Bianca Andreescu is not three steps out of Court 12 after crashing out of Wimbledon on Thursday afternoon, and they are on her.
First up, a couple – mother and adult son. Real blue-blood types.
“Picture?” the mother says. It’s not really a question.
“Sure,” Andreescu says, shifting the two large bags of gear she’s carrying over to one side.
The man throws his arm around her so heavily it sags her shoulders. The mother says something about seeing her play in Canada.
“That’s amaaaaazing,” Andresscu says, almost sounding convincing.
Then a kid. Then a guy. Then another guy. Only the kid doesn’t hang his arm off her.
Then the long gauntlet through the crowds back to the players’ lounge.
Most pros put their heads down, tuck in behind their security escort and try to keep moving. Even after defeat, Andreescu ambles.
One woman asks her husband if they should get a pic with her since everyone else seems to be getting one.
“Don’t even know who she is, do we?” he says. “Disrespectful, that.”
He turns to two Canadian reporters – “Who is that?”
Having been told, the couple go back for the selfie. Andreescu obliges, though the smile is now starting to strain.
This is what it looks like when you’re famous enough to be recognized at Wimbledon, but no longer famous enough to walk around with your own force field. Nobody throws an arm around Serena Williams.
Andreescu is now just another member of tennis’s working class (median income: mid-six figures). If there is a return to glory coming, it’s going to have to wait another couple of months.
The manner of losing on Thursday suggests it may be a bit longer than that.
For Canada generally, this Wimbledon has been a bust. Denis Shapovalov also lost on Thursday, to young American Brandon Nakashima. No Canadian will feature in the third round of either singles competition. It’s been more than 10 years since that last happened.
Andreescu remains the greatest hope for glory going forward, because she’s the only one who’s been to the mountaintop.
Right now, she’s still scrabbling in the foothills. She attempted a tougher climb on Thursday against Elena Rybakina.
Andreescu came in on a decent run of form. She made the final at Bad Homburg a week ago. But she had yet to play someone such as Rybakina – one of those killer tennis robots from the former Soviet Union. Rybakina, the world No. 23, doesn’t do anything particularly well. But she doesn’t miss often.
Andreescu misses a lot these days. Sitting courtside, you can quite literally hear her confidence coming in and out of focus.
Rybakina was only heard from once all match, after a line judge missed a series of calls in a single game.
“Three times,” Rybakina said to the chair official as she came off after winning the game anyway, holding up that number of fingers.
Andreescu rarely stops making noise. It’s the tell that lets you know where her game’s at. Going well? Lots of exclamations and “Come on”s. Going poorly? Fewer of those. Going really poorly? Something verging on silence.
The Canadian was in it until the end, and then it was over. She lost 6-4, 7-6. She has now not gone deeper than the fourth round in any of six slams she has played since winning at Flushing Meadow.
So off she went through the crowd, seconds removed from another dispiriting loss, mimicking delight to see each new stranger. Then she headed to the gym and worked out for another hour.
“I was crying while I was doing my squats. It wasn’t pretty,” Andreescu said. “But you know in the back of my head I told myself – this is the only way.”
Most players who fall suddenly and cannot get back up have similar reactions in a similar order. First, hopefulness, followed by disbelief, bluster, apathy and despair.
After Eugenie Bouchard’s fall from the top, she seemed to shrink with each passing season. The positivity talk never abated, but despite all her trying, Bouchard couldn’t make it sound convincing.
Andreescu has found a new stage – philosophy. When she was young and winning, she spoke in the same beige clichés as every other star. But now that she’s slipped back into the middle, she talks like someone considering a person she once knew – Bianca Andreescu, superstar.
“When I was 19 [the year she won the U.S. Open], I legit put zero pressure on my back … I didn’t really expect anything from it,” she said. “People know you now, and they expect more from you. I try not to really focus on that, but it’s hard.”
Someone brought up Emma Raducanu and Andreescu swooned in recognition: “I watched that match [Raducanu’s defeat on Wednesday]. I know it’s probably not the same, but, like, you can, I mean, I can tell a little bit, because that’s how I felt last year.”
It’s clear these are things Andreescu thinks about a lot – winning, losing, fame, expectations, the entire ecosystem of tennis. Most players don’t start thinking or, God forbid, talking about it until after it’s over. But Andreescu is in the odd position of having lived the entire arc of a tennis career in the space of four years.
The trick now is a second life.
She says she is fully healthy for the first time in three years. She says she is ahead of where she thought she’d be in this comeback. (Depending on how you count, it’s her third.)
But having been disappointed so often, she no longer sees success as the inevitable result of talent. She talks about it like a divine safe code that needs cracking.
“I know that if I continue to believe and have faith that good things will come,” Andreescu said. “If I do these things I think, you know, I’ll get some gifts from the universe.”
It’s a lovely idea. The trouble is that the Rybakinas of the world also have faith, and there are very few gifts to give out.