AO 2022: Anisimova ready for Osaka

American youngster rediscovers her form in Melbourne to set up a blockbuster third round against the defending champ.

Amanda Anisimova / Open d'Australie 2022©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Reem Abulleil

It’s no secret that in tennis, mindset is everything, and Amanda Anisimova would be the first to tell you that being in a positive headspace has been the key to her impressive start to her season so far.

The former Roland-Garros semi-finalist is undefeated in all seven matches she has contested in 2022 – a stretch that included a title run at the Melbourne Summer Set 250 event earlier this month, as well as a pair of victories that have earned her a highly-anticipated first-time showdown with Naomi Osaka in the Australian Open third round on Friday.

During her march to the trophy in Melbourne two weeks ago, Anisimova took out some tough opposition like Daria Kasatkina and Aliaksandra Sasnovich.

Relishing the tough battles

The 20-year-old American was down 0-3 in the deciding set against Sasnovich before she turned things around to clinch the second WTA title of her career.

“This week I’ve been enjoying those moments where it’s very close and trying to figure out what to do and how to win,” Anisimova said after the win. “I think that’s what helped me this week because every single match was pretty tough and just not trying to get too ahead of myself and just enjoying every single moment that I get to play.”

This time last year, Anisimova was quarantining in Abu Dhabi after testing positive for Covid-19 and was unable to catch the charter flight that was arranged by Tennis Australia to fly the players to Melbourne. It meant the hard-hitting American had to miss the Australian Open.

An exciting new partnership

After peaking at 21 in the world in October 2019, Anisimova’s ranking plummeted to outside the top-80 last season. A solid preseason training block, a new coaching partnership (on a trial basis) with Simona Halep’s former mentor Darren Cahill, and a confident outlook have helped Anisimova get back on track and she has already moved up to No.60 in the charts just a couple of weeks into this new campaign.

Cahill parted ways with Halep end of last season and Anisimova is “grateful” a coach of his calibre, who was undoubtedly fielding offers left and right the second he became available, was willing to join her camp.

It’s unclear how long this partnership will last, but Anisimova seems adamant on finding a way that would work for both of them to keep this going.

“It's kind of just putting me in a good place in the start, just helping me stay relaxed and calm,” she said of what Cahill has brought to the table so far.

“I think he does a really good job of that because he's a really great person. So when I'm in that environment, I think that's when I play my best tennis and that helps a lot.

“And then yeah, he sees my game really well and he sees what I should be working on and things that I don't do so well. And I think his main focus is trying to improve my strengths and just trying to sharpen them up and just trust in them more because I think that on my serve and my backhand, I can do a little bit of a better job in tight moments.”

It also doesn’t hurt that Cahill is Australian and has been able to make reservations at popular spot Chin Chin for Anisimova and the team during their time Down Under.

“He definitely has some connections in Australia, that’s a bonus,” said Anisimova with a smile. “And I always have the request to eat downstairs. So that's been going well.”

A showcase of power

The upcoming clash with Osaka will be a showcase for power-hitting baseline tennis from both sides of the net. Anisimova has never faced the four-time Grand Slam champion before but is thrilled to get the opportunity to try and stop the former world No.1’s title defence at Melbourne Park.

“I think it would be very exciting to play Naomi. I've been wanting to play her for a while. It would be fun to match up with her in the third round. I'll enjoy it, I'll enjoy the atmosphere. She's an amazing player, so I'll look forward to that,” said Anisimova.

“I like her game a lot. I like watching her play. I think that our personalities are a little bit similar in terms of, like, composure and trying to be the quiet players on tour,” she grinned.

“Yeah, I think it will just be interesting. And I'm also a pretty aggressive player, so I just want to see how our games will match up.”

Magnificent in Melbourne

In her opening round this fortnight, Anisimova was tested by Dutch qualifier Arianne Hartono before making it through in three sets. She said she was going through some personal problems that affected her mindset, but still found a way to overcome her inspired opponent.

“I was not completely there in the match. And it was like very difficult to play. But I think people forget that also tennis players are human beings, so sometimes we can't play our best tennis if something happens. But I'm just very happy that I was able to fight there and just turn it around,” said Anisimova.

She was much more convincing in her second round triumph over Olympic gold medallist Belinda Bencic and will pose a serious threat to Osaka on Friday.

Anisimova isn’t the only one with a winning streak to protect though. Osaka has won her last 15 consecutive matches in the city of Melbourne (including WTA tournaments and the Australian Open) and has been rock solid so far this week.

I've obviously never hit with her or practiced with her or anything, so it will definitely be really new going into the match,” said the 24-year-old Osaka of Anisimova.

“It's really nice to see her around, because I heard of her story and on what happened to her, so it's really good, like she's pushing through it,” added the Japanese star, referring to Anisimova losing her father in 2018.   

“I think it's just awesome to see the younger generation doing really well, because I remember also being part of the younger generation. She seems like a really nice (person).”