It will be hard to imagine a year more emotional than all Amanda Anisimova went through in 2019.
There was joy, in the form of a tennis season that saw her make tremendous progress. In Bogota, her first singles title. At Roland Garros, a win over defending champion Simona Halep and her first run to a Slam semifinal. Ranked No. 95 at the end of 2018, the 18-year-old begins the new decade at No. 22—the youngest of three teenagers ranked in the Top 50 (along with Bianca Andreescu and Dayana Yastremska).
But there was also tragedy. On August 19, just prior to the US Open, Anisimova’s father and coach, Konstantin Anisimov, died suddenly of a heart attack. Anisimova withdrew from the US Open and only played two more tournaments in 2019.
"It wasn't really ideal for me to go out and play. I don't think I was in a good place," she says.
Now she is back, keen to compete and continue her ascent, saying, "I want to achieve the things we both wanted to do. And I want to make some major accomplishments in my future so that I can dedicate that to him."
Fueled by a laser-like backhand and a persistent willingness to strike aggressively in tight situations, Anisimova appears willing to take every step possible to reach the top. One major example came when she sought a new coach last September in Carlos Rodriguez. Most-known for his start-to-finish work with seven-time Grand Slam champion Justine Henin, Rodriguez also coached Li Na, including during her run to the 2014 Australian Open title.
"He's a really great guy. He cares a lot," Anisimova says. "And he thinks about people first before anything else. To have that as a coach, as a trait, is really good."
With both Li and Henin, Rodriguez emphasized all-court play, an approach that was evident earlier this month in the quarterfinals of Auckland, when Anisimova took 74 brisk minutes to beat Daria Kasatkina, 6-2, 6-4.
“I’m happy with how I mixed up my variety in my game,” Anisimova said, following the match. “I was trying to come into the net–that’s what I’ve been working on and I was happy I was able to transition well.”
Though beaten handily by eventual champion Serena Williams in the semifinals, surely Anisimova will approach the Australian Open with confidence. Seeded No. 21 in Melbourne, she will take on world No. 73 Zarina Diyas for their first career meeting. In the third round, Anisimova could run into No. 9-seeded Kiki Bertens, another fine player, but one with a career record of 4-7 at the Australian Open.
So the future looks bright for Anisimova. To be sure, now comes the challenging sophomore year, the time when a player is no longer obscure but well-known, expected to perform and, presumably, thoroughly scouted.
But as the addition of Rodriguez to her team has demonstrated, Anisimova is aware of the need to keep broadening her arsenal. How well she learns and deploys it will surely be one of 2020’s most intriguing stories.