The kid is alright...
On a late-summer Saturday afternoon in Flushing Meadows, Bianca Andreescu became the first player born this century to win a Grand Slam as she captured the 2019 US Open title.
It was a clash of generations, with the 37-year-old Serena Williams, owner of 23 Grand Slam singles championships, against the Canadian teenager who had yet to be born when Serena won her first US Open.
But the 19-year-old didn’t let the contrast of resumes affect her as she prepared for the match. In fact, she embraced the challenge and wanted to play the match on her terms.
“I think she double-faulted for me to win the game,” Andreescu said about breaking serve in the first game of the match. “The game plan from the start was to make her work for every ball … to get as many returns in the court as possible. I think she was intimidated a little bit by it.”
It’s precisely that mentality that guided Andreescu to become the first Canadian, male or female, to win a Grand Slam singles title. Entering the finals, Serena had been bulldozing her opponents in Flushing Meadows, losing just two games to Maria Sharapova in the opening round before being pushed to three sets by young American Caty McNally, 2018 French Open Girls Singles runner up.
But after that, she lost a total of 17 games in her next four matches against Karolina Muchova, Petra Martic, Qiang Wang and Elina Svitolina, respectively, to reach the finals in convincing fashion.
On the flip side, Andreescu was tested nearly every step of the way in her climb to the championship match. She needed three sets to beat American qualifier Taylor Townsend in the Round of 16, came back from a set down to beat Elise Mertens in the quarterfinals and battled back from 2-5 down in the second set to beat Belinda Bencic in the semifinals.
Andreescu entered the biggest match of her life battle-proven after having to play some big-time tennis in very crucial moments in the lead-up, preparing her for what would be the biggest match of her young life.
“In the finals, playing Serena, I just tried to breathe as much as I could from the moment I woke up until the match,” Andreescu said. “I tried to just do that throughout the whole match, to just keep my nerves in place. It wasn’t easy at all. But I think that’s what I’ve been doing really well throughout this whole year.”
Winning was what she had done all year-long. It was without question the breakout season of her career; in fact, she entered the season ranked outside the top 150, and was a first-round exit at last year’s US Open qualifiers.
In her first tournament of the season, she came through qualifying to reach the finals in Auckland, where she lost a tough three-set match to Julia Goerges, and then came through qualifying to reach the main draw of the Australian Open where she would win a first-round match over American Whitney Osuigwe, her first taste of a Grand Slam main draw.
But with each match she played at the game’s highest level, her confidence steadily grew. After falling to Sofia Kenin in the semifinals in Acapulco, she captured one of the most prestigious titles, winning the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., beating some of the top players in the world, including Svitolina, and Grand Slam champions Garbine Muguruza and Angelique Kerber in the process.
Her sudden rise would not come without any speed bumps, however, and after she played at the French Open, she was bitten by the injury bug, missing four months due to a shoulder injury.
“It’s definitely a process of life. You’re never going to have ups all the time,” Andreescu said of dealing with injuries. “So I think in those moments, you have to just deal with it the best that you can, which is to just keep fighting for your dreams and just stay as persistent and persevere as much as you can. I know in those moments you feel like you can’t. But if you believe that there are good times ahead, then those tough moments are definitely worth it.”
After dealing with her shoulder issues, Andreescu returned to the court in her home country, and captured another of the biggest titles on the tour, outside of the majors, and won the Rogers Cup in Toronto.
She played Serena in the finals in Toronto, who had to retire early on due to back spasms, but the two would get their rematch a month later in Queens.
In the US Open final, Andreescu bookended the first set with breaks of serve, and continued to put the pressure on by building a 5-1 lead in the second set. But that’s when the pressure and the weight of the moment transferred to the teenager’s shoulders.
“It definitely wasn’t easy, especially when she started coming back in the second set,” said Andreescu. “I mean, it was expected. She’s a champion and that’s what champions do. She’s done that many, many times throughout her career, but I just tried to stay as composed as I could.”
The first time Andreescu tried to serve out the match at 5-1, she failed. And as Serena broke, the partisan crowd, who were in Serena’s corner, began to work its way back in the match.
Serena held. Then broke again, followed by a hold of serve.
All of a sudden, the second set was all tied at five, with the wind seemingly taken out of Andreescu’s sails.
“I was blocking out the noise, or trying to,” Andreescu said, referring to her putting her fingers in her ears in order to tune out the raucous New York crowd. “I could barely hear myself think really. It was really loud, but I guess that’s what makes this tournament so special. I’m sure it’s really nice for the Americans to play on that court. I’ve heard a lot of cheering from other people for me, so I was really happy with that.”
One of the things that makes tennis so intriguing is the necessity for a player to have to figure things out on their own when on the court. Even with tens of thousands of fans making noise and the greatest player the sport has ever seen hitting her stride, Andreescu had to quickly right the ship.
She held serve to go ahead 6-5, pumping herself up with each point she won in the game. And then as Serena went to serve to stay in the match, Andreescu set up two championship points, fittingly putting an end to the match with a screaming forehand winner that was unreachable.
“After Indian Wells, it took a couple of weeks to sink in. After Toronto, it took a couple days. Hopefully by tomorrow, I will finally realize that it actually happened,” she said after the win. “Right now it feels like, ‘What the hell is happening?’”
Andreescu, the Canadian-born daughter of Romanian immigrants is now one of the faces of women’s tennis, a quick rise for a 19-year-old who was playing in ITF tournaments less than a year ago. She credits much of her success to the support she received in Canada throughout her junior career.
“Canada is such an amazing country. It’s so multi-cultural. I had no trouble growing up having Romanian parents, whatsoever. That’s why I love my country so much,” she said. “Tennis Canada, as well. I can’t thank them enough for everything they’ve done. I’ve been with them ever since I was 10-years-old. The program they have in place has been going really well, not only for me but for many other Canadian athletes. Without their help, I definitely wouldn’t be here.”
And after her win, Canada gave her a hero’s return. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau congratulated her, and in her hometown of Mississauga, they welcomed her home with a huge celebration as the mayor presented her with a key to the city, and a street in Mississauga will now bear her name.
“I never really thought about being famous,” Andreescu said. “My goals have been to just win as many Grand Slams as possible and become number one in the world. But the idea of fame never really crossed my mind.”
But the reality is that it’s impossible to have the first one without the other, and Andreescu is now one of the most famous tennis players in the world.
Her task now becomes living up to that newfound fame, and building off her maiden Grand Slam title. She possesses the skillset to remain atop the women’s game for years to come, and has the type of personality that can make her a star both on and off of the court, something she is certainly ready to do: “It’s been a crazy ride this year. I can definitely get used to this feeling.”
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for Long Island Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.