Bianca Andreescu at a practice in action

Photo : Pascal Ratthé

Bianca Andreescu may be seed no.2 but she’s no.1 in so many fans’ hearts at the 2021 National Bank Open, which officially starts on Monday.  

With the WTA’s ranking system adjustments and the pandemic that put sports on pause 18 months ago, the Torontonian currently sits at World No.5. She also happens to be the reigning champion after her win over Serena Williams in 2019—a major year in Canadian tennis.  

But beyond the vibrant memories, 2019 is in the past.  

“I realized that I thought about that extraordinary year often, and I hoped to get back to the level I was at two years ago. At the same time, I need to forget that. That was 2019, and this is 2021. All the better if I can make it happen again, but I have to look ahead with a fresh perspective. I’m not the same person I was two years ago. I have a titles, I’m seeded in tournaments. Nothing’s the same. All I know is I want to win this tournament again!” she said in an interview on Saturday.  

She recently parted ways with Sylvain Bruneau, who was by her side in her incredible year. In Montréal, she will be relying on Sven Groeneveld, a veteran coach with a long track record working with champions like Maria Sharapova.

“My agent knows him well and put us in contact. I Facetimed him and we decided to give it a try. It’s been going great so far. We get along really well on and off the court. His knowledge is so impressive! I can already see differences in some aspects of my game. Like, my serve. He looks at the tiniest details that end up being very important. I already feel my technique and mindset getting better.” 

World No. 5 Bianca Andreescu

That physical aspect is key. She is the first to admit that her ups and downs may be rooted in problems off the court: “Injuries are certainly related to the stress I’ve experienced in the past 17 months, but I’ve learned from it and I feel good. What helps a lot is working with a psychologist and taking some me time off the courts and thinking about having fun. Even digging deeper into what my life means and asking myself who I am and what I want.”  

Bianca is joined by three other Canadians in the main draw: Leylah Annie Fernandez, Rebecca Marino and Carol Zhao. There were also six other Canadians in the qualifying event.  

Canadians out in force 

World No.70 Leylah Annie Fernandez will play a qualifier in her opening round. If she wins, her next match may be exciting or tragic, depending in your perspective, since Bianca is waiting in the wings. 

In an interview at the National Bank Open, Fernandez recalled her last appearance in Montréal three years ago, in the second round of the qualies. Ranked No.730 and only 15 years old, she came very close to surprising No.115 Katie Boulter of Great Britain.  

Photo: Tennis Canada

“Even though I live in Florida with my family now, Montréal is still my home. I’m glad to be back. A few of my family members may get tickets, and I’ll be happy to see them.”   

No.219 Rebecca Marino will battle No.26 Madison Keys (16) for the very first time in their careers.  

No.299 Carol Zhao faces the combative No.47 Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain. The two are 1-1. In spring 2018, Zhao got the upper hand in two sets in the qualifying event in Miami. Three weeks later, Sorribes Tormo ousted the Canadian in the second round in Bogota.  

It seems that Sara Sorribes Tormo can’t get away from our Canadian players, since she went up against no less than three of them in a four-week period this season. In Acapulco, she defeated Eugenie Bouchard in three sets before falling in two to Leylah Annie Fernandez in Monterrey just a week later. In early April, Bianca Andreescu outplayed her in the quarters in Miami.  

Qualifying event: Françoise’s comeback off to a solid start 

Photo : Pascal Ratthé / Tennis Canada

Françoise Abanda was the most experienced of the six Canadians in the preliminary rounds. Ranked No.355, she had barely played since her bout with COVID-19 this winter.  

In her match against Caroline Garcia of France, who is currently ranked No.68 and holds 13 career titles (6 in singles, 7 in doubles), Abanda played some great tennis. She battled for nearly two hours (1:49), eventually losing in two tight sets (7-6 (5), 6-4). 

Raphaëlle Lacasse, Mélodie Collard, Kayla Cross, Mia Kupres and Layne Sleeth were eliminated.  

C. Garcia vs. F. ABANDA 7-6 (5), 6-4  

C. McHale vs. R. LACASSE 6-0, 6-1  

K. Rakhimova vs. COLLARD 6-3, 6-0  

O. Dodin vs. K. CROSS 6-0, 6-2  

A. Li v. M. KUPRES 6-1, 6-3 

A. Potapova, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 sur L. SLEETH