Mira Andreeva came into tennis midway through last season, like the new kid in school whose mom or dad had just moved to the local branch office.
One day, no one's ever heard of her, and the next, she's all anyone talks about: 16 years old, three days into the online version of her junior year of high school, complaining about homework and managing Australian Open. She achieves a miracle every day, and then talks about it with equal parts sophistication, self-deprecation, humor and sarcasm in her third language (Russian and French are one and two) better than many people can in their first.
The other day, Andreeva beat Ons Jabeur, a three-time Grand Slam finalist and tennis idol, playing nearly flawless tennis on her way to Rod Laver Arena by a score of 6-0, 6-2, the same court where she lost. Championship. The junior final was here last year. On Friday, Andreeva achieved a miracle of a different kind. She rallied from a 6-1 first set loss to Diane Barry to level, then somehow climbed out of a 5-1 gap in the third set, saving two match points, taking a 6-5 lead, then failing to serve. However, he quickly recovered to beat Barry in the deciding set tiebreak 10-5.
She cupped her face, hid an embarrassed smile, then began taking the bracelets out of her bag and throwing them into the enthusiastic Australian crowd that had fallen in love with all her charms last week.
An hour later, she was back on the floor, her feet firmly planted on the ground, or as much as she could have a rocket ride into the spotlight of the game she loves so much.
““I agree with what's happening.” Andreeva said with a wry smile to a handful of adults twice her age and three times her age. “Maybe if I win the grand slam. I have to win three more matches and it's really hard to win seven matches in a row.”
Andreeva is not like other teenage girls, or maybe she is, but only with the tennis flavor of youthful habits.
At the end of each day, she turns off the lights in her room and talks to herself about what happened.
You watch a lot of videos on your computer and phone, but it's often an old tennis match. She's familiar with the greatest hits of Martina Hingis, the Swiss prodigy whose smooth, powerful base game is often compared to her style.
She misses her heartbeat. He happens to be a 36-year-old married man with four children, a receding hairline and a steely hip – Andy Murray. After her win on Friday, he praised her mental strength on X, formerly of Twitter, noting that she owes her success to how strong she is on herself, even if it hasn't served her well in the past. More on that shortly.
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For Andreeva, this was everything.
“Honestly, I didn’t really think he would watch a game and then after he tweets, comment on something,” she said. “I'll try to print it out somehow. I don't know, I'll frame it. I'll carry it with me everywhere. Maybe I'll put it on the wall so I can see it every day.”
On the court, Andreeva is a series of beguiling contradictions. She doesn't appear fast but somehow always gets her feet behind the ball. It's minor. It doesn't seem to swing that hard but it can make the ball pop off its strings. In the most crucial moments on Friday, there was a calm about them as Barry slipped into panic mode, though that's not exactly what she felt inside her brain, according to Andreeva.
She said she felt very confident after crushing Barry in the second set. She won five straight matches, had multiple breaks, and just had to keep doing what she was doing.
Then she dropped serve, wasted her chance to get back at 2-0, and before she knew it she was down 5-1. She looked at the scoreboard and noticed the absurdity of a match that could end 6-1, 1-6, 6-1, so she made it her mission to win one game so that the final set score was at least 6-2.
After the score was 5-2, I ran to the net and thought: “Am I crazy? I'm going to go to the net on match point?” But then Barry missed.
At 5-3, she felt her adrenaline rising and wanted to win again. She then had two quick points on Barry's serve but regained them on a missed return. Her inner voice said to her, “Oh my God, okay, that's it.”
The next two “crazy spots” were a blur of running and swinging. When she won it, she knew she had the mental advantage, and the energy was flowing through her and draining from Barry. Even when she couldn't serve at 6-5, she still knew she had come this far.
“It was like, 'Okay, six all, I didn't think that was it,'” she said. “I already knew I was going to win, but I had to do everything for it.”
Andreeva's connections to the Australian Open run deep. A tennis fanatic, Andreeva loves to rewatch old matches in her downtime, and the 2017 final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal is her favorite. But in fact, the relationship began two years before she was born, when her mother, Raisa, became addicted to the sport watching Marat Safin win the men's singles title in 2005. Within a few years, she was bringing along Mira's older sister, Erika, who is now also a professional. Taking lessons with Mira.
This was in Krasnoyarsk, a city of one million in Siberia, located in the middle of the largest country in the world – not exactly tennis heaven. When the girls began to shine on the court, Raisa moved them to Sochi on the Black Sea, a warmer region and breeding ground for Maria Sharapova, and then to Cannes, France, where they enrolled in a tennis academy and where they still reside. . She was found by an IMG recruiter when she was a nervous, petite 12-year-old girl calling headquarters.
She burst onto the scene at the Madrid Open last year when she was still just 15 years old One of the youngest players to beat a Top 20 opponent, Beatriz Haddad Maya from Brazil. Then she did it again in the next match, beating Poland's Magda Lynette, who was twice her age.
She won five matches at the French Open, including the qualifier, and two at Wimbledon, her first major competition on grass, before her teenage head popped up and ruled her loss – a ball batted into the crowd in Paris, or a racket perhaps thrown at Wimbledon. This cost her a major point. She swore that she had dropped it and not thrown it.
At the US Open, she faced the in-form Coco Gauff in the second round and was beaten comfortably.
She has since separated from her coach, Jean-René Lesnarda former professional from Monaco, employs a temporary coach, Kirill Kryukov, a Russian who worked with Andreeva and her sister when they were younger.
She's trying to balance the academic headaches of high school life without the social benefits, a dynamic that's not always great. Growing up as a teenage phenomenon is not for everyone.
For now, that's no problem, not while she's in possession of Melbourne Park and in the second week of a Grand Slam for the second time in seven months. This life suits her perfectly.
““I love being here,” she said, and she wasn't just talking about Australia. “I love traveling around the world. I'm OK with whatever happens.”
(Top image: Robert Prang/Getty Images)
“Beer enthusiast. Subtly charming alcohol junkie. Wannabe internet buff. Typical pop culture lover.”