In Canada this weekend, it’s all eyes on Bianca.
From her never-say-die style of play, to her upbeat media spots, to the strides she’s making for tennis in Canada, fans across the country have embraced Bianca Andreescu, as the 19-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., gets ready to appear in Saturday’s final of the U.S. Open.
Many are waiting on history.
If Andreescu beats Serena Williams on Saturday, she’ll become the first Canadian to win that Grand Slam tennis title.
“It gives me shivers … and almost brings tears to my eyes,” said Khristina Blajkevitch, the director of marketing and communications at Tennis BC.
“We’re living through tennis history right now.”
TSN on Friday said that Andreescu’s hard-fought semifinal win over Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic on Thursday night was the most-watched U.S. Open broadcast yet on TSN — attracting an average audience of 995,000 viewers.
Blajkevitch was a pro player herself and spent time at the National Training Centre in Montreal, where Andreescu trained. Though she doesn’t know Andreescu personally, Blajkevitch said “it’s absolutely incredible” to see the 19-year-old’s success.
It’s a feeling that’s being shared by lovers of the sport nationwide.
Liana Morariu recalls watching Andreescu compete in person, at a tournament in Calgary when she was just a child, long before she went pro.
Today, Morariu, who’s an employee of the Calgary Tennis Club, says she’s excited about the potential of that still-young athlete bringing more attention to tennis across the country.
“I am sure after this, especially with new and young people from Canada playing, we’ll have much more younger people in classes and in lessons.”
The Calgary Tennis Club typically organizes a special event for the Wimbledon final, but Morariu expects that a Canadian competing in Saturday’s high-profile match will be a draw for people to watch together — and she says she won’t be missing it.
Meanwhile, in Edmonton, University of Alberta head tennis head coach Russ Sluchinski said he sees Andreescu’s “flashy” style of play attracting a wider Canadian audience than he usually expects. If Saturday’s match isn’t on screens in local bars and restaurants, he added, they’ll be missing out.
“I talk to people who traditionally don’t follow tennis much, but they’re really interested right now,” he said. “Everybody that I talk to talks about how (Andreescu) is doing and what I think is going to happen against Serena.”
Members of the Romanian-Canadian community have been among those proudly charting Andreescu’s rise through the ranks.
“For the Romanian community in Canada, she’s become a dazzling star. Not only in tennis, but among the community itself,” said Cristina Onose, 33, of Toronto.
She said the community is adding Andreescu’s name to the list of Romanian sports superstars, which already includes tennis great Simona Halep. Andreescu’s “Canadian-ness” adds something more to the pride, she said.
U of A women’s team captain Alina Jurca, 21, moved to Edmonton from Romania when she was 9, and said it was hard to find somewhere to play tennis and compete at the time. But the sport has picked up momentum since — now she coaches at Edmonton’s Royal Glenora Club, as kids as young as 7 and 8 take lessons.
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“It does motivate us, seeing that Canadian tennis has had a lot of improvement over the years,” she said. “I think it’s important to see more people in tennis and a lot more girls. It might be a few generations down.”
Hazel McCallion, the former longtime mayor of Andreescu’s hometown of Mississauga, Ont., called Andreescu “super!”
“The city has sponsored tennis programs in Mississauga for years to give the young people an opportunity to excel in tennis, and finally we’ve found a winner,” the 98-year-old McCallion said.
McCallion’s opinion is the reigning one right now.
“I’m definitely a fan,” said 12-year-old Emma Dong, a B.C. Lower Mainland player, who is hoping for an Andreescu win on Saturday.
“She’s really smart and she plays really aggressive, and I like her drop shots,” Dong said of the tennis star.
“It’s very unique,” she said of tennis. “You have to think a lot and you have to analyze. It’s a very cool sport to play.”
Havana Kadi, a 12-year-old tennis player from North Vancouver, said it’s “amazing” to see Andreescu reach the singles final.
“She inspires people,” she said. “At my tennis place everybody, they only talk about Bianca and how good she is.”
“It’s how she fights, how she plays, and I think her personality too, people always talk about … how nice she is,” she said.
Kadi’s mother, Natalie, said it’s great for young players to have someone such as Andreescu to look up to.
“She’s got determination, she keeps fighting even when she’s down or hurt she gets back up and gets out there and that’s huge for these little girls to see,” she said.
“She’s a wonderful role model.”
With files from The Canadian Press
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