French Open 2019: Teenager star Amanda Anisimova downs defending champion Simona Halep
Ashleigh Barty beats Madison Keys to reach first Major SF; French Open certain to crown a new champion
At last, the defending champion, Simona Halep, got to court for her quarter-final match against the fast-rising star, Amanda Anisimova—two days after the women in the bottom half of the draw had resolved to their semi-final.
After a gloomy start to the day, the grey clouds finally gave way to white ones, and the sun broke through, even if the temperature had plummeted from the high 20s to around 17 degrees.
Halep had been one of the favourites for the title since the start of the tournament, especially after early losses of key rivals: Petra Kvitova withdrew before playing a ball; No1 Naomi Osaka struggled with form from the start and lost in Round 3, and it was a similar story for Serena Williams; Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki lost their openers; Karolina Pliskova and Elina Svitolina fell in Round 3; and No4 Bertens fell ill after her first match.
No wonder the focus was now on Halep, with her 28-8 stats at Roland Garros, 13-1 over the last two years here. But she would not underestimate the prodigious talent of 17-year-old Amanda Anisimova, who started the year ranked 96, made the fourth round at the Australian Open, won on the clay of Bogota, and is now ranked 51.
The young American became the first player, male or female, born in the 2000s to reach a Major quarter-final, and she did so without dropping a set—and faced only one tie-break.
With the schedule moved forward from 2pm to midday, there were many empty seats in the 15,000 stadium, and the late-comers missed a treat.
Both women were dressed in identical kit, black punctuated by tiny white stars, along with ice-blue shoes. Not that it was possible to confuse the two players separated by a decade in age and years of experience. The blonde teenager stands 5ft 11ins, and soon demonstrated her rangy power, while the brown top-knot of Halep reaches barely 5ft 6ins, but her compact athletic movement make her stand apart from the crowd.
Yet it was the champion who came under pressure from the start in this their first meeting. She struggled to contain the flat power off both wings, making more errors than usual, including a double fault in the fifth game, and the American youngster broke for a 4-2 lead.
Anisimova then made a few errors of her own, but it was a forehand winner from Halep that brought up break-back point. Yet she could not convert, and some big serving and a backhand down the line kept the teenager in front, 5-2.
Anisimova kept up the pressure, going 0-40 on Halep’s serve with a drop-shot. Halep saved two of them, but what looked like a backhand winner down the line was chased down for a superb defensive sliced forehand winner. The teenager sealed the first set, 6-2, in just 26 minutes.
And after a hold to love to start the second set, Anisimova had Halep on the ropes again, working a break point with a blistering forehand down the line. Another wrong-footing forehand winner and she was 2-0 up, with 16 winners to Halep’s six.
With only 38 minutes on the clock, the American held with ease once more, 3-0, but Halep at last got on the board in the fourth game, and then worked a break point.
Chants of “Simona, Simona” went around the arena, but she could not convert. A backhand winner down the line from the Romanian and she had another chance, but was out-played. Anisimova hurtled to net to finish off the next point, but hit long, so Halep got a third bite of the cherry, but not for the first time, she was beaten by a backhand change of direction.
At last, Anisimova got the hold, in the kind of long rally that Halep normally wins, but the American’s ability on both wings, her pace and penetration, left little room to counter-attack: 4-1.
If Halep could dig in, and lengthen the rallies, she could get some traction, and that is what she did in the next game, 4-2. The chant rang again, “Simona”, as she worked two break points, and this time, Anisimova missed a backhand down the line: 4-3. Now Halep was extending things from the baseline, and drawing errors in the front of the court from Anisimova. She saved another break point and levelled things up 4-4, just as the clock hit one hour.
Anisimova was showing the first sign of nerves, three times catching the ball as she served to hold the ninth game. Sure enough, she made two straight errors, offering up a break chance to Halep, but the self-belief of the youngster did not waver: she held. Halep would have to serve to save the match.
And the nerves hit her, too: a double fault brought up break point, and then Anisimova’s signature backhand down the line finished it off, her 25th winner, 6-4, and it took her into her first Major semi-final in a tournament where she had never before won a match—without dropping a set.
She afterwards admitted it was “one of the best matches I’ve ever played”, and Halep had little doubt that she was capable of winning the title:
“I think she has a big chance to win if she plays like today.”
What is more, Anisimova heads into the semis against another woman who has had precious little success on the clay of Roland Garros before, No8 seed Ashleigh Barty. Until this year’s run, the 23-year-old Australian had won just two matches in five visits. Now she too was through to a career-first Major semi-final after beating Madison Keys 6-3, 7-5, and with the loss of only one set.
What it means, then, is that Briton Johanna Konta, who plays Marketa Vondrousova in the other semi-final, is the only one of the remaining four women to have reached a Major before—twice.
It also means that the title could be contested by two teenagers, Anisimova and Vondrousova—and it certainly means that the French Open this year will crown a new champion.
Schedule and tickets for women’s semi-finals
Following the change in schedule following bad weather, and the anticipation of more rain, the women’s semi-finals will both be played at 11am tomorrow, Friday, 7 June:
· Barty vs Anisimova on Court Suzanne-Lenglen
· Konta vs Vondrousova on Simonne-Mathieu
With a ground pass costing €20 (€10 for under-20s), spectators will be able to enjoy these matches, as well as matches in the juniors, wheelchair and Legends Trophy draws.
Roland-Garros ticketing website: https://tickets.rolandgarros.com