Special firsts for Amanda and Ash

 - Alex Sharp

Amanda Anisimova and Ashleigh Barty have each reached a maiden Grand Slam semi-final at RG.

Amanda Anisimova celebrates. Roland Garros 2019 quarter-finals. ©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

“What?” mouthed Amanda Anisimova as the 17-year-old cast her racquet aside in disbelief.

That was the reaction of the tennis world having witnessed a mesmerising performance.

“I don't think it will sink in, at least not for today. 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," said the American.

Just three years ago the American lost in the 2016 Roland-Garros girls' final. Now, in a first full season on the WTA Tour, Anisimova continues to make history with every contest on court.

A blazing barrage of shots dismantled defending champion Simona Halep 6-2, 6-4, making Anisimova the youngest Roland-Garros semi-finalist since Czech Nicole Vaidisova in 2006. She's made it this far without dropping a set. On Friday she’ll face Australian world No.8 Ashleigh Barty.

Pounding groundstrokes with complete freedom, Anisimova played fearless tennis with shades of Jelena Ostapenko’s full-throttle title run in 2017.

“I just played the best tennis of my life. I don't know how, but it just happened,” revealed the world No.51.

“I didn't look nervous because I wasn't. I was just super excited and I was really happy with the opportunity, it's honestly a dream. I can't ask for anything else."

Anisimova, the first male or female player born in the 2000s into a major quarter-final or semi-final, shot into prominence with a fourth-round showing at the Australian Open in January.

“When I was playing in Australia, I was thinking about winning it,” admitted Anisimova. “It seems like such a hard thing to do. I didn't really think that I could. In this tournament, I feel a lot more confident and feeling my game a bit better than I did there.”

One step at a time

This time the teenager is determined to not look too far ahead, but has burgeoning belief in her game ahead of taking on Australia’s leading light.

“I'm letting it all just kick in a little bit. I'm just really happy with everything that's been happening. I don't try to think about the future,” said the self-assured American.

“I have never played her before, but I'm really looking forward to it. It should be a good match. I have watched her play a couple of times and I think she's a very good player. 

“I know I'm capable of doing a lot. I never doubt my abilities. Today that showed that.”

For Barty June 6th is a significant day.

Not only is it the day she booked a first career Grand Slam semi-final, using her versatility to prevail past Madison Keys 6-3, 7-5.

If you also scroll back to the draw at Nottingham, UK, on June 6th 2016 you’ll see Barty return to the Tour after a two-year hiatus.

Her ranking had plummeted to world No.623 and exactly three years later has ensured she’ll be the first Australian in the top five since Samantha Stosur in 2012.

“It was always the goal to come back and try and put myself in a position where I'm competing against the world's best,” said the 23-year-old.

“When I had my time off, I think it was just a gradual progression of missing the competition, missing what I loved. I love this sport, and I'm very lucky to be in the position I am now. With an amazing team around me, we're enjoying it, having a lot of fun, having some amazing results.”

It's that team mentality and pure positivity which has enabled Barty’s game to be moulded and crafted for all surfaces.

Mastering the clay

Prior to the 2019 swing, Barty had never truly adapted to the clay, without progress past the second round in Paris in five attempts.

“Oh, it's incredible. I felt for myself and my team, we have approached this clay-court season a little bit differently to others. Have really enjoyed it, embraced it. Have been playing some pretty good tennis,” stated Barty, who is surprised her first major semi-final has occurred on clay.  

“Ultimately, I feel like when I'm able to play my game style and my kind of tennis, I can match it with everyone regardless what surface it's on.

“It's about going out there, getting exposure to it, trying to get as many matches as possible. I feel like I'm learning every single match. Super excited. And the fact that we're still here in the last few days is incredible.”

The 23-year-old has only caught 20 minutes of Anisimova in match action on TV in the locker room, but is aware of her quality from the scoreline against the defending champion.

“It's amazing for WTA tennis. I think the way that Amanda must have played, I didn't see it today, but the way she must have played must have been incredible,” Barty acknowledged ahead of their first meeting.

“It’s clean slate for both of us and exciting opportunity for all four of us that are in the semis. It's just an amazing situation to be in.”

Another vital factor in Barty’s Parisian progress has been her mental tranquillity away from the cauldron of competition.

“I have done a really good job of switching off this week and enjoying that quiet time, enjoying the other sports and interests that I have that are going on around the world at the moment to make sure it's not always just about tennis, not always about me, always keeping contact with my family and keeping that very normal.” explained the No.8 seed.

“I think it's just been a really relaxed, quiet tournament in my mind. I'm in a position now where I just get to enjoy the next few days.”