Athletistic / Tennis. Russian women’s tennis continues to experience a generational change. Fortunately, it happens smoothly, without sharp jumps, so the overall average level of Russian women remains at a decent level. However, Russia will certainly not refuse to feed on young blood. Here it is necessary to recall the beginning of 2023, which turned out to be very inspiring for Russian tennis.

At the Australian Open junior tournament, two Russians played in the final – Alina Korneeva and Mirra Andreeva. In a tense fight based on the results of three matches, Alina won (6:7, 6:4, 7:5). In June 2023, Korneeva won Roland Garros junior, but in the final her opponent was another tennis player (Peruvian Lussiana Perez Alarcon). The fact is that at that time Mirra Andreeva was already shining on the WTA tour.

In April, Andreeva performed well at ITF tournaments in Switzerland, alternately winning trophies in Chiasso and Bellinzona. This not only brought the then 15-year-old Russian into the top 200 of the WTA rankings, but also helped Mirra receive a wild card to participate in the main draw of the WTA-1000 category clay court tournament in Madrid.

In the first round of the tournament in the Spanish capital, Mirra sensationally defeated the 49th racket in the world, Canadian Leila Fernández (6:3, 6:4). This allowed the Russian to become the third youngest tennis player since 2009 to win a match in a WTA-1000 tournament. What surprised fans and experts was not even the victory itself, but how confidently Andreeva played, with what pressure she put on her opponent.

Photo source: WTA

The Russian’s next opponent was Brazilian Beatrice Addad-Maia, who was then 14th in the WTA rankings. In the first set, the tennis players brought the matter to the tie-break, where the iron character of Mirra manifested itself again – 7:6. In the second match, the Russian no longer missed the thread of the game and managed to achieve the final victory – 6:3. In the 1/16 finals of the “thousandth” in Madrid, Andreeva continued to make neutral fans fall in love with her and again faced the 19th racket in the world, the Pole Magda Linett, quite routinely – 6:3, 6:3. Thus, Mirra became the youngest tennis player to reach the fourth round (1/8 final) of a Premier Mandatory Series (WTA-1000) tournament.

Already in Madrid, Mirra was 16 years old. On April 29, she celebrated her birthday, and two days later, on May 1, she appeared in court against the world’s second racket, Belarusian Arina Sabalenka.

– Of course, I didn’t expect to find myself in Madrid, to go so far and face Sabalenka in the 1/8 finals. But I’m not particularly surprised by my level, because I know what I’m capable of. I have nothing to lose in the match against Sabalenka. I just need to go out on the court and play my best tennis. There is no pressure on me. I think there will be pressure on Arina because she will be playing with a 16 year old girl.Mirra said before the match.

As it turns out later, Arina will be hurt by these words, which she will talk about in the post-match interview.

At the start of the match, Andreeva and Sabalenka exchanged breaks, after which they simultaneously took their serves. But then Arina took her opponent’s serve for the second time in the match. As it turned out later, this was the key moment not only of the set, but also of the match. Arina won the first match with a score of 6:3, winning three of her opponent’s serves. And Mirra, it seems, began to tremble for the first time, because in the first set alone she made four double faults.

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Andreeva simply did not have enough strength for the second match: neither physical nor moral. In the second set, the 16-year-old Russian won only one game and did so with a score of 0:3 on serve. And Sabalenka made two more breaks then converted the very first match point on her serve. Confident 6:3, 6:1 in favor of the native of Minsk.

“I don’t think there was any pressure on Andreeva. On the pitch, I felt that there was actually a little pressure on her. This is always present on the playing field. If Mirra wants to become a top player, she has something to lose. There’s always pressure on both of us and I think she had to deal with that today.” Sabalenka said in a short interview directly on the field.

It was Arina who inflicted Mirra’s first defeat in adult tennis. Andreeva was then waiting for the first Grand Slam tournament – Roland Garros. In Paris a year ago, the Russian reached the third round, where in a fierce fight she lost to the sixth racket in the world Cori Gauff (7:6, 1:6, 1:6). Over the past year, the paths of Mirra and Arina will cross two more times: at an exhibition tournament in Dubai (UAE) in December, the Belarusian will beat the Russian with a score of 6:2 (when of this tournament, matches lasted until victory in one set), and on May 1, 2024, exactly a year after the first meeting, Sabalenka will eliminate Andreeva from the tournament in Madrid (this time they will meet in the quarterfinals – 6:1, 6:4).

On June 5, Mirra Andreeva will take to the Roland-Garros court for her first quarter-final of a Grand Slam tournament. The irony is that her opponent will once again be Arina Sabalenka. Will Mirra be able to face her anxiety and challenge one of the best tennis players on the planet? That’s a question for now. However, we can say with confidence that every month the Russian will close the gap with the best tennis players on the planet, and soon the representatives of the top 10 of the WTA rankings will worry about meeting her on the court.

Nikita Serbakov, Athletistic