As unlikely as it ever could have seemed – especially after playing just one match in more than four months because of a shoulder injury – Bianca Andreescu has rekindled the magic of her historic triumph in Indian Wells in March and brought it to Toronto at the 2019 Rogers Cup.
In the post-match excitement of her gritty 6-4, 7-6(5) victory over Sofia Kenin in the semi-finals at Aviva centre on Saturday, Andreescu said, “I’d say that this is even bigger than winning in Indian Wells really.” She then added about the possibility of playing Serena Williams (who defeated qualifier Marie Bouskova of the Czech Republic 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the second semi-final Saturday evening), “and if Serena gets to the final I’ve always wanted to play her. So I’m beyond excited and beyond grateful right now.”
Andreescu’s victory over the No. 29 ranked Kenin avoided her playing a three-sets match for the fifth time in a row this week – but it didn’t avoid drama.
After taking the first set with a break of serve in the final game, Andreescu looked to be safely into the Rogers Cup final when she led 5-2 in the second set. But she had described the 20-year-old American as “a fighter” before the match and Kenin, in character, rallied to make it 5-all. The Aviva Centre partisans were willing Andreescu to seal the victory when she had three match points leading 6-5 but Kenin survived mostly with brilliant shot-making – including a screaming forehand cross-court winner on the first match point and then a clever drop shot – passing shot combination on the second.
In the tiebreak that ultimately decided the match, Andreescu hit two crucial shots that earned her the win. Leading 5-4, she upped the tempo and belted a forehand inside/in outright winner than gave Kenin no chance. The after a nervy backhand service return misfire into the net on the fourth match point made it 6-5, again she showed her ability to hit big under pressure – crushing an inside/in backhand winner than Kenin scrambled for but couldn’t retrieve.
An ability to raise her game was what carried her to the title at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells and she has remarkably been able to approach that kind of tennis after only playing one match – a three-set win over Bouzkova in the first round of the French Open in May – since March before her shoulder required rest and extensive rehabbing.
After beating compatriot Genie Bouchard 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 in the first round of the Rogers Cup, Andreescu got past crafty Russian Daria Kasatkina 5-7, 6-2, 7-5 in the second round.
Then two matches showed her uncanny capacity to bring her best at the moments of most extreme pressure. She was at 4-all in the third set of both her third-round and quarter-final matches against No. 5-ranked Kiki Bertens and No. 3 Karolina Pliskova but came through to win those matches by scores of 6-1, 6-7(7), 6-4 and 6-0, 2-6, 6-4 respectively.
There was an interesting graphic after the first set of the match against Kenin – Andreescu had hit 25 per cent of her shots from inside the baseline – for Kenin that number was just 10 per cent.
Everyone has raved about the diversity in Andreescu’s game and it has again been on display this week in Toronto – the ability to slice off either side, to hit loopers, to drop shot and to angle ground strokes and volleys at the net. But there has also been her clutch serving and, quite simply, her bruising power off the ground that unsettles her opponents and sets up her more artistic kill shots.
“She can do everything with the ball,” said Bertens, after facing Andreescu’s variety-packed game on Thursday. “She made it tough today.”
Then there’s Andreescu’s mental toughness and confidence. “When I step out on the court, I’m fearless,” she said earlier this week. “I show no mercy no matter who I play and I think that’s showing.”
Kenin, who knocked out world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty in the second round of the Rogers Cup and No. 7 Elina Svitolina in the quarter-finals, put up a gutsy effort against Andreescu but clearly came out second best. Andreescu had 28 winners to 18 for her American opponent and had 36 unforced errors to 39 for Kenin.
It has been amazing how Andreescu has rediscovered the form that took the tennis world by storm when she won Indian Wells upsetting players like No. 20-ranked Garbine Muguruza, No. 6 Svitolina and No. 8 Angelique Kerber.
But she has also shown her exceptional skill as a battler at other less high-profile situations on the tour in 2019. She beat both Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams on the way to the WTA final in Auckland in the first week of the new year and then followed up by qualifying for the Australian Open. In a forgotten match at Melbourne Park, 18 years old at the time, she played 16-year-old Whitney Osuigwe of the U.S. in the main-draw first round. With all the pressure on her, she pulled through 7-6(1), 6-7(0), 6-3.
There were also two Fed Cup wins in s’Hertgenbosch, the Netherlands, in February. With the Canadian side counting on her, she showed her calibre dismissing No. 150 Richiel Hogenkamp 6-4, 6-1 and No. 129 Arantxa Rus 6-4, 6-2 to lead her team to victory.
Her attitude at crunch-time is pretty clear, as she explained after beating Bertens, “I told myself in the third set, ‘go big or go home.”
Her current ranking is No. 27 – having reached a high of No. 22 in May – but effectively she’s up to No. 18 and could go as high as No. 14 if she wins the title on Sunday.
Andreescu would be the first Canadian to do so since Faye Urban of Toronto in 1969. But that was a different era and, while ‘open tennis’ (professionals and amateurs together) had started in 1968, the 1969 Canadian Open was essentially an amateur event before Australian great Margaret Court won the first real ‘open’ tournament in 1970.
It’s fascinating to look at what Andreescu has done at the seven events – not counting the Rogers Cup – that she has played this year. In those she has averaged 259 WTA ranking points per tournament – obviously helped by the 1,000 points for winning the Premier Mandatory in Indian Wells. Since she was injured much of 2018 and finished the year ranked No. 178, it is fair to compare her average points earned since January with those of the top three players in the world over the past 12 months – Barty is 413 per event, No. 2 Naomi Osaka is 366 and No. 3 Plishkova is 275.
And Andreescu’s average will rise after this week’s Rogers Cup whether she wins or loses the final.
It’s been a storybook year for the 19-year-old, and dream run at her home tournament. Realistically, after all her time off, winning a round or two would have been viewed as a success at the 2019 Rogers Cup.
There has been an issue with her upper right leg that has been taped on-and off this week, but she insisted Saturday’s win, “physically I’m actually okay. Mentally I’m really good. I’m glad it was two sets today. I was up 5-2 (in the second set), she came back. I was just so, so nervous, I’m not going to lie.”
Tearful on court after the win, Andreescu explained, “I just felt like crying after because I’m so happy to be back on tour right now and to be in the final of the Rogers Cup. Life is freaking amazing right now.”
(Feature Photo: Peter Power)