NEW YORK—She woke up imagining it. She probably went to sleep reliving it.
Wow. Just WOW.
It’s real, girl.
Bianca Andreescu is coming home as Canada’s first Grand Slam champion ever.
She The North. South. East and West. Standing astride the entire tennis universe on the biggest stage — literally — in the sport. On those muscular legs. Beads of sweat rolling down those apple cheeks.
No Canadian had won so much as a single set in a majors final until Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, at the U.S. Open.
At least as gob-smacking at the Toronto Raptors hauling an NBA championship over the border.
And, to do it, to get there, taking out merely the greatest tennis player in history — regardless of what the record says — in Serena Williams.
Serena is the best ever. Bianca was the best on a Saturday afternoon in New York. They’re still separated by 22 Slam titles.
Still, whatever nervousness the Mississauga-born Andreescu may have experienced, she turned into nervy blow-for-blow lethality, crafting a 6-3, 7-5 triumph.
The 19-year-old proved herself fearless, not just against a legend of the game but in front of a Serena-adoring partisan crowd, right in the 37-year-old’s wheelhouse. An audience that included the Duchess of Sussex — Meghan Markle, William’s BFF, who left Baby Archie behind, catching a commercial flight from London to witness the final.
(As a royal, Meghan is now 0-for-2 at Serena slams.)
“I could barely hear myself think,” the Queen of Queens —Bianca, U.S. Open champion — said afterwards. “It was really, really loud. But I guess that’s what makes this tournament so special. It’s really nice for the Americans to come on that court.”
Not so nice for non-Americans, in Big Apple tennis. But less hostile than it had been for Andreescu earlier in the tournament.
Because, honest, she just doesn’t bring out the hate in anybody, in a sport that can be so very bitchy. But what’s to resent? A teen whippersnapper of such audacious talent and pleasing personality, so clearly over the moon, kissing her (rather ugly) silver trophy.
Williams, who made her breakthrough here exactly two decades ago — just 17 when she copped her first Slam title at Flushing Meadows — must have felt time telescoping, watching the celebrations of an opponent very much in her own image, with mirror potency, looking-glass ferocity and a reflective willpower.
While there was disbelief on the face of Andreescu after she nailed a forehand return winner at match point, there was no incredulity in Williams’ expression. In fact, after scrapping back from 5-1 down in the second set, but failing, Serena appeared … serene, as if the strain had all fallen away.
She gazed at Andreescu with a look of fondness, poignantly. Perhaps remembering. Because if there was anybody at Arthur Ashe Stadium who could feel the moment with Andreescu, it was Williams — still tilting at the windmill of a record-tying 24th majors title.
Andreescu seemed not to know quite what to do with herself: She dropped the racquet, dropped her jaw, made a fist pimp with the right hand, a fist pump with the left, only the tiniest of wry grins as she cast her eyes towards her box, then she collapsed to the ground, spread-eagled, as if she were making snow angels. Then got up and scaled a conveniently placed ladder to reach her parents — mom Maria, dad Niku — and her coach Sylvain Bruneau.
Eventually, a cheque for $3.85 million (U.S.) was placed in Andreescu’s hand, courtside. And this would be a good time to remind that, when the Canadian was 15 and had just won the prestigious Orange Bowl junior title, she wrote herself a pretend cheque for the amount that went to the U.S. Open winner that year.
It wasn’t just a visualization exercise, as Andreescu has been practising it — and meditated — since her mother introduced the regimen to her as a girl. It was intent for an enormously intensive individual.
“I’ve been dreaming of this moment for the longest time,” Andreescu told reporters at her post-match press conference. “Like I said, after I won the Orange Bowl, a couple of months after, I really believed that I could be at this stage. Since then, honestly, I’ve been visualizing it almost every single day.”
Right about then, still clearly dizzy in the whirlwind of her win, all the emotions seeming to catch up with Andreescu as her face suddenly crumbled, she leaned her forehead against the table — dark hair unloosened from its Samurai topknot, spilling around her shoulders — and wept.
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“Sorry,” she said, after composing herself.
“This wasn’t the only time I visualized playing in the finals actually, against Serena Williams. It’s so crazy man.”
She had told the crowd earlier, almost apologetically — but not really: “I know you guys wanted Serena to win, so I’m sorry. And obviously it was expected for Serena to fight back. She’s done that so many times. That’s why she’s a true champion on and off the court”
Williams, who opened the match with an ace — that certainly got the crowd cranked up — certainly did battle back, from down 5-1 in the second set, very nearly forcing a tiebreak until Andreescu wiped that thought from her mind. She was gracious in defeat, however. To start, anyway.
“Definitely disappointing,” Williams admitted later, come-a-cropper again in her bid to equal the open era of 24 Slam titles set by Margaret Court. “I felt like I could have done so many things a little bit better. But she played really well and she deserves the championship.”
The perspective, ’round these U.S. parts, is that the outcome was more about Williams losing than Andreescu winning. And Williams, who has four times now lost a majors final since returning from giving birth to her daughter, took the same view.
“I honestly didn’t play my best today. I could have played better. That’s the only solace that I can take right now.”
In fact, for much of the match, certainly in the first set, Williams was moving with greater ease than she’s showed in a long time, just not getting rewarded for any of it, running headlong into the laser-focused fury of Andreescu.
She is a couple of weeks shy of her 38th birthday and now the oldest — man or woman — to play a Slam final. And this was the biggest age gap in a women’s single final in the open era (which began in 1968), wider than the gap between Williams and Naomi Osaka, who was 20 when she claimed the trophy last year, in one of the most controversial and chaotic matches ever.
Except Andreescu, competing for the first time in the main draw at Flushing Meadows — the first since Venus Williams to get all the way to the final in her U.S. Open debut — was both more powerful and more nimble, more clutch, made of steelier stuff on this day.
Bruneau, the coach, has described her as a “street fighter.”
The slugger who recovered from three months of a rehab for a torn rotator cuff to become the first Canadian woman in half a century to win the Rogers Cup less than a month ago.
That was the final which was never completed, Williams retiring with back spasms, trailing 3-1. Andreescu had consoling words for her then. Williams had keepsake words for her Saturday.
“She’s very kind-hearted,” said Andreescu. “She came up to me in the locker room, she said some really nice things, which I’ll cherish for a really, really long time.”
Perhaps as long as she — and the rest of Canada — cherishes this historical tennis moment.