Photo : Martin Sidorjak
For years now, it’s been said that Canada is entering its golden age of tennis.
While the contributions of players like Daniel Nestor, Milos Raonic, and Eugenie Bouchard just to name a few went a long way towards building the sport in Canada, no player drove it to greater heights than Bianca Andreescu.
Her victory at the 2019 US Open was a milestone for Canadians in the sport. The next big leap came when Team Canada presented by Sobeys brought home the Davis Cup, the men’s “world cup,” in 2022.
Logically, the next step in Canada’s progression as a tennis superpower would be the women’s squad, led by Andreescu and 2021 US Open runner-up Leylah Annie Fernandez, duplicating the feat on the women’s side.
The road to a maiden Billie Jean King Cup title began on Friday for the Canadians, but Andreescu was not officially a member of the team taking to the court in Vancouver. She had been nominated but was forced to pull out after suffering an ankle injury in Miami.
But did that mean Andreescu was just going to walk away from her teammates?
Not a chance.
When the Canadians took to the court on Friday afternoon, the 2019 US Open champion was on the team bench along with the rest of the support staff, ready to cheer on her countrywomen as they took on the Belgians.
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“Being here, just being in the team environment being around these amazing women, it’s always nice to be there to support,” said Andreescu. “I care about these people.”
Throughout the matches on Friday, a victory for Leylah Annie Fernandez and a loss for Rebecca Marino, the Mississauga-native could be seen cheering on her teammates, banging on Thundersticks, and even capturing some key moments on video.
Fernandez, who assumed the role of Canada’s No. 1 singles player when Andreescu withdrew, deeply appreciated her countrywoman making the trip to the west coast.
“It means a lot to us, it means a lot to the whole team,” said Fernandez. “Bianca is an important player for Canada. She has done so well and every opportunity she has to play for Team Canada, she goes for it. I’m glad that she came, that she still supported us. I’m happy that she’s here and she’s given us confidence.”
“It’s awesome, we all love Bianca,” said Marino. “The fact that she’s here [after the injury] is really admirable and that shows that she’s a great team member. We’re all very excited that she’s here and she adds to the bench really nicely.”
During the match, only team captains (Heidi El Tabakh for Team Canada) are allowed to speak to the players on-court. If Andreescu were in the captain’s chair, she has a simple but important message for her teammates.
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“Everybody knows how to play tennis, everybody knows what to do, it’s more motivational things I would say” explained the Canadian No. 1-ranked singles player. “You’re doing amazing, keep it up, play with your heart, give everything you have, little things like that.”
Even though Andreescu does not have the weight of needing to win on her shoulders, that does not make the tie any easier for her. In fact, it’s even tougher for the fierce competitor that she is to be on the sidelines.
When asked if she found playing or watching more stressful, she responded, “Honestly, I hate watching tennis, especially people that I care about. I want my team to win. I love playing way more.”
Andreescu did not spend all of Friday on the bench, getting out on court and hitting a few balls in the quiet arena after fans departed.
One thing Andreescu showed no concerns about was the prospect of meeting the public at her book signing on Saturday, which will take place between matches at the Pacific Coliseum.
“I really am [looking forward to the signing], I love meeting people. I hope to do more in the future,” said the Canadian with a grin. “I feel like my story can inspire many people.”