By: Joey Hanf and Lindsey Witmer
Court 14 at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center is a small, cozy and often overshadowed destination for early round matches at the US Open. To the outsider, a first round mixed doubles encounter featuring Anda Perianu fit perfectly into that stereotype. Her journey to get there, however, was nothing short of extraordinary.
In the third round of the Sectional Qualifying for the US Open National Playoffs in Princeton, New Jersey, Perianu and her mixed doubles partner, Andrei Deascu, faced match point in the third set tiebreak. Down 8–9, Perianu was serving to the male opponent, a tall order given the magnitude of the situation. She missed her first serve, and was forced to play in safe on her second delivery. He missed the return, and two points later, Perianu and Daescu had won the match and advanced to the next round.
“We could have been out [of the tournament] right there,” Perianu said.
From that moment on, the duo did not drop another set — let alone another match — en route to a remarkable US Open main draw berth. They won 9 matches in total to earn a wild card into the mixed doubles draw at the most prestigious tennis tournament in the United States.
Perianu, the facility manager and tennis director at the Reis Tennis Center, had not competed professionally since 2009. Born and raised in Romania, she achieved a career-high world ranking of #120 in singles during her time on the tour, but moved to Ithaca in 2011 to start a family with her husband Silviu Tanasiou. They have two daughters, Mia and Jess. Perianu gave birth to Jess in October 2014.
“My daughter begged me to stop playing because it was taking too much time from away her, and she had a full on tantrum, it was hilarious,” Perianu said.
Tanasiou, who is the head coach of the men’s tennis team at Cornell University, spoke about the surprising run his wife made.
“There was a combination of being shocked, and then extremely proud at the same time,” Tanasiou said. “I was stunned just because she had our baby girl about 11 months ago, and I never thought she would be able to play tennis at this level ever again considering she is 35.”
Perianu’s workload as a facility manager as well as her responsibilities of raising two daughters severely limited the amount of time she was able to put into training. Perianu had played only one practice match with Daescu before setting off into competition.
“Obviously my priorities have changed,” Perianu said. “We used to spend two times a day training and for this tournament I trained once every three days.”
While there have been more than a few mothers play professionally at a very high level, it is certainly not commonplace. Ben Rothenberg, a contributing writer for the New York Times, wrote an equally incredible story on Perianu’s mixed doubles partner Daescu back in September. Rothenberg spoke about the challenges mothers face when returning to tennis.
“It’s significantly tougher to be a mother on tour because pregnancy and childbirth keeps women off court for months at a time,” Rothenberg said. “But Perianu did not look out of place at all, and she and Daescu were very competitive against one of the toughest teams in the tournament.”
As Rothenberg mentioned, Perianu and Daescu drew a strong opponent in their first round match at the US Open. They faced Max Mirnyi and Anastasia Rodionova. Both are accomplished doubles players, and Mirnyi has won 4 major titles in mixed doubles. The Romanian pairing held their own, but were ultimately outplayed on the big points. Mirnyi and Rodionova won the match 6–2, 6–4.
Shortly after the final handshake, Perianu’s oldest daughter Mia ran onto the court to see her mom. Tanasiou reflected on that experience, which he describes as amongst the most special in his life.
“I think that moment was the most special one,” Tanasiou said, smiling. “Mia runs on the court and jumps in Anda’s arms and hugs her. For me as a father and as Anda’s husband it was the most special thing to see them at the US Open.”
Back in Ithaca, Perianu is recovering from a few bumps and bruises as well as resuming her duties at the Reis Tennis Center. She mentioned that if all goes well she plans to enter the Wildcard tournament with Daescu again next year. She said that her memories from this year were so satisfying that she would love to try to do it again.
“For me the whole experience of being there with two kids, strolling around in the locker rooms, changing diapers, it was completely different experience from when I was there seven years ago,” Perianu said. “It was amazing to have both kids with you watching from the stands.”