When Bianca Andreescu took her first tennis lesson, the 9-year-old had lots of “raw talent” — but even after a couple of years of training, the wins didn’t come.
“She was a late bloomer,” Tomasz Blazejewski, one of the first coaches to work with her in Canada, recalled Friday. “In her first year, she didn’t qualify for provincials, even.”
What a difference a decade has made.
The 18-year-old, who was born in Mississauga, is now a force in professional tennis after victories this week against number three ranked Caroline Wozniacki and the legendary Venus Williams at the ASB Classic in New Zealand.
“It feels amazing to see her performing at this level,” her mother, Maria, said Friday from the family home in Vaughan, where she and Bianca’s father, Nicu, have watched their daughter blossom this week into an international giant killer.
As early as age 6, Andreescu exhibited a knack for swinging a racquet her parents couldn’t ignore.
“She was so active when little, we were considering putting a helmet on her to protect her head as she had no fear,” Maria recalled. “We needed to channel and direct that amazing natural energy into a full-time sport.
“She played all sports possible but naturally stuck to tennis.”
Peter Malcomson of the Ontario Tennis Association said 2014 was Andreescu’s breakout year, with several juniors singles titles, including one of the most prestigious under-14 tournaments in the world — the Les Petits As, in Tarbes, France. She capped off the year winning the Metropolia under 16 Orange Bowl International Tennis Championship. The following year she won the under 18 version of the Orange Bowl.
“Right then the world took notice of who she was,” Malcomson said.
“She was known to be a good player at 13,” he said. “Around the age of 15, it was pretty evident, even to Tennis Canada, that she was a blue chipper.”
The only child for Romanian immigrants, Andreescu was scouted by Tennis Canada, a debt her mother says the teen wants to repay by racking up wins, her way of giving “back to the country that help her to reach her full potential. She hopes to be an inspiration for more kids in Canada to pick up a tennis racquet.”
“Tennis Canada developed her into what she is today,” Nicu said. “We were very fortunate that Tennis Canada picked up the bill. They believed in her.”
Andreescu’s mother works in finance and her father is a mechanical engineer. It was his search for work that brought the couple from Romania to Mississauga 24 years ago.
By the time Andreescu discovered tennis, her parents had returned to Romania, where she began training while her parents ran a trucking business until they returned to Canada in 2009.
When she’s not on the tennis court, the self-described animal rescuer scours the streets of Romania for stray animals.
“She picks up homeless dogs and cats and takes them to veterinary office, cleans them up and then give them to relatives for adoption,” her mother said. “My family back home ended up with few of these animals also Bianca regularly calls and checks up on them.
“She loves animals to the extreme,” Maria said. “Her intention is to open shelters around the world.”
Meanwhile, Maria and Nicu are getting their first real taste of what it’s like to be the parents of a tennis phenom.
“Everyone wants an interview and I’m not used to this,” Nicu said. “This is something different. This is unimaginable. She caught us by surprise.”
Jason Miller is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Reach him on email: email@example.com