Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga, Ont., and Carson Branstine of Orange County, California, won the Australian Open Junior Girls doubles title on Friday with a 6-1, 7-6(4) victory over the unseeded Polish pairing of Maja Chwalinska and Iga Swiatek.
The No. 3 seeds totally dominated the opening set and led 3-1 in the second before things started to get much more competitive. Leading 5-4, Branstine served for the match but played a poor game.
Eventually a tiebreak would settle matters but not before the 15-year-old Poles led 4-3. A strong final push by Andreescu and Branstine got them over the finish line and they celebrated with a joyful embrace.
While Branstine, 16, is technically an American, she is on the cusp of becoming Canadian and could hardly be more excited about it.
Her mother is from outside Toronto and all it will take now is a passport for her to play as a Canadian although representing the country in team competitions is another couple of years away. She has been and continues to train at the National Training Centre in Montreal.
About how anxious she is to be playing as a Canadian, the 5-foot-11 Branstine could barely contain her enthusiasm. “Oh man, more anxious than anything in the world,” she said just about jumping out of her skin. “I love Tennis Canada so much and I just can’t wait until the day I see that next to my name. The day will come.”
Asked about her connection to Canada through her mother, she bubbled, “it’s very strong, my whole family in Canada was watching my matches and they keep up with all my stuff. I love Canada.”
Andreescu, 16, was coming off a tough loss in the singles semifinals (see below) less than two hours earlier and Branstine did her part to keep her spirits up. “I know Bianca no matter what for every match she’s going to be ready,” Branstine said. “I was definitely trying to be positive, especially in the beginning to get her going.” She smiled, “it worked.”
Things certainly got more complicated in the second set, and Branstine noted, “I thought they brought the level up a little bit – they started playing much better and came up with some good shots. But we held them off.”
Andreescu’s take was similar, “they raised their level but in the end we managed to pull through in the tiebreaker. We brought our energy level up.”
“This is actually our first time playing with each other,” Andreescu added, “but I think our game-styles suit. We both have really good serves and good volleys – and a really good connection on and off the court so that helps.”
Summing up her 2017 Australian Open as seventh seed in singles and as part of the third-seeded champion doubles team, Andreescu said, “from the beginning I just wanted to go out every match and have fun and play my best tennis. I managed to pull through in the doubles and in my singles too but today not so much. I’m just glad we got the doubles title.”
Andreescu became the first Canadian since Carol Zhao of Richmond Hill, Ont., (with Ana Konjuh of Croatia) in 2013 to win the Australian Open Junior Girls doubles title.
The previous year, Genie Bouchard won the Wimbledon Girls Doubles (and singles as well) with Taylor Townsend of the U.S.
There was a cool moment after the trophy ceremony when Andreescu and Branstine, with Tennis Canada coach Simon Larose, hung around Showcourt 3 long enough to take pictures of the trophies and the flowers that they had been presented.
ANDREESCU LOSES TOUGH ONE
Bianca Andreescu was oh so close to getting into the Australian Open Junior Girls singles final – two points away – but she ended up losing on Friday 4-6, 7-6(5), 6-0 to the top-seeded Rebeka Masarova from Switzerland.
There had been some patchy play from both players but Andreescu had been more solid and, when she served for the match in the second set at 6-5, 30-love, there was no sense at all that Masarova was about to come back. She had just made two very poor unforced errors and looked shaky. But suddenly she revived, using her big forehand to win points and soon it was 30-40. Andreescu got it back to deuce but two points later Masarova forced the set to a tiebreak with a forehand swing volley winner.
In the tiebreak, Masarova led 3-1 but Andreescu with a bold backhand winner and two unforced errors by the 17-year-old Swiss took the lead 4-3.
Again it seemed to have turned her way but Masarova, a rangy 6-foot-1, has a good serve (above) and she hit a 182 km/hr un-returnable to level at 4-all.
Two points later, on unforced errors by Andreescu, it was 6-4, double set point for the Swiss. On the first Andreescu hit a big backhand that Masarova couldn’t handle but on the second Masarova belted another 182 km/serve followed by a forehand winner into the open court to wrap up the 61-minute set.
At the end of the set, Andreescu took a medical time-out to have her left thigh re-wrapped. When the third set started she was not the consistent and opportunistic player she had been the first two sets, not moving as well and making a lot of unforced errors, usually into the net.
Later, Masarova said about her perilous predicament down 5-6 and 30-love for Andreescu in the second set, “I was pretty focused on putting the ball in and not doing any stupid mistakes. I had nothing to lose and I just went for the points.”
As for Andreescu’s take on that pivotal moment, she said, “I think I played really well in the first and second sets. I thought I had it in the second set when I had 30-love (at 6-5 second set) but she kind of hit a couple of just random shots and then in the tiebreaker she just picked up her level.
“In the third I guess I was just a bit tired. I fought but I didn’t get it.”
Asked about the left thigh strain she has been protecting with a sizeable tape job since the beginning of the tournament, she said, “my thigh was pretty fine, it (the wrap) was more just for prevention. In my match today I felt it a bit in the second set but I didn’t really pay attention to it until the third when it started bugging me a bit. I mean Masarova played well, I have to congratulate her.
“I’ll stay focused for the next match – Fed Cup is next. I’m pumped for that.”
(Canada, from Feb. 6-11, will travel to Metepec, Mexico, and play in Pool A of Americas Zone Group I round-robin competition with Paraguay, Bolivia and Venezuela. Last year’s winner, Argentina, is in Pool B with Brazil, Mexico, Colombia and Chile.)
The semifinal loss was a downer for Andreescu who has had the thigh strain since the beginning of the event last Sunday and managed it as best she could.
As painful as the loss was for her, she can take consolation from the fact that five years ago on the very same Showcourt 3 in the same semifinal round, Genie Bouchard, trying to play through a heat illness, left the court in tears after losing 7-5, 6-1 to Yulia Putintseva of Russia. But less than six months later she made her big breakthrough – winning the Wimbledon Junior Girls singles title.
AUSTRALIA POST CARD
There’s a small dock that juts out into the Yarra River right across from the Melbourne Park tennis grounds.
This picture was taken just days before the 2017 Australian Open began – and there’s a certain sense that it was the calm before the storm.