MELBOURNE — It was only 16 months ago that Amanda Anisimova won the 2017 U.S. Open junior girls’ title after her mother had to leave New York to help evacuate her grandmother from the path of Hurricane Irma in South Florida.
Now, less than two years later, the 17-year-old Anisimova, the youngest woman remaining in the Australian Open draw, grabbed a huge upset to reach the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the first time in her career.
“I feel like a lot of things have changed since then,” said Anisimova, of capturing a junior Grand Slam title. “I have changed as a person and as a player.
“So, yeah, it feels like quite a while ago. Just everything (has changed), like my game and my mentality. I believe in myself so much more than I ever did in this tournament. It’s just trusting myself. That’s why I have been also playing really well, so that’s definitely changed a lot.”
Anisimova, who hadn’t won a main draw Grand Slam match in her two previous outings at the majors, played quality tennis to upend 11th seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus 6-3, 6-2 in 65 minutes on Friday.
“This is an amazing feeling,” said the American teen to a cheering crowd on Margaret Court Arena. “I can’t believe this is happening right now.”
The 87th-ranked Anisimova has posted consecutive upsets now for the two biggest wins of her career. In the second round, she allowed 24th-seeded Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine only two games in a 6-0, 6-2 win.
She’s also taken down then-ninth-ranked Petra Kvitova and then-23rd-ranked Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia at Indian Wells last year. Nevertheless, at the next tournament in Miami last March, Anisimova injured her foot and was out of action for months.
“(This was) probably one of the best matches of my life, yeah,” said Anisimova, of beating Sabalenka. “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 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.”
Despite the foot injury, Anisimova made great progress last year from ending the 2017 season ranked No. 192 to cracking the top 100 at No. 95 to end 2018. She is the youngest player ranked in the top 100.
While Anisimova’s background is Russian with her father, Konstantin, who is her coach, and mother, Olga, having been born and raised in Moscow, she’s a born-and-bred American. Anisimova was born in New Jersey, but moved to Miami at 3.
Anisimova is a powerful player who had little trouble stepping up to be more aggressive than Sabalenka, who is known for being the initiator on the court. Another strong attribute is her ability to keep a poker face during a match, meaning opponents will likely never get a good read on whether Anisimova is ever feeling vulnerable during a match.
As for her future goals, Anisimova didn’t want to look beyond the week ahead.
“I want to win this tournament right now, she said, smiling. “Honestly, I loved playing out there today. I think I have never had that much fun in a match before, and the crowd was just amazing, supporting me all the time.”