All of 17, Anisimova of U.S. scores upset at Australian Open

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MELBOURNE, Australia — 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.

“I want to win this tournament,” Anisimova said, tapping her right index finger on a table for emphasis at her post-match news conference. “Right now.”

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.

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

Believe it, kid. She captured a ton of attention on Day 5, when defending champion Caroline Wozniacki was knocked out by 2008 champion Maria Sharapova 6-4, 4-6, 6-3. Another American woman, 35th-ranked Danielle Collins, joined Anisimova in earning a debut trip to the round of 16 at a major with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over No. 19 Caroline Garcia. Up next for Collins will be three-time major champion and former No. 1 Angelique Kerber, who needed less than an hour to overwhelm 240th-ranked Australian wild-card entry Kimberly Birrell 6-1, 6-0.

At the 2006 U.S. Open, when she was 19, Sharapova became the most recent teen to claim a Slam title. Anisimova grew up cheering for Sharapova — they now share an agent — and would love to match her feat of winning a major before age 20. Who would doubt her?

“I respect her a lot, because I think she’s young and has a great game. I mean, she’s really proving what she can do,” said Sharapova, who sat at the same table as Anisimova at their agent’s wedding last year. “She has a really bright future ahead of her.”

It’s not just that Anisimova, who was born in New Jersey and is based in Florida, has knocked off two seeded players 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, as well as the same person who’s worked with her since she was 9. “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 in the main draw at a major, now progresses to Week 2 and a matchup against two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, who beat Belinda Bencic 6-1, 6-4.

On a rainy afternoon that saw the roofs closed on the three main courts, and play delayed on smaller arenas, Sharapova advanced to face No. 15 Ash Barty of Australia, while 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens beat No. 31 Petra Martic 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5) and now meets 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.

“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.”

Also advancing was the man Federer beat in last year’s final, Marin Cilic. He overcame two match points — opponent Fernando Verdasco double-faulted one of them away — and erased a two-set hole to win 4-6, 3-6, 6-1, 7-6 (8), 6-3 in a contest that lasted more than 4 hours and ended just before 1 a.m.

Cilic, the 2014 U.S. Open champion, now faces No. 22 Roberto Bautista-Agut, a 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 winner against No. 10 Karen Khachanov.

Rafael Nadal beat 19-year-old Australian Alex de Minaur 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 and now gets 2010 Wimbledon runner-up Tomas Berdych.

Frances Tiafoe, an American who turns 21 on Sunday, got to the fourth round at a major for the first time by defeating Andreas Seppi of Italy 6-7 (3), 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3. Tiafoe now meets No. 20 Grigor Dimitrov, who is being coached by Andre Agassi.

Linette keeps getting better; into Australian Open semis

Mike Frey-USA TODAY Sports
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MELBOURNE, Australia — Two days after advancing to her first Grand Slam tournament quarterfinal, unseeded Magda Linette went one better and is into the Australian Open semifinals.

The 30-year-old Linette beat Karolina Pliskova 6-3, 7-5, adding the former No. 1 to the list of top players she has beaten at Melbourne Park during this tournament.

Linette, who had lost seven of nine previous matches against Pliskova, had defeated Anett Kontaveit, Ekaterina Alexandrova and WTA Finals champion Caroline Garcia in successive rounds.

A player from Poland was favored to reach the latter stages of the tournament, but it was top-seeded Iga Swiatek that everyone would have expected – and not Linette.

“It’s so emotional I can’t really believe it,” Linette said. “I tried to stay composed and took my chances when I could.”

Linette will play No. 5 Aryna Sabalenka, who beat unseeded Donna Vekic 6-3, 6-2 in a later quarterfinal. The women’s semifinals are scheduled for Thursday night.

Vekic, who had 13 double faults against Sabalenka, had a succinct appraisal of her serve: “I mean, it was all over the place. But I think mostly in the net.”

The other women’s semifinalists were determined on Tuesday. Two-time former Australian champion Victoria Azarenka will play Wimbledon titleholder Elena Rybakina for a chance to play in Saturday night’s final. Rybakina beat Swiatek in the fourth round.

Later Wednesday, the remaining men’s semifinalists will be determined. Unseeded Americans Ben Shelton and Tommy Paul play before nine-time champion Novak Djokovic takes on Andrey Rublev.

Djokovic will be looking to qualify for his 44th Grand Slam semifinal and a win in that match on Friday would advance him on Sunday night to his 33rd major singles final.

The other men’s semifinal on Friday will see third-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas play Karen Khachanov.

Rybakina rules in Australian Open quarterfinal vs. Ostapenko

Mike Frey-USA TODAY Sports
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MELBOURNE, Australia – Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina advanced to the Australian Open semifinals with a 6-2, 6-4 win over former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.

The match on Rod Laver Arena featured a rare rain delay of about 20 minutes while the roof was closed. Rybakina led 3-1 and was holding a break point before the delay. On return, Ostapenko saved the first break point, but Rybakina broke on her next opportunity to go up 4-1 and won the first set 6-2.

In the second set, Ostapenko was up a break but Rybakina leveled with a break of her own. It came on her first break point when Ostapenko had been unable to convert four in the previous game.

Rybakina, who beat top-seeded Iga Swiatek in the fourth round, set up match points with aces, both of which were saved by Ostapenko. But she clinched the match with another ace, her 11th of the match and a tournament-leading 35 overall.

“I was nervous in the last game, but I managed my emotions and played very well.” Rybakina said. “The conditions were different after the roof was closed. But it can happen here, you never know, on the morning one weather and later it changes.”

Rybakina will play the winner of the night quarterfinal between American Jessica Pegula, at No. 3 the highest women’s seed remaining, and two-time champion Victoria Azarenka.

In men’s quarterfinals, 22-year-old American Sebastian Korda played the next match at Rod Laver Arena against No. 18-seeded Karen Khachanov. In a night quarterfinal, third-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas plays Jiri Lehecka. The winners of those matches will play each other in the semifinals on Friday.