PARIS — Amanda Anisimova, an unseeded 17-year-old American, upset Simona Halep, the defending French Open champion, 6-2, 6-4, to reach the semifinals at Roland Garros on Thursday.
“I’ve been working so hard, but I didn’t think it would pay off like this,” Anisimova said in her postmatch remarks on court. “This is honestly more than I could ask for.”
Anisimova, born in the United States to Russian immigrant parents, will face Ashleigh Barty, the No. 8 seed, on Friday for a place in what would be either player’s first Grand Slam singles final.
Barty, a versatile Australian who once quit elite tennis to focus on cricket, defeated Madison Keys of the United States, 6-3, 7-5, on Thursday.
The other semifinal will match the British veteran Johanna Konta against Marketa Vondrousova, an unseeded 19-year-old left-hander from the Czech Republic. Konta, 28, had never won a singles match at the French Open until this year, losing four straight times in the first round.
Combined, the four semifinalists had won three French Open main-draw singles matches coming into 2019. None of the four has played in a Grand Slam singles final, although that is about to change.
“Well, nothing surprises me anymore in tennis,” said Halep, referring to the wide-open nature of the women’s game.
Rain washed out all play at Roland Garros on Wednesday, delaying the women’s semifinals, which were scheduled for Thursday. Those matches are also normally be played on the main Philippe Chatrier Court, but there is now a logjam of singles matches and more rain in the forecast for Friday afternoon.
With that concern, and a desire to give the winners equitable rest before Saturday’s final, French Open organizers decided to play the women’s semifinals simultaneously late Friday morning in the smaller stadiums — Suzanne Lenglen Court and the Simonne Mathieu. The men’s singles semifinals, also set for Friday, will still be played as scheduled on the Chatrier Court, in part because separate tickets have been sold for each men’s match.
Steve Simon, the chief executive of the WTA, called the decision to relegate the women to outside courts “unfair and inappropriate” in a statement on Thursday.
“The four women who have played so well and made it this far here earned their right to play on the biggest stage,” he said.
Simon added, “We believe other solutions were possible,” but did not specific what those were.
The women’s quarterfinals on Thursday also were played simultaneously: Barty and Keys on Lenglen and Anisimova on Chatrier, where Halep finally broke through last year to win her first major title.
But she was unable to summon the same consistency and clutch shotmaking against Anisimova, missing several big opportunities to take control of the second set.
Instead, Anisimova closed out the match with a backhand down-the-line winner and then dropped her racket on the red clay, covered her face with both hands and said, “What?” in the direction of her coach, Jaime Cortes.
Others in the stadium also were surprised at how Anisimova, ranked No. 51, managed her first major quarterfinal.
“I’m still shaking,” said Chris Evert, the seven-time French Open singles champion. “For a 17-year-old to play that well was pretty awesome.”
Evert was a teen phenom herself, reaching her first Grand Slam semifinal at age 16 at the United States Open with her avant-garde two-handed backhand. That shot has become the standard in women’s tennis since then, and few have hit it as well as the young Anisimova.
That stroke is also Halep’s signature, but Anisimova repeatedly held her own or better in the backhand exchanges and was also able to generate rally-controlling pace with her forehand. She showed tactical variety too, hitting drop-shot winners after pinning Halep deep in the court with her baseline power.
“I knew if I wanted to win today I had to do something different, because it’s not an easy match to win,” Anisimova said. “I’m really happy with my performance because this is one of the best matches I’ve ever played.”
This tournament is also a breakthrough for Barty, the No. 8 seed from Australia, who is into her first Grand Slam singles semifinal after reaching the quarterfinals of the Australian Open in January. Two months later, she won the Miami Open, a top-tier event on the WTA Tour. She will be ranked at least No. 4 on Monday, quite a revival from No. 623 in June 2016 after her cricket sabbatical.
“I have grown as a person and obviously as a player, as well,” Barty said of her successful return to tennis. “But I’ve had some heartbreaking moments. I’ve had some amazing moments, but all in all, I have enjoyed every single minute. I think that’s been the biggest thing, that I haven’t had one ounce of regret. I felt like when I came back it was my decision. We did it my way, and yeah, it’s paying dividends.”
Anisimova is no bolt from the blue. She was the United States Open junior champion and a finalist at the French Open junior event. Signed by management agency IMG at an early age, she, her family and her advisers have carefully plotted out her path to the top.
She might have broken through earlier if not for a stress fracture in her right foot that happened at the Miami Open, which forced her to miss the clay-court season. But she reminded the tennis world of her potential at this year’s Australian Open, becoming the youngest woman to reach the fourth round in 13 years.
After winning her first career title, in Bogotá, Colombia, in April, also on clay, she has swept through the draw at Roland Garros without losing a set so far.
Anisimova took command of the match against Halep early in their first meeting, generating superior depth and force from the baseline. She finished with 25 winners and 24 unforced errors and, critically, managed to win 65 percent of her second-serve points against Halep, one of the better returners in the women’s game.
This was not Halep’s finest hour (and eight minutes).
“Nerves a little bit,” said Halep, who will drop to No. 8 in the rankings on Monday. “Stressed because I felt that I’m playing well and maybe my expectations for myself were big today. Maybe I couldn’t handle the tension in my body, so I couldn’t play my best, and I couldn’t move at my best level.”
But Halep made it clear that Thursday’s surprisingly one-sided result was not all about her own failings.
Asked if Anisimova could win the French Open, Halep did not hesitate.
“I think she has a big chance if she’s playing like today without emotions and without thinking, like, about the result,” Halep said. “She was pretty calm. She showed that she’s able to do good things and big things, so I think she has a chance.”