Her name is Bianca and she is the belle of tennis in Canada.
All ’round Planet Tennis too, it would be fair to say. World No. 14 on Monday. The Mississauga-born teenager has taken the sport by storm.
Newly minted Rogers Cup champion, even if it did come by chance, by unexpected happenstance, amidst the wreckage of injury withdrawal by her opponent.
That doesn’t take the sheen off Bianca Andreescu. It didn’t diminish the respect from that opponent either — one Serena Williams.
“She’s an old soul,” said the 37-year-old tennis goddess of her 19-year-old adversary.
It was Andreescu who had solaced the 23-time Grand Slam champion on Sunday afternoon at the Aviva Centre, a mere 19 minutes after their final had begun in front of an expectant sold-out audience.
Incapacitating back spasms forced Williams to retire just four games into the open set, trailing 3-1.
It was an inadequate and unsatisfactory dénouement as both women had been keen to take the measure of each other across a net for the first time ever.
The real takeaway: Andreescu is the first Canadian woman to claim this trophy in half a century. When it was known as the Canadian Open, sans corporate branding.
“I’m just truly, truly blessed,” the teen said on court afterwards, shock still reverberating through a crowd that had paid a pretty penny to witness the tantalizing spectacle — The Kid taking on The Legend.
“Um, I am speechless right now.” (Of course, she wasn’t.) “I’m the first Canadian who got to the finals and has won this tournament since 1969. This has been a dream come true, really.
“This week has not been easy. I’ve had many, many tough matches. Especially what I’ve been through the last two months.” Rotator cuff injury and reinjury, came back too soon for the French Open and had to pull out following her opening-round win. Week after week of therapy and rehab, having to start all over again. “But I kept telling myself, never give up. I tried to look at that not as a setback but more of a challenge.”
Ten months ago Bianca Andreescu was No. 243 in the global rankings. At the start of 2019, she was No. 152. At the start of the week, No. 27.
Rocketed up the standings in lickety-split style, bringing glory to the women’s game in Canada, even as her equally young male compatriot, Felix Auger-Aliassime was commanding most of the attention — and rightly so, given the huge splash the Montrealer has made on the men’s side over the last year.
Goodness, suddenly Canada is a tennis powerhouse, with Andreescu and Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov and Milos Raonic. Genie Bouchard slip-sliding out of the top 100, of course, but still and yet, fascinating to the public and a social media personality and, well, beauteous. More young’uns climbing the ladder, such as 16-year-old Leylah Fernandez.
Because success inspires.
“Now that I’ve won this tournament, I think it’s going to give a lot of other kids and tennis in Canada a bigger push,” said Andreescu.
After the trophy presentation and Andreescu’s over-the-moon remarks to the audience, she received a laudatory boost from Williams as well. “She said, ‘That was very mature of you. I wouldn’t have given that when I was your age.’ Coming from her, that means a lot.”
Just as Andreescu was touched to hear that Williams had described her as an “old soul.”
“I used to say I’m an old soul. I love to read. I love to research on my own. I just love to learn because I believe that knowledge is power.”
For those not too familiar with Andreescu yet, a thumbnail sketch: She’s the only child of Romanian-born parents who took her back to that country for several years in her youth. She has a dog, Coco, who was in attendance on Sunday. She likes Drake — perhaps that’s who she was listening to on her headphones as she arrived on the court, blocking out the crowd noise — and self-help books, meditation and visualizing. Quite New Age-y.
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The meditation, she said, helped her deal with nerves and stress in her first WTA final, a comeback three-setter over former No. 1 Angelique Kerber at Indian Wells in March. Took out Kerber again the following week at the Miami Open before withdrawing because of her shoulder injury.
“I think it’s really important to work your mind as hard as you work physically,” Andreescu explained. “A lot of people just work physically and forget the mental part. In reality, your brain is controlling your body. So if you’re strong mentally, you can find other resources to push your body physically, if things aren’t going your way. That’s what I’ve been doing this week and the past season.”
Adding: “The mind is an incredible tool. You can create your own reality with your mind.”
This was reality too, out in the open, for everyone to share.
The Rogers Cup is Andreescu’s second title on tour, lifting her match record to 27-4 on the season, 12-3 in three-setters. In fact, she boasts the best winning percentage for 2019 at .871. That was before the emotional opening-round dispatch of Bouchard, followed by Russian Daria Kasatkina — who’d dumped Kerber — World No. 5 Kiki Bertens and No. 3 Karolina Pliskova.
She’s 7-0 against Top 10 women and has now won 17 consecutive matches where she hasn’t had to retire because of injury. In this tournament, she contended with a sore groin, arising from all the squatting she had to do, dealing with Bouchard’s low, flat balls in their match.
That last Canadian female to claim this trophy, by the way, was Faye Urban, of Windsor, Ont. Urban was unwell and unable to attend the Sunday final but she watched on TV and Andreescu got a message from her afterwards. “She said that she had a feeling that I would win this tournament and that I’m a true champion in her eyes.”
Ditto in Williams’ eyes, as the enduring tennis superstar made clear. While all Andreescu wanted to prove to her hero was that she was an opponent to be reckoned with. “Stepping onto the court, I wanted to show her what I’m made of. And I think I did that in the first four games. But before the match, I was really, really nervous. I mean, I’m playing Serena Williams in the finals of the Rogers Cup!”
The title fattened Andreescu’s bank account by $521,530. The trophy she dedicated to her folks. They weren’t at Indian Wells and had to make do with Face-Timing afterwards. “It’s incredible because we’ve been through so much together. Just being able to hug them after was really, really nice.’’
She’d not yet had time to plow through all the texts and emails pouring into her phone and didn’t intend to do so immediately. “I want to stay away from that and just enjoy the moment.”
Finally, pressed by a reporter on whether she could draw a correlation between her triumph and the Raptors’ NBA championship, Andreescu was taken aback but a good sport.
“This is definitely going in Canadian history with the Raptors win. It was truly legendary. Hopefully this can be just as good.”
Big balls. Little balls. Having a ball.
Rosie DiManno is a columnist based in Toronto covering sports and current affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @rdimanno