When the USTA announced the wild card recipients for the 2018 U.S. Open, the women’s list showed an intriguing mix, with strong, seasoned competitors and former Grand Slam champions Victoria Azarenka and Svetlana Kuznetsova as well a rising group of teenage Americans eager to break through on tour: Reigning U.S. Open girls’ champion Amanda Anisimova (16), 2017 Wimbledon girls’ champion Claire Liu (18), and USTA Girls' 18s National Champion Whitney Osuigwe (16).
The accolades are abundant among that group of youngsters, but only one can say she has defeated a two-time major champion in a WTA Tour-level match. Amanda Anisimova—who was born in Freehold, N.J., to Russian parents but moved to Miami when she was three years old—knocked out Petra Kvitova in straight sets at Indian Wells, snapping the Czech’s 14-match win streak. After earning the first top-10 win of her career, the 16-year-old became the youngest woman to reach the Round of 16 at the BNP Paribas Open since 2005. Anisimova fell to Karolina Pliskova in her next match, but then moved on to the Miami Open just a week later and won her opener there, beating Qiang Wang in three sets.
But just as quickly as she soared in the early spring, Anisimova’s progress came to an abrupt halt in Miami. After turning her ankle and falling in her match against Wang, Anisimova was forced to withdraw from her second-round match against Garbine Muguruza. The news on her injury was grim: a fracture of a bone in her foot.
She spent six weeks in a boot, including two weeks on crutches, and several weeks afterwards trying to re-learn movements, regain her fitness and rebuild her confidence on the court. With the guidance of her team, which includes her father and coach Konstantin Anisimova, her mother, Olga and coach Max Fomine, Anisimova decided to skip the French Open and Wimbledon, opting to take it slow and aim for a July return. As much as she is working on her physical shape, Anisimova is also focusing on sharpening her mental ability during matches.
“It takes a lot of mental preparation to play against these top, high-level players and I learned how much it takes at Indian Wells,” says Anisimova of her matches against Kvitova, Pliskova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in early March. “I work a lot of visualization. Last year I was pretty mentally weak if I can say so. I’m working on lasting the whole match, playing point by point and not worrying too much—just playing.”
After being sidelined for nearly four months, Anisimova returned to the WTA Tour in San Jose in late July, playing through qualifying and reaching the second round before losing to eventual champion Mihaela Buzarnescu. Her two-handed backhand is her most talked-about weapon, but USTA player development general manager Martin Blackman also credits her patience and long-term perspective on her career trajectory and goals. “[Anisimova] wants to become a Grand Slam champion but she is committed to the process,” he says. “She is going about things the right way.”
Now ranked No. 137 in her first season on the pro tour, Anisimova will make her first main-draw appearance in New York when she faces off against fellow American Taylor Townsend in the first round on Monday, but she has certainly proved her potential as a promising and up-and-coming American woman.
Says Anisimova: “Knowing that I can compete with these top players at the same level gave me a lot of confidence, but I still have a lot of work to do to get where I want to be.”