By the time Amanda Anisimova was 16, she was being heralded as the next Maria Sharapova, partly because of her market maturity, but also because of her racy groundstrokes. More recently, Serena Williams’ coach Patrick Mouratoglou compared her to Lindsay Davenport for her impeccable timing.
In a way, Sunday night was an exhibition of both and against other opponents that might have been enough. Two days ago against Naomi Osaka it was time. This time Anisimova may have been the first player at this year’s Australian Open to break Ash Barty’s serve, but she only did it won the battle and not the war.
The scorecard read 6-4, 6-3 for Barty, an apt summary of a match in which the unseeded American demonstrated her increasing Grand Slam clout, but by a world No. 1 who went through the top four on form , who have been clearly beaten rounds, appear on track to win their country’s first major home title in 44 years.
Last week, Rod Laver called Barty “unbeatable” at his best. Anisimova did her best to prove him wrong. So far, no one had pushed her past the one-hour mark in a match; The 20-year-old lasted an hour and 14 minutes. She ended the Australian’s tournament service streak with 63 straight holds to lead 2-0 in the second set and overall provided the first real test of her qualification as first place finisher.
But Barty just broke her back and then set about winning five of the remaining six games to end the match. And where Anisimova’s offensive spirit got her way there, her inability to neutralize Barty’s sheer reach had her on the backfoot for much of the contest.
“She’s an incredible athlete, an incredible competitor,” Barty said of her defeated opponent. “One of her best qualities is that she shows up point after point. It’s just nice to see her playing her best tennis again. She’s a champ. She will find herself in many deep stages of many majors in her future, that’s for sure.
“I enjoy sharing the court and testing my game against her – she has an amazing game. It was nice to be able to stand my ground and bring the dots back into my patterns more regularly, and the big ones when it mattered most.”
Amanda Anisimova (left) congratulates her opponent after the match. Photo: William West/AFP/Getty Images
It was heartfelt words from a player at the top of the sport about one quickly bouncing back in that direction after two years of severe disruption. Anisimova was 17 and already a US Open junior champion when she defeated Barty in the 2019 Roland Garros semifinals, leading by a set and three games before the Australian turned the tables en route to the title.
The sudden death of her father and coach Konstantin put her tennis on hiatus shortly after, and her career high of 21 has since slipped to 60. The recent revival coincided with Darren Cahill’s trial coaching, which bore fruit this year as Anisimova won her second WTA title at the Melbourne Summer Set Warm-up event.
Still, Barty has improved the most since that French Open final. She changed her shots at will and delivered an incredible return on a serve that finished at 182 km/h. At 3-3 in the first set, she let Anisimova slide between the lanes like she was doing a bleep test, earning three break points for her troubles.
The 25-year-old will play for the fourth time in a row Australian Open Quarterfinals on Tuesday against another American – 21st seed Jessica Pegula, who beat fifth seeded Greek Maria Sakkari in straight sets on Sunday – in a bid to become the first native to win the tournament since Chris O’Neil in 1978 .
“She’s really good at holding the baseline,” Barty said of Pegula. “Her swings are pretty linear and she gets a club behind the ball and swings through the path. The ball comes at you on a different trajectory and her ability to absorb pace and then increase it when she wants is exceptional.
“It’s going to be a challenge for me to try to push her off that baseline and make her uncomfortable and make her feel like she needs to create something. But I know that she will do the exact same thing to me and try to make me uncomfortable. This is the chess game we play. You go out there and have fun with it, see who can do better that day and that’s all there is to it.”