PARIS — When 17-year-old Amanda Anisimova steps onto the court for her first-ever Grand Slam semifinal at the 2019 French Open on Friday, there will be no nerves, for one simple reason: She doesn’t do them.
“I’m not nervous at all,” the American told ESPN.com shortly after beating defending French Open champion Simona Halep 6-2, 6-4 to become the youngest player to reach the last four here since 17-year-old Nicole Vaidisova in 2006. “I’m just living life.”
Born in New Jersey, Anisimova moved to Miami when she was 3 years old. Her parents, who had moved from Russia to give Anisimova’s older sister, Maria, more tennis opportunities, encouraged her to play, and she hasn’t looked back.
Though she bears a striking resemblance to former Russian player Anna Kournikova, it was another Russian, Maria Sharapova, whom Anisimova looked up to as a child. Her game, however, is different from Sharapova’s, with her effortless power mixed with a clever use of angles and a steely nerve.
What Anisimova does have in common with Sharapova, whom she met for the first time last year, is that she is closing in on becoming a Grand Slam champion at age 17, just like Sharapova was at Wimbledon in 2004. When it was suggested that Anisimova could match Sharapova’s feat, a smile spread across her face.
“I don’t really think about the winning part, winning a Grand Slam, but that would be an amazing result,” she told ESPN.com. “That’s crazy that she did that, but I’m just trying to stay in the present.”
Though she won her first WTA title in April, in Bogota, she subsequently lost in qualifying in Madrid and in the second round in Rome, so her efforts in Paris have taken most people — if not Anisimova herself — by surprise.
“Back home in Miami, I was training really hard, and I was kind of expecting good results,” she said. “But then in the previous tournaments I played on clay, it wasn’t really great. I was losing in qualies. I wasn’t really changing anything in my practices, because I was just trying to trust that everything I was doing was going to pay off. I just had to keep doing it. I was [thinking], ‘These results are really odd, but I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing, because everything I’m doing, I feel like it’s going to work and it’s good.’ Honestly, I didn’t think I’d make it to the semifinals, but I knew at one point, something good has to happen.”
Anisimova’s rise to the top has been nothing short of meteoric. She reached the final of the junior event at Roland Garros three years ago and won the US Open junior title two years ago. In the Australian Open main draw in January, she burst into the public eye when she made the last 16. Anisimova will face Australia’s Ash Barty on Friday for a place in the French Open final, and if she wins, her ranking will climb from No. 51 to inside the top 20.
With 17-year-old Amanda Anisimova advancing to the French Open semifinals, here’s a look at some of the company she joins — and is looking to join — courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information:
* Anisimova is the youngest American woman to reach the semifinals at the French Open since 14-year-old Jennifer Capriati did it in 1990.
* Anisimova is the youngest American semifinalist at any major since 17-year-old Venus Williams at the 1997 US Open.
* Anisimova is bidding to become the youngest American woman to win a major title since 16-year-old Tracy Austin won the 1979 US Open.
* Anisimova is looking to become youngest woman to win a Grand Slam event since 17-year-old Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon in 2004.
“Anisimova is the one I think is the most impressive,” said Patrick Mouratoglou, Serena Williams’ coach. “She has such incredible timing. For the moment she reminds me a bit of [Lindsay] Davenport for that incredible timing, and every time she hits the ball, she hurts [her opponent]. I think she’s able to hit more angles than Davenport, but otherwise she’s always dangerous whenever she hits the ball. She can improve a lot in her movement, and I’m sure she will. She is working hard, she has good people around, so she’ll be very dangerous.”
“I don’t think it will sink in, at least not for today,” Anisimova told reporters after beating Halep. “I mean, it’s crazy. I really can’t believe the result today. And getting the opportunity to play against Simona, that’s amazing. But how it ended is even crazier to me.”
There is a confidence about Anisimova that comes with youth, but it never crosses into arrogance. She believes in herself and her ability. Against Halep, as in her previous matches, she showed maturity well beyond her years. When the Romanian hit back from 4-1 down in the second set to level it at 4-4, it seemed as if Anisimova might fade away. Instead, she simply stepped up and regained control. On big points, her nerve — and often her serve — seems unflappable.
“Actually I try not to go for it too much because in juniors, I would play without a brain. I’d go for stupid shots all the time,” she said. “My coaches would tell me, ‘No, you need to play a bit smarter.’ So I try to play a bit smarter, instead of just going for crazy shots. I guess I kind of found my balance between them.”
Anisimova and Barty have never played each other, and with both appearing in their first Grand Slam semifinal, logic would suggest that nerves will play a part. Not for Anisimova.
“It should be an interesting match,” she said. “I’m going to prepare for it and see how it goes. I’m excited.”