Amanda Anisimova overcomes cramps to win Australian Open battle with Paula Badosa

The 22-year-old American took eight-month break from tennis for her mental wellbeing

Amanda Anisimova stood on the verge of claiming the opening set of her tight, intense battle with Paula Badosa on John Cain Arena when, suddenly, she was struggling. Deep in a lengthy game while serving at 6-5, Anisimova began to wince and clutch at her cramping stomach between every point, just desperately trying to hold on.

It came as no surprise that the intensity of Grand Slam tennis was difficult for her to endure. This week, after all, marks just Anisimova’s second tournament back from an eight-month absence after stepping away from professional tennis to address her burnout and flagging mental health. On her return to Grand Slam action, Anisimova has hit the ground running and on Friday she outclassed Badosa 7-5, 6-4 to reach the fourth round of the Australian Open.

Not long ago, Anisimova was one of the most hyped young players on the tour, a true teenage prodigy. During her brief, glittering junior career, she won the US Open junior title at 16, beating a 13-year-old Coco Gauff in the final. The pair scaled the professional ranks at the same time and in 2019 Anisimova reached the semi-finals of the French Open in 2019, aged 17. In what would prove to be a sliding doors moment for both players, the American led Ash Barty, the eventual champion, by a set and a break before losing that semi-final.

Just months after that breakthrough run, tragedy struck her family. Anisimova’s father, who also coached her from her youth, died just before the US Open. From her career high ranking of No 21 in 2019, Anisimova fell out of the top 85 in 2021.


Despite a brief career resurgence in 2022, by the end of the year Anisimova was struggling again and in 2023 she announced that she would take a break from tennis to address her mental health issues. “It’s become unbearable being at tennis tournaments,” she wrote on Instagram. “At this point my priority is my mental wellbeing and taking a break for some time.”

Although her struggles dated back to October 2022, it took her seven months to decide that she needed to step away from the sport.

“It took a long time for me to make that decision,” she said on Friday. “Obviously it’s a big decision to step away from the game I think at any point. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the middle of the season or the pre-season because we really never get time off. Yeah, it just didn’t seem like I would be able to push through it because I just wasn’t enjoying it, and I was just, like, I just need a break from all of this.”

During her time away from the sport to which she had devoted her life, Anisimova had the opportunity to live life. She attended university in person, enrolling in Florida’s Nova Southeastern. She spent time volunteering at a dog shelter and honed her painting skills. No longer chasing the sun around the world each week, she was able to enjoy the company of her family at home.

Anisimova’s story underlines the toll that professional tennis can take on a player’s mental health, and the value of understanding that it is sometimes advisable to withdraw instead of always pushing through. Her experience has naturally changed her perspective.

“Taking a step away and just really being at home, just resetting myself gave me a different perspective going into these tournaments,” she said. “I’m really trying to be present here, and just enjoy every second. I think in the past I would get too caught up in the past and future, but now I’m just focused on enjoying every moment here.”

Now 22, Anisimova remains one of the purest shotmakers in the game; she strikes the ball with immaculate timing and she has the ability to take the ball daringly early while effortlessly changing directions off any ball. There are many players who can hit the ball hard, but few generate power with such ease and manipulate the ball to all parts of the court. Even fewer boast a shot as devastating as her two-handed backhand.

Her talent was particularly evident on Friday as, just two months after touching her racket for the first time in four months, Anisimova struck 40 winners in two sets to defeat Badosa. On Sunday, she will have a chance to truly measure her level by tackling Aryna Sabalenka, the second seed and defending champion, who demolished Lesia Tsurenko 6-0, 6-0.

Later on Friday, 16-year-old Mirra Andreeva continued her run by producing the most spectacular comeback of her young career, recovering from a 1-5 third set deficit to defeat Diane Parry 1-6, 6-1, 7-6 (5). Gauff, the fourth seed, eased past Alycia Parks 6-0, 6-2. – Guardian