“Old-timer” Anisimova wins girls’ title

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At 16, and with some main draw Grand Slam experience already under her belt, Amanda Anisimova was a grizzled veteran next to her opponent in the US Open junior girls’ singles final.

And she acted like it.

Anisimova defeated Cori (CoCo) Gauff 6-0, 6-2 in an hour and five minutes to win her 1st junior Grand Slam title.

“Since last time I played her, she’s gotten a lot stronger, and she hits the ball really big. She has a really big serve, so she’s pretty tough to play, and she’s just really fast and overall a great athlete. She’s tough to play,” Anisimova. “I think I have improved a lot. You know, I started playing smarter since last year. Just thinking about how to, like, push your opponent off the court and just play with your mind, and not your body.”

Gauff, who was in the tournament on a wild card, is … 13 years old.

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Gauff, just 13, reached the US Open junior girls’ final in just her fourth ITF-level junior event.

Her big “get” this week was a straight-sets win over Canadian-American Carson Branstine in the second round,

Branstine, 17, was the No. 5 seed.

Some of her Gauff’s opponents also upset seeded players. And Gauff maximized by beating them. But against Anisimova, who already is at a career-high No. 182 in the WTA Tour rankings and earned her way into the women’s singles qualifying on her own ranking, she was outclassed.

The match might have been quicker. But the final game lasted an eternity.

Anisimova needed 10 match points to close it out as Gauff hung tough all the way to the end.

“I thought she did well changing the direction of the ball and hitting winners. I was hitting hard, but she would hit it right back. Most of the time it was down the line, and she was hitting good shots on both sides of the court. Today I thought she played well,” said Gauff, who is in the eighth grade and lists Serena Williams as her idol.

Interested parties

Williams’ agent Jill Smoller and coach Patrick Mouratoglou were among those checking out the match. But Gauff said she has no plans to turn pro any time soon. She has trained at Mouratoglou’s academy.

Both players are based in Florida (Anisimova near Miami, and Gauff in Delray Beach). Anisimova’s mother left to evacuate her grandmother and relocate her to Charlotte, N.C. So it was a challenge for both to put the potential destruction wrought by Hurricane Irma out of their minds and just play tennis.

Anisimova’s junior adieu

This will be Anisimova’s last junior event, as she plays pro tournaments full time even though she will be limited in the number by the WTA’s age restrictions.

How quickly it all goes.

Anisimova was considered highly precocious when she reached the girls’ final at the French Open a year ago. She was a couple of months away from turning 15, and it was her first junior Grand Slam event.

She hadn’t come close to taking that next step in the ensuing major junior events, until finally coming through in New York.

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CoCo Gauff with her parents and the runner-up plate. Her grandmother also was on hand.

Gauff is a year and a half younger than Anisimova was then. And this was just her fourth ITF-level junior event – period. She made her debut at Roehampton on a wild card, then received another wild card into the Wimbledon junior qualifying.

“Every part of it. Every single part of it was so much fun, being on-site, being here, being – just being at the US Open in New York was the most fun. I enjoyed every single part being here,” she said.

Big-time American girls’ pipeline

All-American women’s semis? An All-American final? All-American junior girls’ final? The women are handling it.

“The success of our women and girls this year has been dramatic and comprehensive. It is a reflection of the fact that the pipeline is full, and it will have a huge, demonstrative and inspirational effect on all our players, male and female,” USTA Player Development GM Martin Blackman said.

American girls won three of the four junior girls’ titles at the Grand Slam tournaments this year. Whitney Osuigwe defeated another American, Claire Liu, to win the French Open juniors.

Liu turned around and won junior Wimbledon, where she defeated American Ann Li.

Li lost in the first round here. Liu didn’t play (she played the women’s qualifying). Osuigwe was the No. 1 seed; she lost in the second round to Anastasia Kharitonova of Russia.

USTA wild cards fall in first round

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ROLAND GARROS – As different as 15-year-old Amanda Anisimova and 25-year-old Tennys Sandgren are, as far apart as they are on their tennis journeys, they had much in common Sunday in Paris.

Both made their French Open debuts after earning the USTA’s reciprocal wild cards with their play on the Har-Tru during the spring season.

And both hit the wall about an hour and 15 minutes into their first-round matches.

It was an opportunity lost for Anisimova, who a year ago reached the French Open girls’ final in her first tournament at the junior Slam level.

On an extremely hot day, the teenager struggled with a few rookie nerves. But not many. If she suddenly realized she was in the big leagues, it didn’t show much.

Anisimova fought hard but ultimately went down 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 to 25-year-old Kurumi Nara of Japan.

Sandgren
A decade apart in age, Anisimova and Nara were dead even on the court in the first round of the French Open. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Tough ask for Sandgren

For Sandgren, the task was significantly tougher. 

The 25-year-old’s ranking of No. 113 was almost enough to get him into the French Open on his own merits. Opponent Mikhail Kukushkin wasn’t ranked that much higher – No. 85. But the gap was significant. The 29-year-old from Kazakhstan has been in the top 50. He is playing in his 10th French Open overall, and first appeared in the main draw back in 2011.

On any given day, Kukushkin can play lights-out tennis. 

Sandgren threw everything he had at him. He hit series of slices. He went for drop shots. Everything kept coming back. The American tried to crank a few forehands as hard as he could. They came back. After the first two sets, Sandgren looked as done in as if he’d played five hours. But he stayed competitive until the very end of a 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 defeat.

Here’s how it looked. Sandgren made his debut on a nice court – No. 17. But he was playing at the steamiest time on an unusually hot day in Paris. 

A winnable match, an impressive debut

Anisimova was facing an opponent who had no weapons to hurt her, but who wasn’t going to beat herself. That’s a cliché, but it’s also true.

Against a lot of juniors, Nara’s skill set would mean a fairly routine win. She would just keep bringing it back, and keeping it deep, until the inexperienced kid beat herself.

But Anisimova is precocious in the sense that she already seems instinctively to know how much to play. She doesn’t hit every ball as hard as she can. She has big targets when she’s on the run. And when she has an open court, the teenager rarely misses because she gives the ball no more than is required.

Even on the red clay, Anisimova had enough power to hit Nara off the court at times. 

Heat a major factor

But just like Sandgren, Anisimova hit a bit of a wall an hour and 15 minutes in. She played a little later in the afternoon, but it was just as hot. The teenager had break points to go up 5-3 in the second set, at which point she would have served for a straight-sets win.

She didn’t make it then. And when it went to a decider, the way she was looking, you had to think the third set was going to go quickly.

But the kid fights. She was down two breaks in the third set at 1-4. Suddenly, she erased both breaks to even it up at 4-4. As the match hit 2 1/2 hours, that comeback effort seemed to sap whatever energy she had left.

Here’s what it looked like.

The looks over at her parents were tough to watch, at times. On some of the changeovers her eyes were mere slits, and her face was awfully red. 

There were moments when she was grabbing her stomach and back. It’s possible that all the liquids Anisimova was trying to drink were causing a few cramps. But it’s clear that the 15-year-old, who has worked quite a bit the last few years with former Genie Bouchard coach Nick Saviano – has a lot of heart and a lot of game.

Despite her lack of experience, and her young age, there was never a moment when he looked out of place.

At 15, precocious talent

To compare her with Nara at that age is to see how far ahead of the curve Anisimova is.

At 15, Nara’s big moment came at the 2007 US Open juniors, when she and partner Misaki Doi upset the (then) powerhouse junior doubles team of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Ksenia Pervak. 

Here’s what they looked like after that win.

Sandgren
When Nara (right, with partner Misaki Doi) was 15, you could never imagine her going toe-to-toe in a Grand Slam with an opponent 10 years older. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

A year later, Nara was No. 5 in the world, and she wrapped up her junior career before she turned 17.

Anisimova a level above

But after nearly a decade on tour, with all that experience, the match really wasn’t in Nara’s hands. Anisimova could come on the court with her and be every bit as good. That’s promising for American tennis, to say the least.

Only at the end on Sunday were there a few tears. There was no junior behaviour. And when it was all over, she just walked up to the net, gave her opponent a nice handshake and a slight smile, and that was that.

In her press conference afterwards, there didn’t seem to be many who had watched much of the match. It was all pretty general and certainly didn’t reflect either her effort level or performance level in her French Open debut. 

Anisimova didn’t say too much.

“Yeah, it was really tough today. I wasn’t my best physically, but I tried fighting all the way. I’m just proud of how I competed out there. I was just like a little sick. And the heat was definitely a factor,” she said. “I think I was playing pretty aggressive in the first set. And then going on to 3-1 and started making more mistakes and getting a little bit out of focus. I think that was what let me down a little bit,” she said. 

Anisimova loses final, leads FO playoff race

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She was in good position, up a service break in the third set against the far more experienced Olga Govortsova. But in the end, teenager Amanda Anisimova dropped five straight games to lose 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 in the final of the $80,000 Indian Harbour Beach ITF event Sunday.

The 15-year-old began playing with her shoulder taped midway through the tournament. On Sunday, she was shaking out her arm repeatedly. Afterwards, according to the USTA livestream commentator, she shed some tears while comforted by her family in the stands.

Still, the effort will be rewarded. Anisimova’s WTA Tour ranking will take a big leap – from No. 479 to approximately No. 309. There isn’t a single player younger than her ahead of her in the rankings. She also takes a nice lead in the USTA’s French Open wild-card challenge after the first of four events.

On to Round 2 in Dothan

Anisimova won’t have more than a day or two to tend to that shoulder; the next stop, a $60,000 tournament in Dothan, Alabama, already is under way.

Two of the top three seeds in Dothan aren’t eligible for the wild card challenge, but their results could have a direct effect on who does win it. Taylor Townsend, who earned the wild card both last year and in 2014, will be ranked just high enough this time to squeeze into the main draw in Paris on her own merit. So will Madison Brengle, expected to be the top seed.

(Feature pic: USTA Livestream screenshot)

Just 15, Anisimova’s stock rising quickly

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Amanda Anisimova may not be “right this moment”.

But after reaching the final of the $80,000 ITF tournament in Indian Harbour Beach, Fla. Saturday, she’s “watch out world, I’m coming – quickly.”

Big and strong but still only 15 years old, the Florida resident (via New Jersey) was ranked No. 479 before the start of the tournament, with only four events factored into her rankings calculation.

Compare that to how the number of events the players ranked above her had to play to earn roughly the same number of points, and you see it’s already an impressive effort.
rankings

Will meet Govortsova in the final

After rolling over Victoria Duval 6-0, 6-2 in Saturday’s semifinal, the teenager is guaranteed to move just outside the top 300 in the rankings. If she can beat veteran Olga Govortsova of Belarus on Sunday, she would jump to around No. 265 in the WTA Tour rankings.

Anisimova is coached by both her father Konstantin and fellow Floridian Nick Saviano, who worked with Genie Bouchard for much of her career until last year. First brought to Saviano’s academy when she was 10, Saviano told Tennis.Life that as time has passed, he has worked with her more and more.

The team effort shows. Anisimova has improved by leaps and bounds since a year ago, when she was already good enough to reach the French Open junior girls’ final at age 14. She was competing in her first junior Grand Slam tournament.

Her footwork is better; her service motion is appreciably simplified and clearly has room to get even better. Her power is even more effortless. Best of all, she instinctively seems to have a grasp of when she has to improvise. On a clay court, that’s a big plus. It’s no surprise her junior record on true red clay is 45-5.

Basically out of it in the second set against Rebeka Masarova of Switzerland in that Roland Garros final, she kept fighting. She evened it up at 5-5 before Masarova, two years older and much more experienced, went on to take the title.

Still a good week for Duval

Duval, who trounced No. 1 seed and world No. 56 Genie Bouchard 6-0, 6-3 in the quarter-finals the previous day, had nothing to hurt her younger opponent; she didn’t even get on the scoreboard until she was already down 0-6, 0-3.

In her first tournament since last year’s Wimbledon, Duval made plenty of headway. In as a wild card with a WTA Tour ranking of No. 896, she’ll jump to just outside the top 500 with this week’s effort.

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The shoulder taping didn’t seem to hinder her at all in a quick win over Duval Saturday (USTA Pro Circuit livestream)

In that area of the rankings, everyone around Duval is scratching for a point here and there at the lowest ITF levels. Getting to the semi-finals of a $80,000 tournament allows her to leap over hundreds of competitors.

Anisimova had her shoulder taped for the match Saturday, a new addition since the beginning of the week. She and her opponent gave their opponents a walkover in the doubles semi-final.

Great start to the USTA French Open playoff

After Sunday, Anisimova will be leading the standings for the USTA’s French Open wild-card playoff. The free pass into the Paris main draw will be awarded to the American player with the two best results during a four-tournament period that began this week. (The men can also count ATP Tour main-draw results in their totals).

There wasn’t much else Duval could do but smile, when another winner from Anisimova whizzed by her Saturday. (USTA Pro Circuit livestream)

The women’s race moves to Dothan, Alabama next week. After that, it heads to Charlottesville, Va. and then Charleston, S.C.

Even if she doesn’t win the title on Sunday, the 70 ranking points Anisimova would earn for making the final may count, big-time. The finalists’ points at the $80,000 event are just 10 fewer than the 80 for winning any of the other three $60,000 tournaments.

Anisimova was admitted into both Dothan and Charlottesville tournaments on a junior-exempt status. She’s well out of the qualifying at the final event in Charleston. But there’s a lot of road between now, and then.

If she can put up another good result next week – even if she doesn’t win it – she not only would remain in contention for the wild card, she would have a shot at squeezing into the French Open qualifying on her own merit. The entry deadline for that is April 17.

That’s progress.