Mirra Andreeva showed up to tennis in the middle of last season, like the new kid at school whose mother or father has just been transferred into the local branch office.
One day, no one had ever heard of her, the next, she’s all anyone is talking about: 16 years old, three days into the online version of her junior year in high school, complaining about the homework and taking over this Australian Open. She is pulling off a miracle every other day, then talking 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 blitzed Ons Jabeur, the three-time Grand Slam finalist and her female tennis idol, playing nearly flawless tennis on her way to a 6-0, 6-2 in Rod Laver Arena, the same court where she lost the junior final here last year. On Friday, Andreeva pulled off a different sort of miracle. She bounced back from losing the first set to Diane Parry 6-1 to draw even, then somehow climbed out of a 5-1 hole in the third set, saved two match points, and surged ahead 6-5, then failed to serve out the match but quickly recovered to blow Parry out in the deciding-set tiebreaker 10-5.
She grabbed her face, hiding an embarrassed sort of smile, then started fishing wristbands out of her bag and chucking them into the rapturous Aussie crowd that has fallen for all of her charms the past week.
An hour later, she was back down to earth, feet firmly planted on the ground, or as much as they could be given her rocket ride into the spotlight of the game she so loves.
“I’m OK with what’s happening,” Andreeva said with a wry smile to a handful of adults double and triple her age. “Maybe if I win a slam. I have to win three more matches and it’s really tough to win seven matches in a row.”
Andreeva is not like other teenage girls, or maybe she is, but just with a tennis flavor to the habits of youth.
At the end of each day, she turns out the lights in her room and has a conversation with herself about what has transpired.
She watches a lot of videos on her computer and phone, but it is often an old tennis match. She is very familiar with the greatest hits of Martina Hingis, the Swiss prodigy whose smooth and powerful baseline game is often compared to hers.
She ogles her heart-throb. It just happens to be a 36-year-old married man with four kids, a receding hairline and a metal hip — Andy Murray. After her win on Friday, he praised her mental strength on X, formerly Twitter, suggesting she owes her success to how hard she can be on herself, even if in the past that has not served her so well. More on that in a bit.
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To Andreeva, this was everything.
“Honestly, I didn’t really think that he would watch a match, then after he would tweet, he would comment something,” she said. “I will try to print it out somehow. I don’t know, I will put it in a frame. I will bring it everywhere with me. I will maybe 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 has her feet behind the ball. She is slight. She doesn’t appear to swing all that hard but can make the ball blast off her strings. In the most crucial moments on Friday, there was a calm about her as Parry descended into panic, though according to Andreeva, that’s not exactly what it felt like inside her brain.
She said she felt pretty confident after crushing Parry in the second set. She’d won five consecutive games, gotten multiple breaks of serve, and just needed to keep doing what she was doing.
Then she lost her own serve, missed her chances to get back on serve at 2-0 and before she knew it she was down 5-1. She looked at the scoreboard and noted the absurdity of a match that might end 6-1, 1-6, 6-1, so she made it her mission to win one game so at least the score of the final set would be 6-2.
Down match point at 5-2, she rushed the net and thought, “Am I crazy? I’m going to the net on match point?” But then Parry missed.
At 5-3, she felt her adrenaline rise and once more she really wanted to win. She then got two quick points on Parry’s serve but gave them back on missed returns. Her inner voice told her, “God, OK, that’s it.”
The next two “crazy points” were a blur of running and swinging. When she won them, she knew she had the mental advantage, that the energy was surging through her and draining from Parry. Even when she couldn’t serve out the match at 6-5, she still knew she had come so far back.
“It was like, ‘OK, six-all, I didn’t think that’s it’,” she said. “I already knew that I will win, but I just have to do everything for it.”
Andreeva’s connections with the Australian Open run deep. A tennis wonk, Andreeva likes to rewatch old matches in her downtime and the 2017 final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal is a favorite. Really, though, the ties began two years before her birth, when her mother, Raisa, got hooked on the sport watching Marat Safin win the men’s singles title in 2005. Within a few years, she was bringing Mirra’s older sister, Ericka, who is also now a professional, to lessons, with Mirra in tow.
This was in Krasnoyarsk, a city of one million people in Siberia, smack in the middle of the world’s largest country — not exactly tennis paradise. When the girls began to thrive on the court, Raisa moved them to Sochi on the Black Sea, a far warmer locale and the breeding ground of Maria Sharapova, and then to Cannes, France, where they enrolled in a tennis academy and are still based. An IMG recruiter found her when she was a scrappy, undersized 12-year-old and called headquarters.
She burst onto the scene at the Madrid Open last year when, still just 15 years old, she became one of the youngest players to beat a top-20 opponent, Beatriz Haddad Maia of Brazil. She then did it again in the next match, beating Magda Linette of Poland, who was double her age.
She won five matches at the French Open, including qualifiers, and two at Wimbledon, her first major competition on grass, before her teenage head emerged and doomed her losses — a swatted ball into the crowd in Paris, a maybe-thrown racket at Wimbledon that cost her a key point. She swore she dropped it and didn’t throw it.
At the U.S. Open, she ran into an in-form Coco Gauff in the second round and was comfortably beaten.
She has since parted ways with her coach, Jean-Rene Lisnard, the former pro from Monaco, and is using a temporary coach, Kirill Krioukov, 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 doesn’t always turn out so great. Growing up as a teen phenom is not for everyone.
For now, it’s not a problem, not while she’s taking ownership of Melbourne Park and is into the second week of a Grand Slam for the second time in seven months. This life suits her just fine.
“I like being here,” she said, talking not just about Australia. “I like to travel all over the world. I’m OK with what’s happening.”
(Top photo: Robert Prange/Getty Images)