A year ago, you didn’t know who Bianca Andreescu was. And now she is the first Canadian of sport, and maybe of all other types.
Andreescu advanced to the final of the U.S. Open late on Thursday evening. She is not the first Canadian to make the final of a major, but she’s the first one you felt could win one.
“If someone told me a year ago that I’d be in the final of the U.S. Open a year ago, I’d have told her they’re crazy,” Andreescu said after the match. “I don’t think I’d heard of you a year ago,” the on-court interviewer Pam Shriver replied.
That’s how crazy this rise is.
It ended 7-6, 7-5, over the Swiss Belinda Bencic.
Andreescu should have lost the first set. She was so far on the back heel for most of it that she was essentially vertical. And then it was a tiebreak and she snapped Bencic like a twig.
She ceded more ground in the second. Bencic went up two breaks. That is essentially surrendering a set. Andreescu dug in under Bencic’s foundation, confusing her with drop shots and volleys. And then she did it again.
Andreescu is the first Canadian to reach the final of the U.S. Open. She would be the first Canadian to win a major.
In Saturday’s final, she’ll face Serena Williams. This isn’t the Williams who retired against her a month ago in the Rogers Cup final. This is a time-travelling Williams who looks like the player she was four years ago. She looks unbeatable.
But, honestly, would you bet against Andreescu now? Or ever? She looks like our next Gretzky. Like someone who can’t lose for trying.
Andreescu’s magic moment feeds into a larger act. Doesn’t it feel like everything’s coming up Canada?
Milos Raonic and Eugenie Bouchard hacked this path clear, but couldn’t walk it to the end. Brooke Henderson came along to remind her fellow citizens that, yes, it is okay to both be good at sports and occasionally win at sports.
The Toronto Raptors took an NBA title and everyone in America sat back and said, “Canada. It’s still here?”
Andreescu is proof that good things come in threes, but she is also a different animal. This country has produced a variety of competitive types, but Andreescu may be the first American athlete made in Canada.
This isn’t about heritage. It’s about presentation and approach. Andreescu believes she will win, even when she doesn’t. She takes no trouble to hide that belief. She is – and I say this admiringly – a bit smug.
She’ll come out and do the done tennis thing – a few “that’s a tough player over there” blandishments. But as soon as she’s out on the court, the sneer returns. She doesn’t think she’s better than her colleagues. She knows she is. She’s got a lot of young Serena Williams in her.
When Germany’s Angelique Kerber called Andreescu “the biggest drama queen ever” after a match in May, that’s what she was really saying. Too loud. Too showy. Too American.
Andreescu has proved in recent weeks that she is a drama queen, though not in the sense Kerber meant. She doesn’t just grind her way through wins. She takes some trouble to put on a show. She’s especially fond of the late comeback, almost as if she’s invented rope-a-dope for racquet sports.
The great ones have that need, to do something remarkable every single time. It often bites them in the end, but they keep doing it. Because they’re not afraid to make a spectacle of themselves. In fact, that’s the whole point.
After winning her quarter-final, someone told Andreescu that her world ranking would rise into the top 10 for the first time. At this time last year, she was ranked 208th.
Andreescu sat there gap-mouthed and disbelieving – “What?!” and “You’re kidding me!” and “Gimme a sec,” said as if she had the vapours.
Andreescu went into the U.S. Open ranked 15th. Do you buy that she had no clue a semi-final run would push her up a few positions? Could she possibly have been that taken aback by the news? Unlikely.
But slightly overplaying a moment in order to turn it into a viral is another American thing to do. It’s harmless and fun. People want to believe these athletes are just like the rest of us – a little clueless.
Believe me. They aren’t. There’s a reason someone becomes a top 10 anything in the world and it isn’t because they hit the ball real good. The very best exist in that state because they are on top of everything.
Andreescu enjoys playing at the tension between those two ideas – the goofy teenager and the tennis cyborg. She can be both.
If Andreescu has no apparent use for the usual Canadian sports virtues (‘good try, good effort, lose with dignity’) then she has taken the best American one (‘just watch me’).
American athletes are brought up believing that good enough isn’t good enough. That a losing effort is a wasted one. And that they – each and every one of them - are the absolute greatest.
This is why so many baseball players are insufferable. They’re all American and a lot of them think they’re splitting the atom.
‘Win or go home’ may not be the optimal way to raise a functioning adult, but in terms of spurring athletic excellence, it works. That’s why America wins so many things. They are in the business of producing wheat and don’t care if the chaff’s feelings are hurt in the process.
So Andreescu must seem oddly familiar to the crowd in Queens. Maybe that’s why they got on top of her so early, so often and at such high volume. She is one of them, by temperament if not birth, but still very foreign.
It is the reason that she does not look, feel or sound like any of her predecessors, all those Raonics and Bouchards who came before. The rest are Canadians, and weighed down by self-doubt. Andreescu is an American, and certain she is the best.
Some day very soon, you’re starting to feel pretty certain that she will be.