Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon ponders all we’ve witnessed so far from the young American.
Before we start this column, a few important words. The past few days in the United States, Canada and across the world have seen a rise and uptick in peaceful protests following the unjustified, unexplainable and unfathomable murder of 46-year-old black man George Floyd at the hands of four policemen in Minneapolis. The protests, as unfortunately tends to happen in these cases, have turned violent in the midst of escalation from law enforcement. If you can help in any way, financial or otherwise, please consider doing so here, here or here. If this isn’t possible for you at this point in time, the very least you can do is amplify the voices of those who need it most, those who are fighting and striving for the rights and privileges that the majority of us have. If all you can do at this point in time is to be an ally who helps fight against racism and injustices, and who doesn’t stand in the way. That’s the best minimum.
Please consider helping. And stay safe.
If American tennis has a future once Serena Williams retires, her name might be Amanda Anisimova.
The 18-year-old is currently the second youngest member of the Top 100 in women’s tennis, slotted at No. 28 when the rankings froze what seems like decades ago when the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
To be fair, the American teenager has been a household in tennis for about two+ years now, first gaining notoriety when she defeated the great Petra Kvitova at the 2018 BNP Paribas Open. Next came her real breakthrough at last year’s Australian Open and French Open, where the youngster reached the fourth round (after defeating No. 11 Aryna Sabalenka) and the semifinals (after defeating No. 3 Simona Halep).
The above is all well and dandy but it’s not all been roses for Anisimova since she turned pro in 2016. A year ago just before the 2019 US Open, Anisimova’s father tragically passed away after suffering a heart attack. Her involvement in the latter half of last season was understandably limited after such a traumatic experience.
We say all this to ask this: is the young Anisimova the real deal? It’s probably much too early to crown her, but she definitely has impressed in her short time under the tennis spotlight.
Anisimova’s game is predicated on a strong and aggressive baseline game—which truly does not differentiate her from a good number of other players in today’s modern game. She’s a fairly nimble player, equally adept at returning the opponent’s serve as hitting the ball down the line from her backhand side, where lies her real strength.
Anisimova’s game, in so much as we have managed to see in just the two or so years she has entered our collective consciousness, has also been characterized by a fearlessness that’s served her well on the sport’s biggest stage. To reach the heights she has and against the opponents she has in so little time is mighty impressive and bodes well for her future once, you know, tennis actually comes back for all of us.
Perhaps most telling of Anisimova’s standing in the broader world of men’s tennis is her friendship with Australian Nick Kyrgios. Okay, we kid we kid. (While undoubtedly fun and telling—including when the young Aussie jumped to her defence at this year’s Australian Open because a reporter had asked Anisimova a rough question—this friendship really doesn’t say much about the American’s ability or potential.)
Far more telling however is Nike’s stamp of approval. The giant shoe company decided last year to give Anisimova an endorsement deal that is believed to be similar to the one Maria Sharapova had once signed: in the neighbourhood $100 million in total.
The fact that Nike gave the 18-year-old a contract isn’t what’s newsworthy here; Anisimova is a young, talented, blond American tennis player, of course Nike will want to sign her to an endorsement deal. But to give $100 million to a teenager with only 121 career matches played, and only $1.7 million won in prize money, is quite the bet. If Nike has bet so much on the young American already, maybe we should as well? Maybe that’s the conclusion here.
Anisimova is maybe not quite a superstar yet. But it’s easy to see the outline of one when you look at her.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG