Teen phenom Mirra Andreeva gears up for the biggest match of her career

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For a brief moment in the early hours on Friday morning, Mirra Andreeva looked her age.

The 17-year-old Russian had just defeated two-time major champion and former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka 6-3, 3-6, 7-5, in the second round of the French Open — after waiting through rain delays for hours. Andreeva jumped up in the air and waved her arms as an ecstatic smile spread across her face.

She quickly regained her composure, as the smattering of fans who remained in the stands at Court 12 cheered her on, but it was clear just how much the win had meant to her.

Throughout Andreeva’s run in Paris, she has played with a poise and ability typically reserved for someone much more advanced in her career. She beat rising American star Peyton Stearns in the third round and defeated Varvara Gracheva — a French player and crowd favorite — on Monday to advance to the first major quarterfinals of her career.

Already the most-hyped teen phenom since Coco Gauff, Andreeva became the second-youngest woman in history to reach the final eight at the French Open, and the youngest since 2005. It was the latest “youngest” accolade in what’s becoming a career of them.

On Wednesday, Andreeva will face world No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka with a spot in the semifinals on the line. They have played twice before, including in the Madrid quarterfinals earlier in May, with Andreeva losing both in straight sets. But if she was nervous about the clash, which is undoubtedly the biggest match of her career, she didn’t show it Monday. Instead she was relaxed and pragmatic as she answered questions about Sabalenka.

“I will not say my tactics right now,” Andreeva said laughing. “She probably [won’t] watch it or her coaches will not watch my press conference, but just in case. Of course we will add a few adjustments. We will change something, because the way I played last two times didn’t work. … She’s a player of another level, so I have to be prepared from the beginning. I hope my coach will help me with that, and, well, we’ll see how it goes.”

Since bursting onto the scene in April 2023 with her fourth-round run in Madrid during her WTA main draw debut, Andreeva has proved she’s capable of big wins and upsets over star players.

In January of this year, playing in her first main draw at the Australian Open and a year removed from losing in the junior final, Andreeva defeated three-time major finalist Ons Jabeur in the second round in a head-turning rout, 6-0, 6-2. In April, she defeated Marketa Vondrousova, the reigning Wimbledon champion, in the third round in Madrid.

But she’s always made it clear she’s not focused on who her opponent is, and her ultimate goal isn’t wins in the early rounds of tournaments. After reaching the fourth round in Melbourne, following a comeback victory over Diane Parry, Andreeva downplayed the accomplishment when speaking on court.

“I don’t think it’s a big deal,” Andreeva said. “I mean, fourth round, yes, I’m 16, maybe it’s a bit new. Honestly, I don’t think that I did something amazing. I’m just trying to win a match. I’m just trying to fight. Fourth round is nothing. Maybe if I win a Slam.”

Andreeva lost two days later in the fourth round to Barbora Krejcikova 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, but she vowed to learn from the experience and do better. “Maybe not today, maybe tomorrow,” she told reporters. “Yes, I will just try to play my next match better.”

Andreeva, still playing a limited tour schedule due to her age, lost her next two matches — in Dubai and Indian Wells. But back on clay, the surface on which she made a name for herself in 2023, Andreeva reached the quarters at the Open de Rouen and in Madrid.

She started working with Conchita Martinez, the former Wimbledon champion and coach of the recently retired Garbine Muguruza, in April. Andreeva said Martinez has helped her stay calm on the court and remain positive through the ups and the downs.

“When I have days when I don’t feel great on court or when sometimes I’m, I don’t know, too pissed off, she always gives me a lot of positive, a lot of great energy,” Andreeva said Saturday. “We always have [a] nice atmosphere. We always laugh, we always talk about something. So this helps me a lot, so I like that.”

In Paris, where she had reached the third round in 2023 as a qualifier — she found another level. Despite dealing with rain delays during her first three rounds, she has dropped just one set, in the match against Azarenka, on her path to the quarterfinals. During her fourth-round clash against Gracheva, the last-remaining French player in either singles draw, she didn’t just tune out the occasional boos and jeers from the crowd at Court Suzanne Lenglen, but used it as motivation.

“It put the fire inside of me,” Andreeva said later.

Currently ranked No. 38, Andreeva is expected to improve to No. 30 — a career high — by reaching the quarterfinals. A win over Sabalenka would likely push her to right outside of the top 20 and make her the youngest Grand Slam semifinalist since Martina Hingis at the US Open in 1997.

On Tuesday, Andreeva achieved another career first when she reached the quarterfinals in doubles with partner Vera Zvonareva following a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Ulrikke Eikeri and Ingrid Neel. It marks Zvonareva’s first trip back to the final eight at the tournament since 2006 — before Andreeva was even born — and Andreeva’s best result in both draws at a major.

Andreeva knows Sabalenka will be a tough challenge Wednesday and is aware of her previous results against her. She said she would talk to Martinez about strategy but was confident in her own abilities once the match started — and was ready for anything. But even with her focus squarely on the match and big picture overall, she also seemed to appreciate everything she had already achieved in Paris.

“I think I’m proud for everything, for all the matches that I won, for all the matches that I have played,” Andreeva said Monday, reflecting on both the second-round late-night finish against Azarenka, and the bigger crowds and stage she played on against Gracheva. “I’m just proud of the way I managed to stay calm and keep playing my game.”

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