ANISIMOVA GETS HER GUNS – Floridian Downs Defending Champ

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Photo: WTA

Bill Simons

Paris

With all due respect to the fabled Western hero Annie Oakley, allow us to say that once again today, Amanda Anisimova got her guns. Truth be told, she’s one hard-hitting, sharp-shooting tennis gunslinger. The kid’s got weapons. It’s said she has the best backhand in the game. Down-the-line or cross-court, it finds the lines – such a clutch weapon.

It used to be that tennis would marvel at one teen phenom after another: Chrissie, Capriati, Sabatini, Graf, Seles, Hingis, Venus, Serena, Sharapova. More recently, veterans have ruled the roost. Pro Lisa Raymond said, “The days of the prodigy are long gone. You’re not going to see a Hingis or a Capriati or a Seles winning majors at that age ever again.” Clearly kid champs had become an endangered species.

No more. Here, twenty-year-old Sonya Kenin took out Queen Serena. Now two teens – the delightful Czech, Marketa Vondrousova, and Anisimova – are the first two teens to make it to the French Open semis since Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters in 2001. At 17, Amanda is also the youngest American woman to make a Slam semi since Venus in ‘97.

Anisimova is a true phenom who already has wins over Petra Kvitova, Aryna Sabalenka and Petra Martic. At the Aussie Open she reached the fourth round, and she won her first tourney in Columbia. But a foot injury and WTA rules have limited her play. On her way to Paris, she lost in the qualies in Madrid and Rome. She was only ranked No. 51 coming into the French, but should be up to about No. 26 next week. After her mind-boggling 6-2, 6-4 dismantling of defending champ Simona Halep, a simple thought came to mind. The teen could go to the very top. Halep said she thought Amanda could win the title and be a great future champion: “She will be in the top soon…She sees the game, has good attitude.” Anisimova herself said her win today was “crazy.” One thing that’s not crazy is imagining that Amanda could someday be No. 1.

This American of Russian heritage, who was coached by her dad and Nick Saviano before Columbian Jamie Cortes took over, isn’t perfect. She was born in Freehold, New Jersey, home of the iconic Bruce Springsteen. But when asked about the rock icon she was at a loss: “Wait…Bruce who? Is he, like, old?” Now fans are wondering just who tennis’ new “Born in the USA” girl is. 

Anisimova, who stepped up today deep into the second set to mute Halep’s considerable counterattack, could reignite the long-ago tradition of young WTA conquerors. Today we there were whispers: “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

Amanda will face a mighty test in tomorrow’s semi, to be played early on Court Suzanne Lenglen. Her foe, Aussie Ash Barty, is crafty, experienced, and takes a certain David and Goliath pleasure in toppling Americans. In February, Barty all but single-handedly downed our Fed Cup team. She’s beaten Venus Williams and Coco Vandeweghe, and here, four of her five wins have been over Yankees. Ranked No. 8, she reached this year’s Australian Open quarters and is the first Aussie to make a major semi since Sam Stosur at the 2016 US Open.  

But Amanda has been in an ascendant zone. In Indian Wells, Melbourne and here in Paris, she has shown us that she relishes the big stage. She has a certain je ne sais quoi quality. With phenoms there’s always a certain blush of recognition, a “wow” factor. Ted Tinling said that Jennifer Capriati, with her power strokes, was a sure-fire champion – unless she got derailed by a boyfriend. Five years before Steffi Graf won a major, Billie Jean King noted: “You may not believe it, but there’s a scrawny little kid in West Germany who I think will be our next No. 1. Her name is Steffi Graf.” Sally Jenkins noted Monica Seles’ double-fisted magic and described her as “a spooky little kid who has the game of a rattle-snake.” Richard Williams proclaimed that Venus and Serena would revolutionize the game.

In Anisimova, we see a sublime backhand that’s a fearsome weapon, considerable variety, and a composure that probably should be illegal. A teen shouldn’t be so calm on a stage like this. But, except for a couple of fleeting moments of near panic, the Floridian, who hasn’t dropped a set here, has been one cool gunslinger. After all, more than ever, Anisimova has got her guns.

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