17-year-old American Anisimova impresses at Australian Open

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All of 17, never the winner of a Grand Slam match until this week, Amanda Anisimova is making quite a first impression at the Australian Open.

Anisimova showed precisely why there are those who consider her a possible future star, producing one spectacular shot after another Friday to upset 11th-seeded Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus 6-3, 6-2 and reach the fourth round.

She is the youngest American to get this far at Melbourne Park since Jennifer Capriati in 1993 — and at any Grand Slam tournament since Serena Williams at the 1998 French Open. Pretty heady company, huh?

“This is an unreal feeling,” Anisimova said in an on-court interview. “I can’t believe that this is happening right now.”

Believe it, kid.

It’s not just that Anisimova, who was born in New Jersey and is based in Florida, has knocked off two seeds already, including the hard-hitting Sabalenka, who was many a pundit’s pick for a deep run at Melbourne Park.

Or that she’s dropped a measly total of 17 games through three matches.

It’s the way the 87th-ranked Anisimova — there is no one younger in the WTA’s top 100 — is doing it, with clean and dangerous shotmaking and impeccable court coverage.

Take the shot — shot of the match? of the tournament? of the year so far? — that she produced at 3-0, 15-all in the second set.

It was a 12-stroke exchange in which Sabalenka held the upper hand throughout, steering Anisimova from corner to corner. It culminated with one sprint by Anisimova to her right for a forehand, then a sprint to her left for a backhand, followed by yet another switch of direction for a sprint back to her right. Her momentum carried her well wide of the doubles alley as she conjured up a “How did she do that?!” squash-like forehand that looped past Sabalenka and somehow landed in a corner for a winner, drawing raucous appreciation from the crowd at Margaret Court Arena — and an ever-so-slight smile from Anisimova.

“I’m really feeling good out here,” said Anisimova, who is coached by her father. “I’m playing some really good tennis.”

That’s an understatement.

She delivered more winners than Sabalenka, 21-12, as well as fewer unforced errors, 13-9. Anisimova won all eight of her service games, saving the lone break point she faced. She broke the hard-serving Sabalenka four times.

Anisimova’s first trip to Australia, and third appearance at a major tournament, now progresses to Week 2 and a matchup against two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova or Belinda Bencic, whose match was scheduled for Friday night.

On a rainy afternoon that saw the roofs closed atop the three main courts, and play delayed on smaller arenas, the only other women who won early matches were No. 15 Ashleigh Barty of Australia and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia.

In the men’s draw, Roger Federer dispatched one youngster and set his sights on facing another.

The 37-year-old Federer, seeking a third consecutive title in Melbourne, dismissed 21-year-old Taylor Fritz of the U.S. 6-2, 7-5, 6-2. Federer now takes on 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, who eliminated Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (7), 6-4.

Also advancing was 2010 Wimbledon runner-up Tomas Berdych, a 5-7, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 winner over No. 18 Diego Schwartzman. Berdych’s next opponent will be 17-time major champion Rafael Nadal or 19-year-old Australian Alex de Minaur.

“We all want them to win all the big stuff, but it just takes time,” Federer said about the newest generation of challengers. “I’m still giving them a hard time, sometimes.”

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Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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More AP Tennis: https://www.apnews.com/apf-Tennis and https://twitter.com/AP—Sports





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