Amanda Anisimova has a good backhand, so good as to foreclose any technical critique from the peanut gallery. She’s 17 years old and it has already been described by tennis commentators, perhaps accurately, as the best backhand on tour, and, hyperbolically, as the best of all time. I’ll leave those judgments to the experienced Pantheon Builders and let the results speak for themselves: Anisimova broke into the fourth round at the year’s first major, and today at the French Open dispatched the defending French Open champ Simona Halep 6-2, 6-4 in their quarterfinal.
The New Jersey native does real damage with what is most players’ weaker groundstroke, in the usual variety of ways: depth on rally balls, aggressive returns, the looming threat of a great drop shot. But to isolate just one exceptional quality of that backhand, it’s her ability to get around the ball and generate angles from doomed court positions. Lots of players look impressive hitting the ball from comfy situations on the baseline; it’s another thing entirely when you’re on a full sprint and trying to puzzle out a way to regain the leverage.
Let’s freeze this situation in the first set. Anisimova is on the move and stretching to hit this ball. Anytime you’re getting pulled out into the doubles alley while the other player stands prepared in the middle of the court, it’s bad news.
Here’s a nearly identical situation in the second set. Most players will just loop the ball back and try to recover, or maybe send a prayer screaming down the sideline. Doesn’t look too promising for the American either way.
But then look what actually happened in the context of each point. In both cases, Anisimova produced a backhand angle so severe that the ball landed inside the service box. Suddenly Halep was the one being dragged off the court, her viable options narrowed down to one: knock it down the line and hope Anisimova can’t chase it down.
So Anisimova anticipated exactly the shot that was coming, got to the ball, and then saw a full court of empty space where she can deposit a winner. Both times, that initial extreme angled backhand allowed her to steal back a point that seemed lost.
Angles like that are relatively rare on either tour; it’s a mark of incredible control. And that degree of control should be lethal in the broader context of her size, mobility, and power. She broke Halep’s serve four times en route to a fairly straightforward win. Ranked No. 51 in the world, Anisimova has yet to drop a set at Roland Garros and her semifinal appearance is the best run at a major by any player born in the 2000s. It’s fitting that she ended her day with her signature shot: