Bianca Andreescu capped a superb weekend for the Canadian Fed Cup team by defeating Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands 6-4, 6-2 on Sunday to vault Canada into an April playoff with a chance to be promoted to the elite eight-nation World Group I in 2020.
Following her 6-4, 6-1 victory over Richel Hogenkamp and Francoise Abanda’s 7-6(8), 4-6, 6-4 win over Rus on Saturday, Andreescu’s result Sunday gave Canada and insurmountable 3-0 lead in the best-of-five match World Group II Playoff. To put a bow on matters, Gabriela Dabrowski and Rebecca Marino saved three match points in a pro forma fourth doubles match – winning 2-6, 7-5, [12-10] over Dutchwomen Demi Schuurs and Bibiane Schoofs.
Andreescu has been a dynamo in 2019. Starting the year at No. 178, her inspired performances in Auckland (runner-up), the Australian Open (qualified and second round) and Newport Beach, California, (her first WTA title) have not gone unnoticed as she climbed as high as No. 68 in the January 28th WTA rankings.
When Dutch team captain Paul Haarhuis was asked if he was surprised by Andreescu’s dominant performances against his players in Den Bosch, he replied simply, “no, she didn’t surprise me. I expected to see what I did the past two days.”
The 52-year-old former ATP No. 18 in singles (1995) and ATP No. 1 in doubles (69 weeks) was well aware of the challenge facing his team – without world No. 7 Kiki Bertens – heading into the weekend at the Maaspoorts arena against Andreescu and her teammates. “I expected to lose twice to her so the second match of the day yesterday (Abanda beating Rus) was key,” Haarhuis said. “That’s why we lost the tie. If you don’t win the second match you’re in a deep hole.”
When a hypothetical Andreescu – Bertens clash was suggested to Haarhuis, he replied, “I think Kiki would have her hands full with this girl because…she’s ranked No. 70 now but by the end of the year she’s more likely to be top-20.”
About her approach to Sunday’s match against Rus, Andreescu said, “I try to go into every match thinking it’s just another match. Every time I step on the court I want to win so I try to stick to my tactics, not think about anything and go out there and just play free. I think I did that well today.”
It had to be tough for Rus, especially after the disappointment of her hard-fought match with Abanda on Saturday. But in the very first game it was obvious that Andreescu plays at a pace that she was unaccustomed to – and that she would have a lot of difficulty dealing with it. Andreescu quickly led 3-0 but had a mental lapse that allowed Rus back to 3-all before she completely took over the match and closed out the lanky No. 129-ranked Dutchwoman in 69 minutes.
Despite scintillating play – by all appearances – Andreescu wasn’t that thrilled with her level. “A little bit below,” she replied when asked about how it compared to what she considers normal. “I was missing a lot compared to when I play really, really well. But sometimes you have to win not playing your best so I’m really glad I pulled through.”
When informed that Haarhuis had said she would be in the top-20 by the end of the year, Andreescu responded, “that’s really, really nice to hear. I haven’t really set any goals for the end of the year. I haven’t spoken to my coach yet about that. My goal going into 2019 was to get into the main draw of the French Open, which I’ve already accomplished. But I haven’t seen him since California (Newport Beach) so I’ll probably call him sometime next week – top-20 would be fantastic. But I’ll keep it a bit higher – maybe top-50 just so I don’t put a lot of pressure on myself because I’m only 18. But I do believe I can achieve that.”
It’s written on the Fed Cup website that Andreescu’s coach is Frenchwoman Nathalie Tauziat – a player-coach partnership that has been over for a while. When a Dutch reporter asked her about who her actual coach is, that led into some fun-and-games, back-and-forth involving Wikipedia.
“We stopped working a year ago,” Andreescu said about Tauziat, who was with the Canadian team this past week as coach. “Right now it’s Sylvain Bruneau (from Montreal). I think on Wikipedia it’s correct. They took out Nathalie’s name.”
Laughing, Andreescu came clean, “I actually changed that. It’s so easy to change things on Wikipedia. And my height too – it said I was 5’-5”. I am not 5’-5”. I changed it to 5’-7.”
That led to some frivolity in the media room as the reporter suggested that, for any future information on her, people should go to Wikipedia. “I actually spoke to some WTA people who work in the media to change things,” Andreescu said, “but I guess they haven’t done that yet.”
Captain Heidi El Tabakh coached Andreescu through her Sunday match with Rus, helping when she had that early, first-set letdown and allowed the 28-year-old Dutchwoman to rally from 0-3 to 3-all. “I just told her ‘listen this is normal to feel a little bit tight now and to go through this – you’re only human,’” El Tabakh said. “This is a new experience for her – coming in as the favourite for Fed Cup. I told her this all part of the experience – you’ve got to enjoy the ups and the downs. I told her ‘it’s in your hands, you go out there and you focus on your game. The rest will take care of itself.’”
There had been a rumour among the Dutch media during the week that Andreescu had some sort of issue with her left wrist. Last Wednesday she was not hitting any two-handed backhands during practice. El Tabakh confirmed that there was something, saying, “she just had a little accident in the gym. But I knew she was going to be okay. It could have been worse and we’re lucky that it happened a couple of days earlier and not the morning of or the night before a match. The physios took care of it. We’re very lucky to have them here.”
Asked to confirm that Andreescu was back to 100 per cent for her match against Hogenkamp on Saturday, El Tabakh said, “yes, and you know how it is, you go out on the court and the adrenaline kicks in. She’s good…her back is always in and out. She felt it this morning but (physio) Carmine (Felice) got on top of it and she felt no pain by the end of the treatment. So she went out on the court pain-free.”
Looking back on a glorious Fed Cup weekend for her team, captain El Tabakh had the same thoughts as her Dutch counterpart about the outcome and pivotal nature of the second match win by Abanda over Rus on Saturday. “That win was huge for us and Francoise did a great job,” she said. “I know she was very nervous in the beginning and she battled. She wanted it so badly. She kept telling me she just wanted to win so badly. I was so proud of the way she fought. It could have gone either way but the fact that we were able to get that second win was huge for us.”
The weekend ended with that doubles win by Dabrowski and Marino over Schuurs and Schoofs, giving El Tabakh a perfect 4-0 record for her debut as Fed Cup captain. “The Dutch started very strong and Rebecca had some nerves because it was her first match, and for Gaby too,” El Tabakh said. “It was tough in the beginning and I told them just have fun, enjoy and stay loose. They were finally were able to relax and started playing so much better. Their level went up. I told to ‘stay right there, they’ll get tight and you guys keep going for it.’ They won the tiebreak – they were down 9-7. I didn’t know what to expect but I had a feeling they could come out on top. I was so happy for them.”
So it was an ideal weekend in ’s-Hertogenbosch, Den Bosch or whatever you choose to call it, for captain El Tabakh. The Canadian women, led by the preternatural Andreescu, were simply better than their opponents. Some will point out that Dutch No. 1 Bertens did not play. No doubt she could have made a big difference. But Canada was without Genie Bouchard who could have played a key role in either singles or doubles. It remains to be seen if she will be available for the next round to be held April 20-21 – the opponent and a site to be determined by a draw at the International Tennis Federation headquarters in London on Tuesday.
A week ago in Slovakia, two teenagers – Denis Shapovalov, 19, and 18-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime – led Canada to victory in a Davis Cup qualifier in Bratislava. As impossible as it might seem, eight days later another teenager, Andreescu, 18, was the key to a Canadian victory in a Fed Cup World Group II Playoff in the Netherlands.
It’s pretty remarkable and Canadian tennis fans should it enjoy it while they can. It’s not something that’s likely to happen again in most peoples’ lifetimes.
At the end of World War II, Canadian soldiers – with more than 7,000 dying – liberated the Netherlands from Nazi Germany forces. Before the matches on Sunday at the Maaspoort arena, the video board carried the above message. It had a few Canadians a little choked up to see that – 75 years later – the Dutch people had not forgotten.
This work by American artist Paul McCarthy was commissioned by the city of Rotterdam in 2001. The ‘Santa Claus’ sculpture has caused a lot of controversy with people seeing different things in what is supposed to be a pine tree in the right hand. ‘Santa Claus’ stirred strong hostile feelings in some locals, while others were great defenders. It moved around a few times but finally found a home in the Eendrachtsplein in the commercial district in November, 2008.
Feature Photo: Mauricio Paiz