Kyrgios still on board for a run in mixed (photos)

MELBOURNE, Australia – Less than 24 hours after a tough scrap against Rafael Nadal eliminated him from the men’s singles in the fourth round, Nick Kyrgios was back.

He sort of winked when he said, “My focus shifts to mixed now,” during his post-match conference Monday night. But he was still keen.

“Yeah, I mean, I just want to go out there and have fun. I’m still in the tournament. I’m not going to take it for granted, another day at the Australian Open,” he said.

Kyrgios and mixed doubles partner Amanda Anisimova warmed up on the furthest court on the Rod Laver side of the complex, No. 15.

They drew a nice but very manageable crowd.

It was as low-key as the Aussie himself was as he went through the paces.

But he’s all in.

After Anisimova wrapped up and left the court, Kyrgios stayed behind to hit a few more serves and maybe loosen up the shoulder a bit.

Here’s what it looked like.

The scene offered up a few examples of how funny fans can be. 

You snooze, fellas, you lose

Two young guys on the opposite side of the court from Kyrgios’s chair (they were to the left of the two Kobe Bryant jerseys) were talking about how this was the moment of their lives, to be this close to Kyrgios.

And yet, they wouldn’t go around to the other side where Kyrgios was signing a lot of autographs and doing selfies (and it wasn’t as though the fans were three deep – not even close).

“Too many people,” they said.

They stayed put, because … maybe Kyrgios would sign as he was being hustled out on their side by the security people.

Which didn’t happen. Because most of the time life doesn’t just come to you on a platter; you have to go after it.

Meanwhile, one woman who was there with her grandson reached out as Kyrgios walked by, patted him on the shoulder and told him, “We LOVE you, Nick !!!!!”

“I appreciate that,” was the response from Kyrgios.

Grannies can get away with that sort of thing. 

Forward Granny: “I TOUCHED HIM!!!!!”

Your Tennis.Life correspondent’s question: “Was he sweaty?”

New coach for Anisimova: Carlos Rodriguez

The annual game of WTA musical chairs is going to be especially frantic this off-season, as so many players already have turfed their coaches – or are about to.

But American Amanda Anisimova has gotten out way ahead of the curve.

Tennis.Life has learned that the 18-year-old officially will begin working with legendary coach Carlos Rodriguez on Monday, as she takes on countrywoman Jennifer Brady in the first round of the China Open in Beijing.

Rodriguez, a Belgian originally from Argentina who is now 55, was the career-long coach of Justine Henin.

The official arrangement is a trial through the Australian Open in January. But unless they really don’t hit it off – they met for the first time the day before Anisimova’s first-round match in Beijing Monday – it is expected to be a long-term association.

They will spend three weeks together in China to finish off the season. The pre-season training block will take place in Florida.

Rodriguez a career-changer for Li Na

He was with Henin through her retirement and return to play. After that, he worked with Chinese Hall of Famer Li Na from 2012-2014.

With Li Na, he helped retool an established, mature game in the late stages of her career – one of the biggest challenges in the tennis for a coach. Li Na won her second major title at the 2014 Australian Open and reached her career-best ranking of No. 2.

The commitment to Li Na was a complicated affair. Rodriguez is a shareholder and the manager of a tennis facility called Potter’s Wheel International Tennis Center, founded in 2011 originally as a branch of Henin’s Belgian academy.

Rodriguez had worked with Henin since she was 14, through her retirement and return to the game. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Li Na agent Max Eisenbud of IMG managing to broker a deal with the academy back then to, in effect, loan Rodriguez out. But as Rodriguez said later, it got complicated.

When he announced his departure in July 2014, he told the Belgian press that as early as Miami in March Mrs. Ding Ding, the academy boss, “made it clear that she needed my presence. That without me at Potter’s Wheel, more and more players hesitated about coming.” Li Na retired two months later.

Rodriguez on loan to make a champion

Anisimova won her first career WTA Tour title in Bogotá, Colombia in April. (WTATV)

Many players have wanted Rodriguez to work with them in the interim. But Rodriguez has made it clear that he would not, could not go on the road.

It appears Eisenbud has been able to strike a similar deal with the academy’s owner again, this time with one of the most talented up-and-comers in women’s tennis.

Rodriguez is expected to work full-time with Anisimova and travel with her.

But this week, he will only have to drive about 20 miles from the academy to the Olympic Training Center, where the Beijing Open is taking place. Anisimova also is scheduled to play the Tianjin tournament next week.

And the two are getting a head start on the off-season – and Rodriguez can watch his new charge competing close up. That should help to develop a little chemistry before the hard work begins to prepare for the 2020 season.

Hantuchova offers rave review

Hantuchova offered nothing but raves when asked a few years ago about her experience with coach Carlos Rodriguez. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

After Li, Rodriguez worked with Daniela Hantuchova as the then 31-year-old Slovak was looking for a renaissance season after a difficult 2014.

Rodriguez was clear with her that as long as he was working in China, he wouldn’t go back on the road with a player. So Hantuchova took what she could get, which was for Rodriguez to help her prepare for 2015 during the off-season. The two even spent 10 days in Dubai.

Hantuchova had worked with some of the most well-known coaches in tennis. But she told Le Soir at the time that Rodriguez was leagues ahead.

“I’m not afraid to say that he’s the best coach in women’s tennis. And it’s not just a question of tennis, it’s also a life philosophy. Carlos has the gift, in a few words, to put everything in perspective,” she told Le Soir. “I sometimes feel like I’m rediscovering everything again at his side – even tennis. It’s a great source of inspiration for me and and a privilege to be able to work with him.

“His approach to tennis is unique. I know a lot of coaches with big egos who, for 20 years, have always done the same thing. Carlos constantly challenges himself. He’s exactly what I thought he was, and even more,” she added.   

Helping Peng get on track

Rodriguez did the same with former top-15 Chinese player Shuai Peng, who has been oft-injured during her career and also was hit with a three-month ban in 2018 after trying to pull off a doubles partner switch in fairly secret-agent fashion.

Van Uytvanck: “Stalked day and night” by Peng

During the suspension, Peng went to train with Rodriguez at his academy; by the time she returned in Nov. 2018, she was barely hanging in the top 300.

“He is like a grandmaster who is so wise and experienced to handle all situations in the game, even after I approached him for help, Peng told China Daily. “I was expecting a cold shoulder from him due to the ban and all the controversy, but he embraced me with open arms.”

Again, Rodriguez wasn’t able to travel with Peng. But the newspaper reported he had “designed a strict training and competition schedule for her.”

Ranked No. 80 when she began serving the suspension, Peng was down to No. 298 when she returned to action late in 2018, after the training camp with Rodriguez. Now 33, she is now right on the cusp of getting back into the top 100.

A game-changer for Anisimova

Konstantin Anisimov, father of Amanda Anisimova, found dead

The mission with Anisimova is a sea change from Rodriguez’s efforts with established veterans in his more recent work.

Anisimova, who turned 18 Aug. 31, is currently ranked No. 29 and was as high as No. 23 after Wimbledon. She reached the French Open semifinals earlier in the season.

She’s considered one of the major future stars on the WTA Tour and already has an all-court game that Rodriguez won’t even have to convince her to adopt, as he did with Li Na.

After dealing with back issues earlier in the summer, Anisimova was rocked by the sudden death of her father Konstantin, shortly before the US Open. She missed the final Grand Slam of the season, and returned to action last week in Wuhan.

She lost to Karolina Pliskova, after defeating Samantha Stosur in the first round.

Anisimova had been working with a Colombian coach named Jaime Cortés. She won her first career title back in April, in his native land, at the WTA Tour event in Bogotá.

Konstantin Anisimov, father of Amanda Anisimova, found dead

Tragedy has hit 17-year-old rising American star Amanda Anisimova and her family.

Tennis.Life has learned that Konstantin Anisimov, Anisimova’s father and longtime coach, was found dead Sunday.

There’s no confirmed information available yet as to what happened. Anisimov was not know to have been ill.

Apparently he was alone when he was found.

Anisimov was to celebrate his 53rd birthday two days later, on Aug. 20.

(Her agent, Max Eisenbud confirmed the news to ESPN’s Alyssa Roenigk late Tuesday, and IMG’s public-relations department also confirmed it to Tennis.Life).

He and wife Olga moved to the U.S. from Russia in 1998 with their older daughter Maria, also a tennis player but now in the financial industry in New York. The Anisimovs were divorced in recent years.

Amanda was born three years later and, with her father as coach, quickly rose up the ranks and was a semifinalist at the French Open earlier this year.

But along with her meteoric rise – and the takeover of her career by the mammoth agency IMG, Anisimov the coach (although not the father) had been sidelined to a certain extent.

Anisimova turns 18 on Aug. 31.

After the sudden death of her father, Anisimova will be pulling out of the US Open. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

We’re told Anisimova – understandably – is pulling out of the US Open, which begins in a week. She would have been the No. 24 seed, just two years after winning the junior event.

She had withdrawn from Toronto and Cincinnati with a back issue.

On Tuesday, the family released a short statement vie Anisimova’s reps.

“We are shocked and saddened by the sudden passing of our father. We appreciate the outpouring of love and support during this difficult time and ask that you respect our privacy.”

What an unspeakable tragedy for a young girl to have to deal with.

Sincere condolences to her as well as to the rest of her family.

WTA Rankings Report – April 15, 2019

The top players are still on a break from the WTA – many will play Fed Cup next weekend – until the Stuttgart Premier and Madrid Premier Mandatory events.

So it was one of those “gap” weeks that allowed lower-ranked players to take advantage and go for some smaller titles.

Mission accomplished, as two more winners extended the streak of first-time 2019 champions to 18.

Simona Halep, Angelique Kerber, Elina Svitolina, Sloane Stephens, Serena Williams, and Caroline Wozniacki are among the players ranked in the top 15 who have yet to win a title this season.

So that definitely helps the streak, as these six boast more than 150 career titles between them – nearly half of them from Williams alone.

As a result, though, there are only a couple of tiny changes in the top 50.


Amanda Anisimova (USA): No. 74 ———> No. 54 (The 17-year-old’s first career title leaves her just 50 ranking points out of the top 50, and at a career high – even though only Venus and Serena have fewer tournaments on their 52-week ranking).

Polona Hercog (SLO): No. 89 ———> No. 64 (The 28-year-old from Slovenia wins her third career title in Lugano – her first since back-to-back trophies in Bastad in 2011 and 2012).

Vitalia Diatchenko (RUS): No. 95 ———> No. 73 (Another 28-year-old makes a big jump, and is just two off her career-best ranking from Nov. 2014. Diatchenko didn’t drop a set in winning a $60,000 ITF in Istanbul. After losing in the first round of qualifying in Miami, the Russian has gone on a 15-match win streak (with the loss of only two sets) through a pair of $60Ks and a $25K in the U.K.).

Champion Polona Hercog and runner-up Iga Swiatek, just 17, shot up the rankings with their effort in chilly Lugano. (Screenshot: WTATV)

Veronika Kudermetova (RUS): No. 83———> No. 76 (The 21-year-old is at a career high both in singles, and in doubles at No. 42. She went from the final in Charleston with Anna-Lena Groenefeld all the way to Lugano, where she reached the final with Galina Voskoboeva. Before Charleston, her doubles ranking had been No. 98).

Kristyna Pliskova (CZE): No. 101 ———> No. 87 (The lefty twin gets back into the top 100 with her effort in Lugano).

Iga Swiatek (POL): No. 115 ———> No. 88 (The 17-year-old, who along with fellow 17-year-old Anisimova, makes a nice leap in the rankings, and also ensures herself direct entry into Roland Garros. A year ago, Swiatek was in the junior event, where she lost to Caty McNally in the singles semi-final. She teamed up with McNally to win the doubles).

Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS): No. 109 ———> No. 100 (The former French Open champion does what she needed to do to get into the main draw this year on her ranking, after a successful return to action in Lugano).

Astra Sharma (AUS): No. 138———> No. 102 (The 23-year-old Vanderbilt grad also will check in to Paris in the main draw, after going from the qualifying to the final in Bogotá. It will be only the second Grand Slam main draw of Sharma’s career, after she qualified in Melbourne in January).

Beatriz Haddad Maia (BRA): No. 165 ———> No. 124 (The 22-year-old makes a comforting leap in the rankings after a good effort in Bogotá).

Rebecca Marino (CAN): No. 204 ———> No. 184 (The Canadian’s Kashiwa final and Osaka quarterfinal both show up this week).

Maria Camila Osorio Serrano (COL): No. 438 ———> No. 333 (The 17-year-old’s outstanding performance before her home-country fans means a big leap in the rankings).


Kirsten Flipkens (BEL): No. 55 ———> No. 59

Kristina Mladenovic (FRA): No. 63 ———> No. 66

Vera Lapko (BLR): No. 65 ———> No. 70

Samantha Stosur (AUS): No. 73 ———> No. 77

Eugenie Bouchard (CAN): No. 77 ———> No. 81

Johanna Larsson (SWE): No. 87 ———> No. 95

Anna Karolina Schmiedlova (SVK): No. 66 ———> No. 105 (The Slovak, who was defending a title in Bogotá, tumbles down in the rankings. But she still should squeeze in at the French).

Caroline Dolehide (USA): No. 180 ———> No. 229

Francoise Abanda (USA): No. 232 ———> No. 244


This week’s events were the final ones that counted for direct entry into the French Open.

The deadline is Monday.

Sharma, obviously, got the job done just in time and will play her first Roland Garros. 

Swiatek also put herself straight in, while the returning Svetlana Kuznetsova did enough to not have to worry about being on the borderline, with 108 direct entries.

(The French is the only remaining Slam that maintains a reduced 96-player qualifying draw for the women. If it were 128 only the top 104 would get into the main draw, with 16 qualifiers instead of 12).

Lara Arruabarrena didn’t do enough in Bogotá, and thus dropped from No. 106 to No. 117. She will be out of luck. The Spaniard made the semifinals, which is a great result. But she was a finalist a year ago. 

Ekaterina Makarova hasn’t yet entered the French. But she has played just three singles matches this year, and none since Dubai. (She won the doubles in St. Petersburg and reached the final in Dubai). So you wouldn’t expect her to play. 

The Russian’s spot in the top 108 would balanced out by Shelby Rogers, who’s entered with a injury protected ranking of No. 81.

Another question mark is Camila Giorgi.


(Screenshots from WTAtv. For the complete WTA Tour rankings picture, click here).

Auger-Aliassime, Djere among Indian Wells WCs

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – The hard yards put in by 23-year-old Laslo Djere and 18-year-old Félix Auger-Aliassime down on the Brazilian red clay did not go unnoticed by the powers-that-be at the BNP Paribas Open.

Both received wild cards into the tournament’s main draw, which begins Wednesday.

For Auger-Aliassime, who was just outside the top 100 at the entry deadline for qualifying, it means he’ll have some wiggle room.

Eliminated Friday night in the quarterfinals by Djere, he’ll have at least four days to travel from Brazil, and quickly get acclimated to the dry air and the slow, gritty hard courts in the desert.

(Screenshot: TennisTV)

Bonus for Djere

For Djere, who had not even entered the qualifying and is still alive in San Paulo after winning the Rio 500 event last week over Auger-Aliassime in the final, it’s bonus time. 

Ranked No. 92 at the main-draw deadline, he’d still be about 10 spots out of making the main draw. without the wild card, the alternative would have been to just go back to Europe.

Both, by their current career-high rankings, would easily have made it in. No doubt that weighed in the balance.

Auger-Aliassime qualified for the BNP Paribas Open a year ago, and beat countryman Vasek Pospisil in the first round before losing to Milos Raonic. This year, he has a wild card straight into the main draw. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Opelka, Young and Donaldson are in

The other players on the men’s side who received wild cards include Reilly Opelka, Donald Young (currently ranked No. 214) and Jared Donaldson.

Donaldson is currently ranked No. 129. But he’s just returned from a six-month injury layoff. Opelka, whose ranking is at a career-high No. 58 after his first career title at the New York Open, would have made it in easily with that ranking. But he earned his way in with his efforts in the Oracle Challenger Series.

Young, who was a semifinalist at the Newport Beach Challenger during the second week of the Australian Open, also earned his wild card that way.


Anisimova, Vickery and Andreescu straight in

On the women’s side, six Americans received main-draw wild cards. 

Among them are 17-year-old Amanda Anisimova, who reached the fourth round at the Australian Open. But Anisimova hasn’t played much since then. Her only match was a retirement after seven games of the first set against Varvara Flink of Russia in the first round of Acapulco this week.

Sachia Vickery, Jennifer Brady (who is in the semis of the Oracle Challenger on site this week), Taylor Townsend and Madison Brengle are the other American recipients. 

Jennifer Brady is still alive in the Oracle Challenger. But now, she won’t have to play the qualies in the main event. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Jessica Pegula clinched one of the Oracle Series wild cards, and will make her second career appearance after qualifying all the way back in 2012, when she had just turned 18.

Another player who has had a great 2019 and whose current ranking would have allowed her to easily make the main draw is Canadian Bianca Andreescu.

The 18-year-old, currently ranked No. 71, is in the semifinals of the Acapulco WTA Tour event this week after being one of the last to make the main draw. She upset No. 4 seed Mihaela Buzarnescu and No. 7 seed Saisai Zheng and will face No. 5 seed Sofia Kenin Friday night. 

Andreescu won the Oracle Challenger in Newport Beach last month. But as she’s not an American, she’s not eligible for the wild-card challenge.

Another wild card will go to the second-place finisher in the Oracle Challenger Series, still up for grabs.

Qualifying wild cards

For the women: Francesca Di Lorenzo, Allie Kiick and Catherine McNally received passes into the qualifying. Also in is Ashley Kratzer, the winner of the pre-qualifying tournament.

As well, 16-year-old Zoe Kruger of South Africa, who trains at the IMG Academy and is coached by Thomas Hogstedt, received a qualifying wild card. Hogtstedt and Indian wells tournament director Tommy Haas are very close; Hogstedt used to coach him. It’s all in who you know, sometimes.

There is one more women’s qualifying wild card to be announced.

Young Caty McNally, seen here Thursday during a third-round loss to Viktorija Golubic at the Oracle Challenger, will play the Indian Wells qualies. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

For the men, Americans Christopher Eubanks, Marcos Giron, Mitchell Krueger and J.J. Wolf are into the qualifying. Evan Song, who won the pre-qualifying tournament, also receives a qualifying wild card.

Two match wins are needed to make the main draw.

The qualifying begins Monday, and the first-round main draw matches (the top 32 players have byes) begin Wednesday.


Foot fracture forces Anisimova out of Miami

MIAMI, Fla. – In her second career Miami Open, Florida teenager Amanda Anisimova was on a roll.

And then, she was out, forced to withdraw from a scheduled second-round match against No. 3 Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain with a foot injury.

After an impressive effort at the BNP Paribas Open, where she upset two seeds and reached the fourth round, the 16-year-old was up 3-0 in the third set over Qiang Wang of China in her first-round match.

And then, while merely taking a step to her right to field a let serve – not even running during a point – she went over on her right foot and hit the deck.

There were tears, as Anisimova appeared to grab her ankle.

To their credit, the staff and chair umpire acted swiftly to get a towel, an ice bag, an umbrella to shield her from the sun. The physio arrived quickly as well, even if the Grandstand court they were playing on is a fair distance from the rest of the match courts.

A win on adrenaline

After being taped, Anisimova carried on, although she stayed moving, and standing, on the next changeover.

She held her next service game quickly as Wang failed to even make her play, or move. And she won the match on pure adrenaline, before the damage truly kicked in.

Anisimova bypassed the chair on the next changeover, following the injury and medical timeout. She just kept moving, and Wang didn’t win another game. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Unfortunately for Anisimova, the verdict was a small fracture of a bone in the foot. 

Given her form and confidence (and her straight-set victories over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Petra Kvitova at Indian Wells), there’s no reason to think she wouldn’t have given the reigning Wimbledon champion a battle.

But for now, she is out.

“Old-timer” Anisimova wins girls’ title

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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.