NEW YORK—On her first match point of the US Open girls’ final, Amanda Anisimova danced around the baseline, slugging groundstrokes with Cori Gauff until she finally smacked a backhand into the net.
On her fourth match point, Animisova stabbed at a wide serve from Gauff but the ball caught her racquet frame and careened into a courtside fan, hitting him in the face. Animisova looked horrified, but the spectator quickly signaled that he was okay.
On her seventh match point, Animisova deflected a 106 m.p.h. serve but couldn’t keep the ball in play.
And on her ninth match point, Animisova hit a backhand wide, stomped her right foot in disgust and then walked behind the baseline, touching her racquet gently to the backdrop in order to re-focus.
Finally, after hitting a monster forehand return winner down the line to earn a 10th match point, Anisimova watched with delight as Gauff’s forehand sailed long—giving her a long overdue 6-0, 6-2 win, and her first victory in a junior Grand Slam final.
“That last game was crazy,” said Animisova, a 16-year-old from Aventura, FL, who played, and lost, in the first round of qualifying for the US Open main draw. “Possibly the longest game of my life.”
Anisimova was playing in the final, which was also the final junior match of her career, having already turned pro and reaching the finals of two USTA Pro Circuit events this spring. Those results earned her a wild card into the main draw at the French Open, where she became the first player born in 2001 to compete in the women’s singles main draw at a major.
Against Gauff, a 13-year-old from Delray Beach, FL, Anisimova played precise, calculated tennis, moving her opponent side to side with brute strength yet controlled aggression. The first set lasted just 21 minutes as Animisova continually bullied her younger opponent.
“We keep things very simple,” said Konstantin Anisimov, Amanda’s coach and father, who was allowed by newly-enacted tournament rules to instruct his daughter during match changeovers. “I told her, when you play, you have to compete but you have to enjoy. It’s a beautiful day, people came to see you play, just have fun.”
Anisimova and Gauff had previously played each other at the USTA National 18s in San Diego last year, with Anisimova winning 6-0, 6-1. The two have known each other since Gauff was just seven years old.
Gauff, who trains in Florida but has worked at the Mouratoglou Academy in France, came into the final having won 10 of her last 11 matches. That included a final-round finish at the International Hard Court Championships in College Park, MD, held the week before the U.S. Open. She was also a member of the winning USA team at the 2017 ITF World Junior Tennis Finals.
It was at the Mouratoglou Academy that she met her idol, Serena Williams, whose career she says she would like to emulate. Patrick Mouratoglou himself came up to Gauff—who advanced to the final without losing a set—after today’s loss to put things in perspective.
“I actually didn't know they were there until after the match,” said Gauff, “but it's cool to see them there and giving me so much support. They definitely helped me throughout my game, helped me with spin and be more consistent and learn how to play on red clay.”
Gauff was bidding to become the youngest US Open junior champion since Jennifer Capriati beat Australian Rachel McQuillan in 1989 as a 13-year-old. The match was also the first all-American junior girls’ final since Lindsay Davenport defeated Julie Steven for the title in 1992.
Already standing 5’10", Gauff is an imposing figure despite her age. She is currently in eighth grade, studying online and proclaims that her favorite subjects are science, match and writing. She is supposed to be reading The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas for school but hasn’t had time to start yet because of her U.S. Open match schedule.
“I'm definitely going to go to college,” said Gauff afterward, “but I probably will do online and just go pro.”
Anisimova said that playing pro tournaments helped her to prepare for her final junior event.
“I think the pro tournament have really helped me develop more as a tennis player,” said Anisimova, whose older sister, Maria, played college tennis at the University of Pennsylvania. “I think my mind kind of changed. I started focusing more and acting more like a professional.
“I think I’ve improved a lot. I started playing smarter since last year. Just thinking about how to push your opponent off the court and play with your mind and not just your body.”
A runner-up at the junior French Open in 2016, Anisimova's goal for the remainder of 2017 is to finish inside the Top 150. In 2018, she hopes to compete in main draws of at Slams.
But ultimately, Anisimova hopes that today's first major title victory is just the beginning. When asked about her long-term goal, she left no ambiguity.
"I hope to be No. 1 and win every Grand Slam."