Amanda Anisimova shocked the tennis universe last June when she defeated Simona Halep — ranked No. 3 in the world — in the quarterfinals of the French Open. Although Anisimova lost in the next round, the stunning upset announced the international arrival of the then teenage American with a vicious backhand.
But two months later, she was derailed by personal tragedy. Her father and former coach, Konstantin Anisimov, passed away suddenly of a reported heart attack in late August, at 52, just days before the US Open and a week before her 18th birthday. The phenom pulled out of the tournament and has kept a low profile since.
“It was the worst thing that ever happened to me,” Anisimova told The Post of her dad’s death. “It was very tough.”
Now she is ready to return to the game she loves. Currently ranked 22 in the world, she will play in the Australian Open, which begins Monday.
“As soon as I got back to tennis, it is what made me happy. And I know that’s what my dad would want me to be doing. That’s what would make him proud,” she said.
Anisimova was born in Freehold, NJ — Bruce Springsteen’s hometown — to Russian parents, Olga and Konstantin, and moved to Adventura, Fla., at age 3, so her older sister Maria could pursue tennis.
Maria eventually hung up her racket and now works in banking in Manhattan. It was the younger Anisimova who turned pro and, alongside Sofia Kenin and Coco Gauff, has emerged as one of several dazzling young American tennis powerhouses.
But the 5-foot-11 sensation distinguished herself from her peers in October, when she signed a massive, long-term deal with Nike that was reported to be the largest ever for a teenager, and comparable to mega-star Maria Sharapova’s eight-year, $70 million deal with the brand.
Anisimova won’t confirm any figures, but she says it’s “pretty exciting for [Nike] to believe in me, out of all of the up-and-coming players. I’ve been sponsored by them since I was 13. It feels really nice that they still trust in me and to have them believe in me for hopefully the rest of my career.”
To commemorate the occasion, Nike honchos held a celebratory lunch near the company’s Portland headquarters and presented Anisimova with self-lacing sneakers emblazoned with the date, which she plans to display in her Florida home.
“I am going to keep them as a memory,” she said.
Since the Nike deal, Anisimova is now spoken of in the same way as Sharapova, whom she idolized as a kid. She even had a poster of the Russian superstar hanging in her childhood bedroom.
“I love her fighting spirit on and off the court,” she said.
As a budding athlete, Anisimova watched Sharapova play at the Miami Open, and, when she was 8 years old, her hero signed her favorite hat.
“[It was] an amazing moment for me,” she said.
Anisimova isn’t sure where the autographed cap is these days, but she and Sharapova have forged a more tangible bond. They share an agent, Max Eisenbud and sat together at his 2018 wedding.
“I was like ‘Wait, Maria is at my table!’” the teen said. “It was a really fun night.”
The star-struck Anisimova kept her cool and didn’t press her idol for advice, but she has learned from another legend of the sport — Roger Federer.
While playing on the junior circuit, Anisimova struggled to contain her feelings on the court, so she turned to Federer, who faced the same challenges early in his career. The first time they met, the pair discussed the vital mental aspect of the game — something she continues to work on daily.
“He’s an amazing person,” she said of Federer. “His story is so inspiring because he controls his emotions basically perfect these days. So he’s someone I really look up to.”
She’s also had help from the queen of women’s tennis.
After losing a tough match during the Miami Open, Anisimova was in a funk in the locker room when someone came up behind her and gave her a hug. It was Serena Williams.
“She started trying to boost my mood and telling me nice things,” Anisimova said. “I will remember that day forever.”
However, her life isn’t all hobnobbing with tennis titans. Anisimova is homeschooled and in her last year of high school. After her momentous French Open victory over Halep, the defending champion, she had to rush back to her hotel and take a chemistry exam.
“[Taking the test] kept my mind off everything. That’s a good preparation for the next match to not be overwhelmed by everything.”
She did, however, have to miss a major rite of passage — the prom.
“I was invited like four times, by people I know. Not like [random] DMs [Direct Messages]. My schedule wouldn’t let me so that’s pretty unfortunate,” she said. “But being a professional tennis player is way more fun.”
Photos: Tamara Beckwith/NY Post; Stylist: Bree Bonagofsky; Hair/Makeup: T. Cooper/crowdMGMT using ECRU NY; Location: John McEnroe Tennis Academy. 1, Randall’s Island, NYC.
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