The ball from Anna Karolina Schmiedlova looped swiftly down and Amanda Anisimova, twitching with anticipation, was in position to pound it. Except that it hit the baseline and took a ridiculous bounce.
A game from winning the match Tuesday, Anisimova swung – and missed.
For the past two years, things like this have been happening routinely to the 19-year-old American, but she did not throw her racket. She did not pout or make spirited gestures toward her team. Anisimova composed herself and stoically stood in to return the next serve. She served it out in the next game, winning 6-2, 6-4.
It was the first time Anisimova has put together back-to-back wins this year and landed her a quarterfinal berth – her first since her first tournament in 2020 – at the Emilia-Romagna Open. She’ll meet Coco Gauff in an intriguing Thursday Centre Court encounter (approximately 3 p.m. local, 9 a.m., ET). Despite the similar trajectory of their careers, they have never played – at the WTA level.
In 2017, Anisimova, then 16, defeated the 13-year-old Gauff 6-0, 6-2 in the US Open girls' final.
And so, the two rising American teenagers meet. The 17-year-old Gauff, who had a breakthrough last week in Rome, reaching the semifinals, versus Anisimova, who had her breakthrough at the age of 17, but has plateaued since.
Gauff was a Wednesday winner over Camila Giorgi 6-2, 6-3.
“We haven’t seen each other in a while on the court,” Gauff told reporters afterward. “I think it will be a great match. She’s obviously a great player, she hits the ball big and trusts her strokes, so it will be a good test to see how I defend against that.
“But I think it’s going to be important to take my chances when I can, and continue to be on offense.”
For Parma, a first-time WTA 250 event, this week was the perfect storm. Venus and Serena Williams needed to play some matches on clay in advance of the French Open. Gauff was looking forward to another tour of the Barilla factory, the pasta folks who sponsor her. No.2 seed Petra Martic and 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens were direct entries.
Anisimova was well down the list of accomplished players.
17-year-old 🇺🇸 @CocoGauff continues her impressive run on clay with a win over Camila Giorgi.— wta (@WTA) May 19, 2021
Waiting for her in the quarterfinal will be @AnisimovaAmanda, a rematch of the 2017 @usopen junior final and their first ever pro meeting. 👀 pic.twitter.com/QsxPTGexw9
But consider this: Nearly two years ago, Anisimova blasted her way into the consciousness of tennis aficionados by reaching the semifinals of the French Open – at the age of 17. She beat Aryna Sabalenka in the second round, then stunned defending champion Simona Halep in the quarterfinals. Anisimova finally lost to eventual champion Ashleigh Barty in three sets.
Anisimova was the first player of either gender born in the 2000s to reach that stage of a Grand Slam. Heady stuff. The kind of entrance that creates all kinds of pressure and expectations.
“At the time I didn’t even really realize it,” Anisimova said in an interview with WTA earlier this spring. “It just happened, and I was really young. It’s just kind of grown on me over the last couple of years.
“Yeah, I don’t know. It wasn’t probably as crazy as everyone thought it was to me. I thought it was kind of normal, because it just happened over the course of two weeks. Getting the confidence over the next couple of years kind of went with that achievement.”
Anisimova laughed and was quick to add, “Actually leaving Paris I was so upset, very bummed out that I lost. The semifinal was very close and I had opportunities.”
And then, at the height of her rise, Anisimova’s father and longtime coach, Konstantin, died at the age of 52. She withdrew from the US Open and has grappled with the tragedy ever since.
Her record the rest of that 2019 season: 5-5. In 2020, it was 11-10. Before she arrived in Parma, 2021 had begun 5-6. It all adds up to a 21-21.
The year began with news that Anisimova had tested positive for Covid-19 while she was getting ready to play in Abu Dhabi. She said she had mild symptoms and concerns about her family.
“Oh, my gosh, I was just super-shocked,” Anisimova said. “I found out in the middle of the night. It was just really upsetting, especially considering I was out of the country. Most importantly, I was scared that my sister [Maria] and my mom [Olga] would get it because I was close to them.
“But after the first couple of days, I realized that being in quarantine wasn’t the worst thing, because I was worried about the health of my family. Now that it’s over, I’m just so happy.”
That forced her to miss the Australian swing. She opened her season in Dubai, defeating qualifier Ana Konjuh, but lost in the second round to eventual winner Garbiñe Muguruza, still one of the hottest players on the WTA Tour. In Miami, Anisimova beat Stephens, then fell to eventual finalist Bianca Andreescu – in a taut three-set match.
On the green clay at the Volvo Car Open, Anisimova looked sharper, winning in the first round and then pasting Shelby Rogers 6-1 in the first set of a second round.
“When people see her playing like this, they see a future Grand Slam champion,” three-time major winner Lindsay Davenport said during the Tennis Channel broadcast. “I’m just glad to see her back playing at this level.”
Anisimova eventually lost to Rogers in three sets.
Many young players struggle to find the power to hit competitive serves against the top players. Not Anisimova. At 5-foot-11, she has some serious leverage. Still, with the help of coach and hitting partner Andis Juska, she’s been trying to add a little more speed while maintaining accuracy. It’s been evident in her most recent matches.
Anisimova practiced with Andreescu in Miami before playing her in the third round.
“I think she can be really good because of her game style,” Andreescu said. “Very different. Her ball comes out flat but in a different way. She’s good physically and if she continues to work mentally, it will pay off.”
Reaching the semifinals at Roland Garros gave Anisimova a belief that she said still burns two years later. She’ll need it against Gauff.
“It gave me a lot of confidence getting to the semis, knowing I can play at a top level and it’s been with me a couple of years,” Anisimova said. “I’ve been training really hard this year, and hopefully playing a lot more tennis and having more opportunities to do well again.
“I haven’t played many matches, but I can still build on it with so many tournaments coming up. I’m looking forward to it.”