in Doha, it marked her 28th career title that gave her sole position of 20th place on the WTA all-time career list. Only Serena Williams (5th place, 73), Venus Williams (11th place, 49) and Kim Clijsters (14th place, 41) among active players have won more titles than Kvitova. The WTA Insider asked Kvitova what it says about her:

“What it says about me? I do have the ups and downs. But on the other hand, probably I had more ups as well and more downs, but now I think that I’m more on the same level. I’m not losing in the first rounds, but I didn’t really win the title, like a big one, for a longer time.. It’s changing, of course.

“I always believe that one week it just comes and I’m going to have the title and I’m going to play great that week.

“But maybe, I’m not thinking that much about the tennis as well, like itself. After my comeback, I’m just looking a little bit differently at the things in the life and overall, to the tennis and everything. I’m just trying to look from the perspective of the life overall.”

• After Elise Mertens was eliminated in the fourth round of the Australian Open, she pulled out of the Adelaide International to rest an ailing right shoulder. Mertens told Tennis TourTalk in a one-to-one interview after her first-round win Monday evening at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships that she went home to Belgium for “about a week to be with my dogs and my turtles doing nothing” and to relax and recover before coming to Dubai for this week’s WTA 1000-series event. “I was lucky, but I’m happy I could travel and be healthy, again. …I’m happy to be back playing Dubai.”

Mertens is also happy to reunite with Aryna Sabalenka in the doubles draw this week at Dubai, where they are the No. 1-seeded team. After the pair won their first Australian Open doubles title and second Grand Slam crown together last month, Sabalenka announced she would cut back on her commitments in the Grand Slam doubles in order to focus time and energy on singles. When Tennis TourTalk asked Mertens about getting the band back together, so to speak, to compete in the year’s first WTA 1000 event, her mood brightened. She said, “I’m so happy to play with her.”

What they’re sharing on social media

On the occasion of International Women’s Day on Monday