SportsRosie DiManno: Bianca Andreescu may be a rookie in the U.S. Open final, but nothing, including Serena Williams, will intimidate her
Rosie DiManno: Andreescu plays through U.S. Open drama in hostile territory
If you can take it there, you can take it anywhere … New York, New York. As Frank Sinatra sorta sang. But man, they can eat you up and spit you out — New Yorkers. Bianca Andreescu, who’s basked in nothing but love since bursting on the scene in her rookie year on the big girl tennis circuit — well, except for former No. 1 Angelique Kerber, who called the Mississauga teenager a “drama queen” during their net handshake at the Miami Open — discovered how hostile a crowd can be. Nowhere more so than Flushing Meadows, where tennis etiquette — the typical hush, the murmur of appreciation or chagrin — is ditched for brassier displays of sentiment. The U.S.
NEW YORK—On April 3, Bianca Andreescu threw out the ceremonial first pitch at a Blue Jays game.
Unlike those other local ballers, the Mississauga-born teenager is having a glorious season. And for all the gushing over the rookie complement on the Jays roster, none of them can match what this rookie has accomplished.
It’s a funny thing because in reporter conclaves these past few months, Andreescu has repeatedly been asked — it’s a stretch — whether she was inspired by another Toronto team, the NBA champion Raptors. And she always replies, oh yes. Which may even be true. More likely it’s Andreescu being a good sport, eager to provide the right sound bite.
Scott Stinson: Bianca Andreescu makes Canadian history, advances to U.S. Open final in thrilling win
NEW YORK — In one of the promos that runs on American television coverage of the U.S. Open, players are asked about their memories of Serena Williams’ first victory at the tournament. “I wasn’t,” Bianca Andreescu says, pausing a beat, “born.” And now the Canadian teen will meet the American legend in the finals here on Saturday, with Andreescu trying for her first U.S. Open title and Williams going for her seventh, 20 years after her first. A huge comeback in the second set gave Andreescu a straight-sets win (7-6, 7-5) in a tremendously tight thriller over Belinda Bencic.
Somehow, however, even if playing the media spin game, the 19-year-old tennis sensation has managed to remain her sincere, open, delightful sense. Part spontaneous teen, with occasional gusts to censor-bleeped exclamations, and part preternaturally mature “old soul” — as Serena Williams described her when Andreescu consoled the tennis legend minutes after Williams had retired from the Rogers Cup final with back spasms.
Now that aborted confrontation, which resulted in Andreescu’s second tour title, is about to be resumed, starting from scratch. Much to her astonishment, the Canadian darling will battle the American icon for the U.S. Open championship Saturday afternoon.
On paper it seems a preposterous mismatch: Williams, the greatest tennis player ever (don’t @ me), is in pursuit of a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam crown, and her seventh at Flushing Meadows. She first raised that trophy exactly two decades ago. Andreescu wasn’t even born yet.
Meet Bianca Andreescu, Canada's teen titan of tennis
In yet another 2019 moment that has left Canadian sports fans wondering if they’re dreaming, teenage tennis sensation Bianca Andreescu, of Mississauga, Ont., is within a racket-arm’s reach of clinching the U.S. Open. Now there’s just one little obstacle in the 19-year-old’s way: Serena Williams, who is about twice Andreescu’s age and debatably the best tennis player of all time. But Williams has been plagued by injuries of late, and is possibly past her peak. Andreescu, on the other hand, has rocketed up more than 100 places in the Women’s Tennis Association global rankings, from 152nd at the end of 2018 to 15th going into Saturday’s final match.
Out in Queens, Williams has been playing her best tennis since returning from giving birth to daughter Olympia two years ago. But No. 24 has eluded her; Williams hasn’t won a major since the 2017 Australian Open, when she was pregnant and didn’t know it. There have been three Slam finals, including the temperamental meltdown last year that left Naomi Osaka in tears and for which Williams subsequently apologized.
Williams has won 101 matches at Flushing Meadows. Still, a couple weeks shy of her 38th birthday, she does have vulnerabilities, as is true for any athlete on the slippery side of 35. In Andreescu she’ll have to tackle an opponent who reflects many of her strengths: groundstrokes with spin and torque, brilliant footwork, a lethal inside-out forehand, shot variation and exceptional mental fortitude.
Like the Williams we’ve watched what seems like forever, Andreescu just doesn’t quit, not within a set, not within a game, not within a point. That mettle is what brought her back from 2-5 in Thursday’s quarterfinal to prevail in two sets against Belinda Bencic. That’s why she’s racked up 13 consecutive three-setters. She gets broken but she doesn’t break. She hasn’t lost a completed match since March 1, rocketing up the rankings and into the top 10 on Monday.
Scott Stinson: Bianca Andreescu makes history with remarkable U.S. Open win
NEW YORK • Bianca Andreescu cannot stop making history. On the incredible stage of the U.S Open women’s singles final, the 19-year-old from the Toronto suburbs took down the most daunting opponent in the sport, pulling off a remarkable straight-sets win (6-3, 7-5) that makes her the first Canadian to win a Grand Slam singles title.
“I remember watching (Serena) when I was about 10,” Andreescu told reporters following her quarters here. “I don’t remember specifically a moment. I watched her win most of the Grand Slam titles. I think she’s fighting for her 24th on Saturday? I’m sure she’s going to bring her A game.”
Andreescu has been making boldface history. Her first major quarterfinal, first major semi, first major final. No Canadian, male or female, has ever won a Slam in singles.
She may be in awe of Williams but she’s not intimidated. One doubts whether she’s ever been intimidated by anything. And, with five games versus Williams at the Rogers Cup, Andreescu has already passed the agog stage.
“I don’t think she was playing her best tennis in Toronto. Obviously, she was having pain in her back.” But ... “I got a sense of how her ball is. So, yeah.”
After demolishing Elina Svitolina 6-3, 6-1 in the earlier Thursday semifinal, William, who didn’t yet know who she’d be facing in the final, turned her attention to Andreescu as a potential adversary.
“Well, she takes the ball really early. She’s had a great year. She has gotten incredibly fit. She’s always been serious. She’s continuing to be serious.”
Who Are Bianca Andreescu’s Parents? Everything To Know About The Tennis Star’s Family
Who Are Bianca Andreescu’s Parents? Everything To Know About The Tennis Star’s Family
Adding: “She really knows how to mix up the game and play different shots in different ways. Above all, I just like her as a person. She’s amazing.
“She’s very exciting to watch. I think it’s great for women’s tennis.”
Of course, Andreescu will be the alien at Flushing Meadows, going up against a beloved American. The crowd that was wildly supportive in her semifinal will have a different cast this time. But Andreescu has already come through the fire of a partisan audience, in her round of 16 win over Taylor Townsend, when her double faults were mockingly cheered and her serves interrupted by deliberate noise. She has to anticipate a hostile environment.
“Oh yeah, for sure,” she says with a whatever-shrug. “I don’t know how that’s going to go. But hopefully I can have some Canadians cheering me on. I remember I heard some during Taylor’s match. The crowd’s going to be for Serena. I just have to deal with that.”
She’s dealt with a great deal, especially this season, most significantly the torn rotator cuff that knocked her out of the Miami Open, on the heels of her breakthrough victory at prestigious Indian Wells. Andreescu acknowledged she came back too soon from the injury by competing at Roland Garros, where she was forced to withdraw after winning the opening round. Wiser for it, she prudently if regrettably took a pass on Wimbledon. Rehab cost her more than three months, and she missed the entire grass season and much of the hardcourt season, saddling up only for the Rogers Cup, where not a great deal was expected. Yet she handsprung through the week, knocking off far more accomplished opponents. Indeed, she’s a perfect 7-0 against top 10 players in 2019.
Andreescu has contended with injuries throughout her career, with some questioning her fitness. Yet she’s never been as fit as right now, having spent those waylaid months after Miami working hard in the gym. There’s an upgraded endurance in her game, the physical yin to her mental yang.
A signature fearlessness, too. Where does that come from?
“I really don’t know how to answer that. I think it’s just inside of me somehow. I think it’s just my passion for the game. I don’t like to lose.”
Last November, when her world ranking was No. 178, Andreescu played a small tournament in Norman, Okla. She won. The total prize money pot was $25,000 (U.S).
On Saturday, should she defeat Williams, Andreescu will get a cheque for $3.85 million.
But it’s not for the money. It’s for the Grand Slam grandeur.
Rosie DiManno is a columnist based in Toronto covering sports and current affairs. Follow her on Twitter:
Bianca Andreescu, Canada's rising tennis star, attracts a crowd — of politicians.
Bianca Andreescu, Canada's rising tennis star, attracts a crowd — of politicians