American tennis star Amanda Anisimova hopes her decision to step away from professional tennis for mental health reasons can provide an example for other people struggling with similar issues.
After an eight-month break from the sport, the 22-year-old made an impressive return on Monday night, with a 7-5, 6-4 win over former French Open finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the first round of the ASB Classic.
It was an important result – but the main thing was being out on court again.
She was playing her first match since April, after taking an indefinite pause from the WTA tour, citing issues relating to depression and burnout. It was a brave step, for such a high profile athlete, to go public with such personal matters but Anisimova had no doubts it was the right way.
“I was happy that I was able to be honest about the reason why I was stepping away,” said Anisimova. “Just being vulnerable about it [was] kind of freeing and takes a little bit of weight off my shoulders and if I can help other people in knowing that they are not the only ones struggling, they are not alone in it. It was really good to post about it and give some insight into mental health and that it is really important and taking care of yourself always comes first.”
The break was not only required but productive, after being immersed in the tennis grind for most of her life, as well as having to deal with the sudden death of her father in 2019.
“It was really good,” said Anisimova. “It was really necessary for me just to reset, take some time away and some time off.”
She went on a road trip in the United States, visited Europe with some friends and enrolled for a semester at university.
“I did a lot of things that I wouldn’t get to do if I was playing on tour, I had a lot of time which was nice to put my energy into other things,” said Anisimova. She also gained a different perspective on tennis.
“There were a lot of things that I learned over the break that I want to do differently, going into this season and coming back,” said Anisimova. “I really matured as a person and grew a lot.”
She hadn’t put a fixed timeline on her return but picked up a racquet again last September. She felt ready to go again and built back into a training block, before Monday’s re-appearance.
It wasn’t a straightforward match – against a classy opponent – but Anisimova showed signs of her enduring quality. Former world No 11 Pavlyuchenkova (now No 60) is a veteran, on tour since 2006. The 32-year-old has reached 21 singles finals in that time (12 titles) including the 2021 Roland Garros decider.
The pair traded seven breaks in the first set. Anisimova, whose ranking has drifted to No 373 after being as high as 21, showed glimpses of her best form, with some crushing winners, particularly off her forehand side. But she also – not surprisingly – struggled with her rhythm.
Neither player were particularly comfortable on serve, thanks to some savage returns. Anisimova grabbed the crucial break at 5-5, then was good enough to close out the set, via a brave second serve ace down the middle.
Anisimova then called for medical attention, to deal some muscle spasms. Despite that, the 2020 Auckland semi-finalist improved in the second set, accelerating to a 5-1 lead. Pavlyuchenkova fought back but Anisimova sealed the result on her second match point, with another ace.
“I’m happy with how I played,” said Anisimova. “It was really nice, especially here in Auckland. I wasn’t feeling great physically but I was able to push through. I was really enjoying each game; I wasn’t really nervous or anything, just enjoying every second out there so it was a nice feeling.”
Anisimova will play fifth seed and world no 34 Marie Bouzkova in the second round.
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