Nike bets big on new tennis pin-up girl
MEET the new Anna Kournikova. Or Maria Sharapova. Or perhaps a star that could outshine them both.
American teenager Amanda Anisimova has been rubber-stamped as tennis's next marketing phenom after landing a whopping new long-term endorsement deal with Nike.
While the past two winners of the US Open - 19-year-old Canadian Bianca Andreescu and 22-year-old Naomi Osaka - look set to lead the next generation of female stars, it's 18-year-old Anisimova that has the off-court appeal that turned Kournikova and Sharapova in to cash cows.
The Nike deal she signed this week is believed to be one of the largest ever for a teenager. Sharapova is soon finishing up an eight-year deal worth $100 million but at 32 and with a world ranking of 134 her career is in free fall.
Enter Anisimova. Ranked 21 in the world after a breakthrough 2019 that included a fourth round appearance at the Australian Open and a run to the semis at Roland Garros, she's the only teenager inside the top 60.
The former world number two junior could have finished the year even higher if the sudden death of her father and longtime coach Konstantin hadn't forced a last-minute withdrawal from the US Open.
But while her rise up the rankings has been rapid, the New Jersey-born prodigy's arrival on the world stage has been carefully orchestrated for years.
Anisimova was born with blonde hair and long legs but it was the right attitude her Russian immigrant parents knew would carry her to fame and fortune.
As a 10-year-old they took her to watch Sharapova play in a tournament in Florida and instructed the carefree kid to observe the five-time grand slam winner's focus and intensity.
"I was kind of a silly kid," Anisimova said. "Maria was always very serious. It popped out in my eyes when I watched her."
Sharapova was only 11, one year older than that "silly kid", when she was signed by IMG agent Max Eisenbud. His strategy was to carve out an alternate path to the one trod by Kournikova, turning down offers from men's magazines to do bikini shoots and only doing sit-down interviews when she won tournaments.
It helped Sharapova build an empire worth more than $280 million but Anisimova, who has also signed with Eisenbud, is embarking on her career with a significant headstart. Social media.
All of Sharapova's five majors came before she joined Instagram.
Anisimova has had it from the start - and a team crafting her strategy since her upset of Simona Halep at the French Open.
"Once Amanda beat Halep, I put a team in place to make sure her social media is on point," Eisenbud told ESPN. "You can't get endorsement deals without having good social media. That is the world we live in now. I talked to her about how many times a day to post and that it might seem weird, but people want to know what you had for breakfast or when you're training. And how one stupid post can ruin everything."
But make no mistake there's substance behind the glitz and glamour.
After wiping the floor with fellow teen sensation Coco Gauff 6-0 6-2 in the 2017 US Open junior final she declared: "I hope to be No. 1 and win every Grand Slam."
At 180cm, Anisimova has the frame to match the power games of Andreescu and Osaka and the mindset to match.
"My next biggest goal is to win a grand slam. Soon," she said in August. "I know it's not going to happen overnight. An old coach told me something you do now might help you in three months, and that's definitely true. Every day I work the hardest I can. I know that's what I have to do for my career to go the way I want it to."