After she’d met the press for the first time as a grand slam champion on Saturday, Bianca Andreescu did a little photo-op with her trophy. Her coach, Sylvain Bruneau, got one, too.
Someone told Bruneau he was holding his silverware backward.
“I’m not used to this,” he said. “Holding trophies.”
“Well, get used to it,” Andreescu shot back.
The assembled global throng giggled delightedly. It’s reassuring to know the new boss has a sense of humour.
As recently as this past spring, you’d probably never heard of Andreescu. Now you may never hear about anyone but.
With apologies to the McDavids, Crosbys and Hendersons of the world, this next decade belongs to Andreescu. Out of nowhere, she no longer has any Canadian peers in terms of fame and reach. She is new apex predator of the local athletic food chain.
Her first major – the first by any Canadian – came in a comprehensive defeat of the greatest women’s player of all time. After this, Andreescu is going to be bigger than Jesus and, on the evidence, will be so for a long time.
Andreescu beat Serena Williams 6-3, 7-5 in a final of outstanding quality. This wasn’t a hobbled Williams or an out-of-practice Williams. This was the best ever at the peak of her late-career powers. And Andreescu cut right through her.
Afterward, Andreescu reverted to the type the crowd had been hoping to see during the match – the kindly, bumbling Canadian.
She apologized for winning – “I know you guys wanted Serena to win so I’m sorry.”
As they gave her the winner’s cheque for US$3.85 million, Andreescu said, “I’ve never received this much.”
And when they handed her the championship cup, she said, “Which is the front?” (She figured that one out fast.)
That’s how new this is, for her and all the rest of us. We’d never had a major singles tennis champion. All of a sudden, we have something better. We have the woman who is beginning to look like the very best in the world at what she does.
Andreescu’s elation was amplified by Williams’ desolation. Williams has now been to four slam finals since giving birth. She has yet to win a set in any of them.
In the aftermath, she swung from sadness to defiance.
“I love Bianca. I think she’s a great girl,” Williams said. “But I think this is the worst match I’ve played all tournament.”
Once she’d been interrupted by a squawking radio, complained that someone in the press conference was “really beating on that computer” and gotten a couple of questions she didn’t like, she jumped up and fled the room. This is going to be a long winter for her.
Williams had been swatting away opponents during the two weeks in Flushing Meadows.
None of the talking heads bet on Andreescu to win on Saturday. The teen wasn’t just playing a monster competitor. She was taking on an arena determined to see her lose.
The 26,000 homers in the stands screamed through her serve and cheered her errors. The chair umpire spent much of the match exasperatedly saying, “Please,” in order to shut them up. It didn’t help.
Williams had Meghan Markle and Anna Wintour in her box. Andreescu didn’t even have Coco the poodle.
But Andreescu didn’t bend. She broke Williams in the first game of the match and then broke her again. As the set ended, Williams appeared to weep in frustration while sitting in her chair. Afterward, Williams couldn’t remember how many times she’d been broken in total. She guessed two. It was five.
Andreescu steam-rolled Williams in the second set before the moment got on top of her. Up 5-1 and at championship point, she let Williams back into it. It got to 5-5. The noise was so deafening Andreescu plugged her ears after points. During breaks, she began covering her head with a towel.
But then with a rush and a push and with one last great effort she steadied her own ship, before tipping over Williams’. The winning shot was Andreescu’s game in miniature – a laser-beam return of serve that Williams could only watch as it got by her. It was a nice metaphor for her last few slam finals.
Andreescu didn’t preen in front of the hostile audience, though you’d have forgiven her for it. She went to Williams first, then she lay down spread-eagled on the court for a long time. After a bit, she got up and went to hug each and every one of the nobodies in her box.
In the midst of the presser a little over an hour later, everything caught up with her.
“It’s crazy, man,” Andreescu said, then stopped suddenly and began to sob. After a bit: “I’ve been dreaming of this moment for such a long time.”
This was more than an overdue win or a coming out. Andreescu didn’t just grab hold of a slam. She created a Canadian moment on par with Sidney Crosby’s golden goal or Mike Weir’s run at the Masters. In the highlight reel of events all Canadians shared during this century, this one is now right up there. It’s a ‘where were you when?’ national snapshot.
She also broke into the house of the biggest name in the sport and stole her treasure and her will. Last year, Andreescu couldn’t get through the qualifiers for this tournament. On Saturday, she stared down America in America’s backyard. She showed a fighting spirit unlike any Canadian athlete of recent vintage. Not yet 20 years old, she’s already a legend. What struck you was how ready for this she appeared. There was no trace of self-doubt or any efforts at self-effacement afterward. Andreescu knows how good she is. After this, nothing will ever daunt her on a tennis court. Provided she can stay healthy, she could be in the midst of launching one of the great careers in this sport.
It’s not going so great for the other legend on the court Saturday. Williams will continue to play tennis, but Andreescu just killed her aura of invulnerability. By the time the next slam season rolls around, few will believe she is a closer any more. Once people stop believing that, things get really hard.
So, in some sense, the queen of tennis died on Saturday. In keeping with the way of these things, the world just met the new one.