All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us. J.R.R. Tolkien
Ask any tennis coach what happens during a practice session and you will likely hear about drills, shot sequences, footwork, stroke production.
But the difference in Leylah Fernandez’s 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 round of 16 win over Amanda Anisimova today was something far less technical. The telling factor was how each managed time—not just in rallies, but in between points.
In a match that featured many swings, the most revealing moment came in the wake of a line call. In the third set, Fernandez served at 0-1, 15-40. By this stage, she had lost seven of the last nine points. Having survived a terrible start in the first set, Anisimova had begun to smoothly dictate play with her concussive, deep groundstrokes. Anisimova’s backhand has long been a gem, as pruned, powerful and accurate as any in the game. When her forehand is cooperating, Anisimova is difficult to derail—unless she chooses to derail herself.
So it was that on this 15-40 point, Fernandez hit an ace. One school of thought says the player being aced should instantly utter two words: too good. And then move on to the next point, which in this case, after all, was now 30-40.
But Anisimova made a different choice, summoning chair umpire Damien Dumusois. Did she really think the call would get overturned in her favor? Did Anisimova recall that she still had another break point?
And then there was Anisimova’s greatly improved performance in three-setters. Prior to this year, her three-set record was 11-23. But in 2022, it had improved to a sparkling 10-4. Where did the memory of that performance level go?
Alas, the negative energy triggered by questioning a call and its subsequent fallout can distract and sabotage the ability to compete effectively. This was Anisimova’s variation of a time management malaise long suffered by Simona Halep: the choice to compete versus two opponents—the one across the net and the one inside yourself.
The sulk. The pout. Dismay. Doubt. All surfaced just enough to tilt Anisimova downward, her mind directed at trying to address peripheral questions.
Given that inner tussle, it was difficult for Anisimova to maintain the best possible presence, particularly when it mattered most. In contrast, focus was Fernandez’s biggest asset. Attuned to the next competitive moment directly in front of her, the Canadian is persistently primed to conduct the rally on positive emotional, physical, and tactical terms.
Said Fernandez, “You know, first and foremost, I do only focus on my game most of the time, and then of course I’ll be thinking about my opponent’s game, seeing where are the holes, what she’s doing good and what I need to do, based on what I like to do and what I need to bring on the court.”
And when the mind supports the body, good things often happen. Fernandez held for 1-all. Two games later, Anisimova served at 2-2, 30-love, only to be broken by a Fernandez salvo of depth, redirection and variety. In this case, as she had throughout much of the match, Fernandez further made time her friend, taking it away from Anisimova in all sorts of arresting ways.
In the lead for good, Fernandez was unblinking, a laser in the manner of such fellow lefties as Rafael Nadal, Monica Seles, Jimmy Connors. Serving at 3-5, Anisimova went ahead 30-love, hopeful of at least forcing Fernandez to serve out the match. Given how well Anisimova had returned, that would surely make for drama.
But all got complicated. Anisimova fought off a match point at 30-40 and twice held ads. Here again, though, Fernandez captured the moment. On one of those ad points, Anisimova’s lack of skill in the transition area compelled her to cough up a weak half-volley that Fernandez swiftly dispatched with a forehand winner. At deuce, Fernandez torched an untouchable crosscourt backhand return. On her second match point, Fernandez hit a deep forehand return that elicited an Anisimova error. She’d reached the quarterfinals of a major for the second time (her first was last year’s surprising run to the US Open finals).
The start of the match gave no indication it would be this competitive. Fernandez sprinted through the first four games, her footspeed and placement threatening to blow Anisimova off the court. Anisimova countered, in large part laying the groundwork for the second set with increased power, most notably when returning in the ad court.
When Fernandez served for the first set at 5-1, Anisimova won eight straight points. By the time Fernandez sought to close out the set once again, Anisimova had sunk her teeth into the match, only surrendering the set on Fernandez’s fifth set point. Fighting off break points at 1-all in the second, Anisimova marched ahead to take a 5-2 lead. Fernandez persisted, but was broken at 4-5.
Anisimova’s momentum continued into the third set. Why she found a reason to let it vanish is a mystery. There was nothing cryptic about Fernandez.
“Every time I step out on the court I still have something to prove,” she said. “I still have that mindset [that] I’m the underdog. I’m still young, I still have a lot to show to the people, to the public so that they can just enjoy the tennis match. That’s ultimately my goal, and that’s why I want to do well in matches.
“I think that mindset has helped me understand that I can just keep going and keep competing in the right way and the right direction.”
As this match showed, Anisimova and Fernandez have all the makings of what could blossom into a tremendous rivalry.