Editor's Note: Amanda Anisimova went on to win her comeback match in Auckland, defeating Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in straight sets. On Day 1 at the Australian Open, Anisimova won her first Grand Slam match since 2022 Wimbledon, defeating 13th seed Liudmila Samsonova 6-3, 6-4 in the first round. 

On the eve of her first Hologic WTA Tour match in eight months, Amanda Anisimova is happy and excited to be grinding away on a tennis court. When asked if she remembered the last time she was this happy playing tennis, the 22-year-old American took a pause. 

"Probably last year [2022] around Wimbledon," Anisimova told WTA Insider from Auckland, New Zealand. "It's been a really long time, so it's just really nice to feel this way again."

It's been a long road back for Anisimova. A junior US Open champion who rode her preternaturally powerful groundstrokes to a French Open semifinal at the age of 17, Anisimova announced an indefinite break from the sport earlier this year in May, citing burnout and mental health concerns. 

"I've really been struggling with my mental health and burnout since the summer of 2022," the former World No.21 wrote. “It's become unbearable being at tennis tournaments. At this point, my priority is my mental well-being and taking a break for some time. I've worked as hard as I could to push through it."

Anisimova took four months off, picking up a racquet only for casual hits with friends. She did a semester at Nova Southeastern University in Florida. She threw herself into a burgeoning art hobby, selling her paintings for charity. She did volunteer work, took road trips with friends and celebrated her birthday at a venue that wasn't a tennis court. She spent the time living a normal life. Most importantly, she lived a life that didn't revolve around the tennis calendar.

"It was just nice to take a break from the chaotic lifestyle of a tennis player and reset as a human," Anisimova said. "I think that break and having more than two weeks off for the first time in my life was just very refreshing. I gained a lot of energy back in myself and happiness. 

"I slowed my life down and that's something that I really needed."

Anisimova decided to resume training in September. With new coach Marc Lucero by her side, she quickly rediscovered the pleasure of the grind. She may not always be able to dictate where the tennis ball lands, but she certainly had a say in her effort, commitment, and mentality. Suddenly, she felt in control again.

"Once I started training I was really enjoying it," Anisimova said. "I was trying to slowly progress back so I didn't have any setbacks. 

The tennis world felt unrelenting for Anisimova the first time around. The nonstop calendar and rush to get from city to city left little time to stop and process the things that matter. 

This time, Anisimova has armed herself with the tools to combat the churn. Looking to combat any feelings of loneliness and isolation, she's hit the road with cards and photos from her loved ones. Despite being halfway around the globe, she makes it a point to call her friends and family every day. She's traded her screen habit for books.

"I've grown a lot and matured over the last year in how I want to prepare myself, my training style, doing everything right," Anisimova said. "Pushing myself as hard as I can, taking recovery seriously, I want to do my best every single day. 

"It was hard to balance that in the past. But I feel that now I'm able to do that more, starting with just keeping my hotel room organized, trying to make it more like home. I'm trying not to live out of a suitcase. Now I put everything away. 'Let's get settled here and hopefully you'll stay for a long time,' having that mindset."

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Asked how she defines success now, Anisimova hesitated. 

"That's a hard question to answer because I do expect quite a lot from myself and, based on how I'm playing, I expect results," she said. 

"But on the other hand, that's not the first thing in my mind. My work ethic, I can judge my success based on that. How hard I push myself. I'll just see how the year goes and take it one step at a time."

The first step comes on Monday at the ASB Classic, where she will take on Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the first round. It will be her first match since a first-round exit at the Madrid Open in April. 

Five more questions with Anisimova, who explains how painting helped her cope with burnout.

WTA Insider: You started painting over the last two years and even set up a website to sell your work for charity. How did you start that hobby?

Anisimova: I started doing it last year in October when I wasn't doing so well mentally. I always liked art when I was younger, so I bought canvases and paint and I thought I'd try it for fun. Then it started to be more of a weekly thing and it kept going. 

It was something that I had to do for myself because I wanted to find things that I enjoy doing on my own other than seeing people and spending time with people. It was a good mental break to get away from your phone, get away from everything for a few hours. I just really enjoy it. 

WTA Insider: How did the idea for the website come about?

Anisimova: I wanted to do something bigger than just posting it or giving it to friends. So I started the website and have those charities that I care a lot about. 

It was a nice feeling that I was doing something while I was away from tennis, which was a big part of my identity. I wanted to see what would make me feel good as a person.

WTA Insider: The time you spent away from the sport pursuing hobbies and interests outside of tennis, how much did that impact your new outlook on your career now?

Anisimova: I think gaining other aspects in life like connections, learning what I like and what I don't like, what hobbies I like to do, and not just tennis day in and day out, it's important for my happiness and mental clarity. 

It's nice to come home and have other things to focus on. Figuring that out was really important for me at this stage in my life. Especially because most of my life, it was just mainly tennis. I don't think many people grow up that way. I think it was important for me to find myself and my personality.

WTA Insider: Can you give fans more insight into how and why life on tour can become so overwhelming for players?

Anisimova: I think a lot of people who follow us on social media or watch tennis casually, they don't really understand it fully. I don't think anyone does unless you're in it, just how overwhelming and difficult it can be. 

You lose in a tournament and then you have to buy tickets and pack all your stuff and fly the next day and you're so exhausted from your match and upset. It's always like that, it's a constant cycle. It can be very draining and isolating. I need to keep that in mind and make sure that I'm taking breaks and taking a rest day and resetting before the next one. 

WTA Insider: What is your mindset as you approach this comeback?

Anisimova: With each day, getting the most I can out of myself. Going into this season, there have been people asking me what are your goals. In the past, I would have specific answers for them. Now my goal is just to do my best, what's in my control, get the most out of each day that I can and that's all that I can expect from myself. 

Going in with that perspective is more freeing. I put in the work every single day and I have the mental and physical capacity to do that, which I didn't have before, which is a much better feeling now.