Day after day at Rogers Cup 2019 in Toronto, Bianca Andreescu made the best of difficult situations – willing herself to win four of her first five matches in hard-fought three-setters.
Her 3-1 ret. victory over Serena Williams in Sunday’s final was anticlimactic when the great American champion had to retire with an upper back problem – but again she made the best of a difficult situation. She walked over to a tearful Williams and showed empathy and understanding and the two athletes shared a heartfelt bug.
Andreescu later described what she said to Williams: “girl, you are – I’m not going to say it (laughing). You are a beast. You’re going to bounce back. You’ve dealt with so much in your career, this is just a minor setback for a major comeback – I’m sure.”
Andreescu has a naturally infectious way about her and it’s unlikely many young athletes would have handled the situation as well as she did. Even during the trophy presentation ceremony that followed, the 19-year-old from Thornhill, Ont., and Williams, 37, shared thoughts in a friendly manner that showed both respect and a bond between top-flight athletes.
And Andreescu certainly has become a high-echelon tennis player. Her win at the Rogers Cup boosted her ranking to a career-high No. 14 and gave her a real chance – she’s No. 8 with only eight tournaments played – to finish the year in the elite eight and qualify for the year-end $14 million (US) WTA Finals in Shenzhen, China, in late October.
It’s amazing she could win the Rogers Cup after an ongoing back problem meant she had only played one match – a win in the first round of the French Open in May – in 134 days dating back to a loss by retirement to Anett Kontaveit in the fourth round of the Miami Open on March 25.
Even the most optimistic of tennis followers would have been happy if she was able to win two or three matches – quarter-finals maybe? – after so long a period away from competition.
On the Thursday before the tournament began, there was a slight hint that she might be able to summon some of the magic that enabled her to win – out of nowhere – the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells in March.
She was practising on Centre Court at the Aviva Centre with current No. 12 Belinda Bencic and looking a little scrappy and upset with her play. But about a half hour later something had changed – she was the one dominating the rallies to the point that the 22-year-old Swiss was tossing her racquet on the court in frustration.
There was still no serious indication of anything close to what was to come – an inspired run through players ranked No. 112 Genie Bouchard, No. 40 Daria Kasatkina, No. 5 Kiki Bertens, No. 3 Karolina Plishkova and No. 29 Sofia Kenin to reach the final. It doesn’t seem proper to include the win over No. 10 Williams because of the brevity of the encounter – and out of respect for arguably the greatest woman player in history.
In each match during the Rogers Cup, including her only two-set win 6-4, 7-6(5) over Kenin in Saturday’s semi-finals, Andreescu had moments when things looked bleak. But every time she battled and came through.
Looking back, it was the win over Bouchard that provided the initial hope that she could something. After nine weeks out before the French Open with a two-millimetre rotator cuff tear in her right shoulder, and then the setback with the problem reoccurring in Paris, this time, after another nine weeks that included extensive rehabbing in Arizona, she seemed to have finally have mastered the problem. She eagerly declared about the shoulder after the Bouchard match, “I would say 12 out of 10 really. I haven’t felt this strong in a while. I had a really good mini preseason where I was able to focus a lot on my physique and just focus on other aspects of my game. And not only that, but as a person too. I think I really improved a lot of things.”
With the shoulder issue settled, Andreescu was able to display the kind of tennis that took her to the title in Indian Wells – hitting big, hitting clever and showing a competitive drive that almost goes beyond the old cliché about “refusing to lose.”
“I just try to stay as calm as possible,” she said last week about playing through the perilous situations she faced. “I can have a lot of anger in me. So I try to stay as calm as possible and just focus on the tactics I want to perform.”
It’s unfortunate she wasn’t able to go the last step and win a final played out to its natural conclusion. But she did win five matches to four matches for Williams, because the 23-time Grand Slam champion had a first-round bye as the No. 8 seed.
Williams said her back had bothered her during the semi-final against qualifier Marie Bouskova on Saturday as well made sleeping very difficult overnight after the match.
She explained that she has had the upper back spasms before and that they have sometimes gone away in 24 to 36 hours – so she may be able to play in Cincinnati next week.
After failing in her bid to win a fifth Rogers Cup title, Williams had nothing but positive things to say about Andreescu. “I think Bianca is a great girl, always have. That’s why I have always wanted to play her. She’s just a fabulous personality.
“She’s just – she’s an old soul”
Andreescu has an outgoing personality that has made a connection with fans not only in Canada but all over the tennis world.
On a personal note, this reporter spoke with her before this year’s Australian Open when we did interviews about a variety of quirky Australian topics. One of them involved the disappearance of Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt in 1967 – he went swimming near Portsea, not far from Melbourne, and was never seen again, nor was his body ever recovered. A few months later in a casual conversation, Andreescu remembered the Harold Holt story and commented about just how strange it was.
There was another example of her spontaneity when she had the following exchange during with a reporter during her media conference after beating Kenin in Saturday’s semi-finals:
Q. If it is Serena, what do you think it’s going to be like and what’s that going to add to the whole experience for you?
BIANCA ANDREESCU: Well, it’s going to be an amazing experience, for sure, playing a legend, 20-time Grand Slam champion – if is that right?
BIANCA ANDREESCU: Oh, 23. My bad. That’s Federer, I think – 20.
Yeah, it would be an honor to share the court with her. But when I go out there, like I said, I’m fearless. So hopefully that will be the case when I play her.
There’s little doubt that Andreescu has all the talent and mental strength to go much higher in women’s tennis – if she stays healthy.
She’s a breath of fresh air in the women’s game. Together with the recent rise of Félix Auger-Aliassime on the men’s tour – the two, along with Denis Shapovalov, give Canadians the every reason to dream big about their futures in the sport.
In her media conference Sunday, Andreescu revealed what Williams said to her following her trophy-presentation speech to the crowd: “‘that was very mature of you. I wouldn’t have given that when I was your age.’ So coming from her, that means a lot.
“Yeah, I would say I’m an old soul. I love to read. I love to research on my own. I just love to learn, learn, learn. Because I believe that knowledge is power and I enjoy doing that.
“So I try my best to just become better and better. So I think that’s where she sees that from.”
Andreescu said she will consult with her team before deciding if she will play this week’s WTA Premier 5 event in Cincinnati. She has had tape on-and-off (mostly on) on her upper legs all tournament. “When I felt my groin in the quarters (against Plishkova), it was pretty bad,” she said. “I felt it quite a lot. But the taping helped after I saw the physio.
“I wasn’t going to pull out in the quarter-final match at the Rogers Cup, because I could walk totally fine. It was just some balls that hurt when I…especially on the open-stance backhand.”
Summing up Rogers Cup 2019, Andreescu said, comparing it to Indian Wells, “I’ve dedicated so much hard work and sweat on that tennis court and in this gym, so this tournament is definitely ten times more special.”
This past week’s true grit from Andreescu earned her the greatest title ever won by a Canadian woman since…since she herself won in Indian Wells in March.
That fact alone says everything about what a huge presence she has become – and so quickly – on the Canadian tennis scene.
(Feature Photo: Peter Power)