Andreescu targets more Slam success

  • Matt Trollope

Bianca Andreescu had just won her US Open semifinal over Belinda Bencic to reach the biggest final of her 19-year-old life.

During her on-court interview, she said: "If someone told me a year ago that I'd be in the finals of the US Open this year, I'd tell them, 'You're crazy.'"

Former pro turned ESPN interviewer Pam Shriver agreed, saying, “I don't think I'd heard of you almost a year ago!"  

Few outside of dedicated tennis circles had.

During last year’s US Open final the Canadian was at home, injured and “sitting on my butt.” In the last week of October 2018, she was ranked No.243. Coming into 2019, she had only ever played the main draw of four tour-level events.

Yet less than a year later, after stunning Serena Williams to win her first Grand Slam title at Flushing Meadows, she was inside the top five.

This was not the only staggering statistic associated with her name.

By the end of that tournament she was 8-0 against top-10 opponents in 2019 – and her career. She had not lost a completed match since March. Her US Open victory came in just the fourth Grand Slam main draw of her career. By reaching the China Open quarterfinals she had won 17 straight matches – the longest streak since Serena won 19 in a row in 2015.

I've been travelling ever since I was 12, alone. I'm an only child too. So I was figuring out things on my own a lot, especially being away from home without my parents.
Bianca Andreescu

When relayed these achievements to Andreescu in Beijing, she laughed. "It still sounds crazy when I hear it again,” she said.

Andreescu went on to lose her next match, a three-set barnstormer against fellow major champion Naomi Osaka and a contender for match of the year in 2019. She then limped out of the WTA Finals in Shenzhen during her second match with a knee injury. But this anti-climactic end to the season certainly did not diminish all that came before it.

Andreescu opened 2019 emphatically, winning her first seven matches by reaching the Auckland final as a qualifier, beating Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams en route. She qualified for the Australian Open, captured the Newport Beach WTA 125K title, won two Fed Cup singles rubbers for Canada, then progressed to the Acapulco semifinals.

She arrived at Indian Wells with 21 wins from her first 24 matches of the year. Yet she attained an even higher level in the Californian desert, beating Garbine Muguruza, Elina Svitolina and Angelique Kerber in succession to lift her first WTA trophy – at a tournament many consider the “fifth Slam”.

It was a simply breathtaking statement, and she was then still only 18 years of age.

A shoulder injury forced her to retire when trailing Anett Kontaveit in the fourth round of the Miami Open. She would play just one match – a first-round victory at Roland Garros – in the next four months.

Incredibly, her momentum was unaffected. In her first tournament back in Toronto, she swept to a second and similarly prestigious WTA trophy of 2019. Then came her US Open title run, extending her winning streak to 14. Her victims in that North American stretch included top 10 stars Karolina Pliskova and Kiki Bertens, Wozniacki (again) and Serena (twice).

She became a star in Canada; her victory spawned the hashtag #SheTheNorth – a nod to the #WeTheNorth hashtag synonymous with the Toronto Raptors’ 2019 NBA championship – and she had a street named after her in home town of Mississauga.

In a country where hockey is king and tennis a niche sport, Andreescu said she nevertheless attracted recognition at home following her exploits, as early as Auckland.

“I know it wasn't such a big tournament but it was my first WTA final. It doesn't compare to after Toronto or Indian Wells or US Open. But yeah, it was pretty early on. (Before 2019) I could be picking my nose and nobody would have cared,” she laughed.

“The thing that really stood out was (people) saying that I'm an inspiration to them, and to a lot of people. Because that's been my goal, just to go out there and put the best example of myself so I can inspire people. I remember I was 12, 13 and I looked up to a lot of people. So I know a lot of people are looking up to me, so I just want to do my best.”

This keen awareness of self, and others, is a striking feature of Andreescu, something one could argue is atypical of a teenager.

In fact, practically every element of the Canadian’s being exudes maturity. She emerged on the scene in 2019 seemingly fully formed, her tactical astuteness, physical robustness and mental strength pointing to a player far more experienced than a 19-year-old rookie.  

Serena even referred to Andreescu as an “old soul”. Andreescu agreed.

"It's very nice comment,” she said. “I think it's just because of my lifestyle – I've been travelling ever since I was 12, alone. I'm an only child too. So I was figuring out things on my own a lot, especially being away from home without my parents. I'm exposed to different things than the average teenager, I would say.” 

Few teenagers these days arrive at Grand Slam tournaments as reigning major champions. 

But that is exactly the position Andreescu will find herself in when she plays the Australian Open in January. 

Opponents will have had the chance to study in detail the delightful blend of power, control and creativity that flummoxed almost everyone and, when coupled with her meditation and visualisation practices, made her virtually unbeatable in 2019.

The Canadian will also arrive in Melbourne with a far bigger profile. In 2019, she played her second-round match in the more modest surroundings of Court 3, losing in three sets to 13th seed Anastasija Sevastova.

In 2020, Rod Laver Arena, or another large stadium court, seems a likely billing.

A lover of the big stage, Andreescu has nonetheless had to grapple with an explosion in her popularity. Asked at the US Open if she was ready for the fame that accompanied her success, she replied with a smile: “I can definitely get used to this feeling.” 

When asked about that again in China, she admitted she did not know if she would give the same answer.

“I think for me the toughest part (of life on tour) would be the media and the fame that goes along with it. Like when you dream about becoming No.1 in the world, winning Grand Slams, you don't think of (that),” she said.

“Sometimes it can be annoying when you get noticed everywhere – you just want do your own thing. But I have to deal with that. So far so good, I'm not complaining. I'm pretty outgoing, I'm a very social person. 

“The places I get to visit is a privilege. So I'm very grateful.” 

When she does visit Australia again, and conducts her first interview, you can be sure both the interviewer – and the many fans watching – will know exactly who she is.