The Rogers Cup will get even more of resilient teenager Bianca Andreescu on Saturday.
The 19-year-old Canadian in the midst of an astonishing season has stormed into the semi-finals of Toronto’s WTA event by slaying yet another giant.
In Friday’s quarter-final, she survived bizarre swings in momentum and a dire-looking medical timeout. Andreescu escaped with a 6-0, 2-6, 6-4 win over world No. 3 Karolina Pliskova – her fourth win in four days and her sixth over a top-10 player this season.
“When I step out on the court, I’m fearless, I show no mercy no matter who I play and I think that’s showing,” Andreescu said in her postmatch news conference, her body still shivering from what she called the longest ice bath of her life.
Andreescu becomes the first female Canadian singles player in 50 years to make the Rogers Cup semis – since Faye Urban won the tournament in 1969. Canada’s world No. 27 will face 29th-ranked Sofia Kenin of the United States on Saturday for a spot in Sunday’s final.
The teen, who resides in nearby Thornhill, Ont., entered Friday’s match as the underdog to Pliskova, despite having the hometown crowd in her corner. The Canadian had spent a whopping 7 hours and 24 minutes playing nine sets of tennis over the previous three days. Her Czech opponent, by comparison, needed four hours less on court to make the quarters, having enjoyed a first-round bye and played just five sets since.
That’s why it was so shocking when the Canadian needed just 23 minutes to bagel the veteran Czech player in the first set.
Andreescu exposed the 6-foot Pliskova’s lack of speed and court coverage and repeatedly painted the lines with winners. The 19-year-old drilled an ace and hardly even smiled. The gusting wind played havoc with Pliskova’s usual punishing serve. The Czech player double-faulted four times in the first set and was pushed to nine break points.
Pliskova, who is 27, committed 10 unforced errors, while Andreescu didn’t face a single break point. One had to wonder if the older player gave up midway through the set and decided to just hit a reset button during the break.
After the first-set drubbing, Pliskova called for an on-court meeting with her coach, 1994 Wimbledon champion Conchita Martinez. The coach implored Pliskova to move more swiftly and give herself a chance, as the player sat stone-faced.
The scolding served to fuel Pliskova. Just as it looked as though Andreescu might be mere minutes away from a breezy jaunt to Saturday’s semi, the Czech player came out with a vengeance. Her serve was finally working and her luck changed, prompting a wild swing in the narrative.
Andreescu completely cooled off. Those high-risk, high-reward winners that Andreescu was delivering down the lines in the first set were now missing the mark. The crisp game she played in the first set was swapped for one filled with errors.
The Czech player won five straight games and the Canadian adopted a totally different facial expression: one of woe.
Andreescu battled back a little and made it 5-2, although wincing with discomfort along the way. The youngster twisted her body between points as though in discomfort and grabbed the groin area she had heavily taped in her match the previous day. She called for a trainer.
Andreescu disappeared into the locker room. Would she re-emerge? Would she retire from the match? That remained unclear as the lengthy five-minute medical timeout droned on. Then suddenly, the Canadian appeared, not walking, but jogging back onto the court to loud applause, with her thighs wrapped in thick white medical tape.
Pliskova quickly closed it out 6-2. The third set would be much closer.
“I told myself in the third set, go big or go home,” Andreescu said.
The two stayed right on serve. Andreescu adopted a pained face after every point, disguising none of her emotions. She glanced at her box often and complained with her eyes. The youngster fidgeted and re-tied her hair into its bun. She limped gingerly. At one point she slid into the splits while lunging for a ball and the crowd at Aviva Centre groaned right with her.
Pliskova, on the other side, wore a constant poker face.
A fourth straight day of three-set tennis was obviously wearing on Andreescu’s body and she appeared miserable. But just as she had in her run to the Indian Wells trophy, and in every match this week, the Canadian just kept chugging.
At 4-4, Andreescu broke Pliskova, unleashed her biggest scream of the day, then served for the win. After her final point, the Canadian cupped her hand to her ear like a true performer and beckoned the crowd for their applause. She had done it alone, never calling for coach consultation – something that may help her in the coming U.S. Open.
“I want to prove to myself that I don’t need a coach on the court,” Andreescu said. “Because in the Grand Slams, you don’t have that opportunity. So I guess I’m just getting ready for that.”
Andreescu has a 2-1 career record against 20-year-old Kenin. Two years ago, the Canadian beat her in lower-level event in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. She also beat her in Miami this past March. Kenin’s one victory over Andreescu came in the Acapulco semi-finals in February – the last time the Canadian was sent packing from a tournament by something other than a retirement by injury.
“I know what to expect from her,” Andreescu said. “She is a fighter.”
Later Friday, Serena Williams moved into the semi-finals as well with a 6-3 6-4 victory over Naomi Osaka in their first meeting since the American’s infamous row with an umpire overshadowed last year’s U.S. Open final.
Unlike the at Flushing Meadows last year, where Osaka won her first Grand Slam title, there were no fiery exchanges with the umpire, no smashed rackets, no point or game penalties -- just a rock-solid performance from Williams.
With files from The Canadian Press