How do you follow the Greatest Generation? It’s a question tennis has tried to answer for at least a decade. Serena, Roger, Novak, Rafa: all of them are over 30, and they’ve combined to win 75 Grand Slam singles titles—but none of them are going away quietly. When they do, who will fill their very large shoes?
As you’ll see in The 21 & Under Club, the future of tennis is still coming, and coming soon. While it may not produce a 20-Slam winner, it’s clear that the game will be in good hands. Interesting hands, too: one thing we know for sure is that this new generation of players will infuse the tours with a wide and refreshing range of styles, personalities and backgrounds. When the Greatest Generation says goodbye, we can feel good about welcoming this cast of players to the courts.
Tall and blonde; born in Russia with a game honed in Florida; a Nike dress-wearing teenager with the powerful groundstrokes and mental toughness of a veteran champion. It is a young Maria Sharapova, and the present-day Amanda Anisimova.
The similarities between the 17-year-old and her idol don’t stop there. Anisimova is also represented by IMG, grew up training at a prestigious tennis academy, and has been coached on and off by her father.
“I have always looked up to her and was watching her when I was little,” Amanda Anisimova has said about Sharapova. “She’s a great person to look up to.”
There are some key differences. Born in New Jersey to Russian parents, who moved Amanda and her older sister to Florida for better tennis opp-ortunities, Anisimova represents the United States. She trained at Nick Saviano’s academy, not Nick Bollettieri’s. At 5’11”, she’s three inches shorter than Sharapova. And unless Anisimova, who turns 18 in August, wins Wimbledon this summer, she’s not on the same track as Sharapova was at 17.
Still, Anisimova’s rise is a compelling story all its own. She won the junior US Open title in 2017, then made her first impact on the tour just six months later, at Indian Wells. Given a wild card into the main draw, she reached the fourth round; the head-turning run included a straight-sets win over Petra Kvitova. Last September, Anisimova reached her first WTA final, in Hiroshima, as a qualifier. By year’s end, she was the youngest player inside the WTA Top 100.
Anisimova’s ascent has continued unabated. At this year’s Australian Open, she became the first player born in the 2000s to reach the round of 16 at a Slam. A few months later, in Bogota, she won her first tour title, rallying from a set down in the clay final.
“I think it’s been a really great year for me,” Anisimova said in Miami. “Obviously, I’m motivated to do even more. I think that my training has been paying off, and it just keeps me motivated to get higher into the top level.”
Anisimova handles questions from the media like she does groundstrokes from her opponents: efficiently. She answers diplomatically, in brief, predictable sentences—with one notable exception. After beating fellow big-hitting youngster Aryna Sabalenka at this year’s Australian Open, Anisimova was asked, “If you could have a single dream come true in this sport, what would it be?”
“I want to win this tournament right now,” Anisimova said, without a pause.
Had she done so, Anisimova would have become the first teenage woman since Sharapova to win a Grand Slam title. There’s still time.
“I think that in this kind of age, to reach the second week of a Grand Slam is something really great,” said Kvitova, who ended Anisimova’s run in Melbourne. “That’s something she can build on. She’s playing very aggressive, which is I think the future of tennis.”
After winning Wimbledon in 2004, Sharapova, filled with giddy teenage excitement, famously grabbed a cell phone to call her mom. It was a blocky, Nokia-esque contraption that’s currently sitting in a museum, and is nearly as old as Anisimova.
Born around the time the iPhone was invented, Anisimova embraces the social-media lifestyle that has defined her generation. Take a look at her Instagram page and you’ll see 60,000+ followers and snapshots of her practicing, lounging at the beach and spending time with her friends.
“The digital and social media landscape can create tremendous opportunities and connections to so many more people,” says Tennis Channel analyst and former pro Chanda Rubin. “But it also makes staying focused and grounded more of a challenge.”
The challenges of maneuvering through life on tour today are different than they were in Sharapova and Rubin’s younger days. While there’s greater opportunity to get noticed because of greater connectivity, there are also drawbacks.
“It’s easier to get caught up in hype,” Rubin says. “It’s also more difficult to grow, make mistakes, and learn because everything is being recorded. And opinions on social media can be mean and unforgiving.”
So far, Anisimova has held up under the increased spotlight, which could only intensify at Wimbledon. She’ll make her All England Club debut this summer, and while expectations should be tempered, her play on grass will be one of the tournament’s most compelling stories. Given her aggressive game style, it’s not hard to envision a second-week showing, even for this Wimbledon rookie.
If Anisimova does just that, and then feels the need to let someone (or her 60,000+ followers) know that she made it to Manic Monday, she can simply update her Instagram story with her iPhone—or place a call, the old-fashioned way.