Anyone looking at the women’s draw in Paris on Thursday could be forgiven for not recognising all of the names in the semi-finals, with the likes of the World’s top 7 out of the picture, and no Serena Williams anywhere to be seen.
America’s Amanda Anisimova is unseeded, only 17 years old and playing with the big girls instead of the juniors.
Having won the 2016 Junior French Open singles title, Anisimova has been tipped for great things, but no one quite expected her to reach the semi-final at Roland Garros.
After Wednesday’s washout, the World No 51 delivered another stunning upset at the French Open by ending the title defence campaign of World No 3 Simona Halep in the Roland-Garros quarter-finals.
In the second round she took out Aryna Sabalenka, the 11th seed, in straight sets.
Playing with a maturity well beyond her years, Anisimova outplayed the highest seed left standing, defeating her, 6-2 6-4, in an hour and 8 minutes.
In so doing, the first player, male or female, born in the 2000s to reach a Grand Slam quarter-final became the youngest American woman to make a Grand Slam semi-final since Venus Williams placed runner-up at the US Open in 1997.
She is also the youngest American woman to reach the last four at Roland-Garros since Jennifer Capriati in 1990.
With 19-year-old Marketa Vondrousova also in the Roland-Garros semi-finals, this is the first time two teenagers have made it into the last four at a Grand Slam since the 2009 US Open when Caroline Wozniacki was the runner-up at 19 and Yanina Wickmayer reached the semi-finals, also aged 19.
“This is honestly more than I could ever have asked for,” Anisimova, who only won her first career title at tour-level on the Bogota clay in April, said on court at the finish. “That was one of the best matches I have ever played.
“Going out there today, I knew that if I wanted it, I had to give something different.”
Born in New Jersey, Anisimova earned her spot in Friday’s semi-finals, where she will face 8th-seeded Ashleigh Barty from Australia, who dismissed another American Madison Keys, 6-3 7-5, just minutes later on Court Suzanne Lenglen.
Anisimova had never played on the French Open’s showcase court, the 15,000-seat Stade Philippe Chatrier, but she took it all in her stride, producing remarkable power, oozing confidence and playing efficiently.
Sadly, due to the early start, there was only a sparse crowd to witness her extraordinary victory.
Wednesday’s washout, in which not a single match in the tournament’s main draw was contested, created a log-jam of matches on Thursday and forced officials to move up the start of matches by 2 hours when Halep and Anisimova, wearing identical Nike tops and skirts, stepped onto Chatrier at noon.
With each knotting her long hair in a bun that sprouted atop a visor, only their 5-inch difference in height made it easy to tell them apart. Halep is 5-feet-6; Anisimova, 5-11.
The 17-year-old got off to a flying start, playing fearlessly to open a 4-2 lead with the first break, and then steal Halep’s serve again to bag the opening set in under half an hour.
With balls leaving her racket at bullet speed, Anisimova kept the pressure on, sometimes drawing her opponent to the net before finishing off the point with passing shots.
There were a few ‘Simona, Simona!’ chants came down from the near-empty stands as Halep finally won a game having lost 7 in a row.
Anisimova was 3-1 up and Halep had break points, only for the American to see them off, finding unpredictable angles that left the Romanian often unbalanced.
Halep broke back in the 7th game when Anisimova overplayed a backhand down the line and, at 4-all, the teenager showed signs of nerves, but Halep failed to convert a break point and her unsuccessful efforts to get back into the contest proved costly as the American wrapped it up with her 25th winner.
She will face Barty for a place in the final after the 8th seed eased past Keys to reach her maiden Grand Slam semi-final.
It went according to serve until the 8th game of the first set when Barty made the most of the first break-point opportunity of the match before serving it out in the next game, converting on her 4th set point in under half an hour.
The Australian then broke the Keys serve in game 7 of the second, only to lose her own serve in the 10th, but she struck back in the next to all but seal the deal.
The 23-year-old from Queensland looked in control throughout and even managed to overcome a hiccup in the second set when Keys broke her as she was serving for the match.
Barty responded magnificently against last year’s semi-finalist and broke straight back before closing out the match.
Despite being on the receiving end of 8 aces, Barty’s return game was solid throughout as she won 40 per cent of her receiving points and converted 80 per cent on her own serve.
Following the rain that washed out the whole of Wednesday’s schedule, Barty must play 3 matches in as many days if she is to become the first Australian to reach the final in Paris since Samantha Stosur 9 years ago.
The result means Roland Garros will have 3 players debuting in their first major semi-final as the other last-8 clash will see British No 1 Johanna Konta, appearing in her third major semi-final, take on Vondrousova.
“Anisimova has been playing some great tennis, to reach a semi-final you must be doing the right things,” Barty, who once quit tennis to play cricket, said on court.
“It’s an exciting opportunity for both us and we will both enjoy it tomorrow.”
Barty is the highest-ranked player left in the draw at No 8, which is remarkable in itself since 3 years ago to the day, she reappeared on the WTA Rankings at No 623.