Barnstorming into the U.S. Open final in her incredible rookie season, Bianca Andreescu has become the most mesmerizing player in women’s tennis. Her magnetic story has drawn in even the most casual of sports fans.
On Saturday afternoon, the 19-year-old from Mississauga will have Canada cheering her on as she tries to become its first Grand Slam champion. As the precocious teen is showered with tweets of encouragement from the likes of Steve Nash, Justin Trudeau and Billie Jean King, it seems inconceivable now that when 2019 began, few had even heard her name.
By now, who doesn’t recognize Andreescu’s parents Nicu and Maria and the animal-loving teen’s tiny toy poodle Coco. Even passing fans know by now that she meditates, wears a lucky plastic coiled hair elastic around her arm and devastates opponents with a dizzying variety of spin, slices, pounding forehands and ruthless drop shots.
During a mind-bending 2019 season, she’s compiled a 44-4 record. During her first full swing on the WTA Tour, she’s a perfect 7-0 against top-10 opponents, has won titles at Indian Wells and her hometown Rogers Cup and earned US$2.2-million in prize money.
Now she’s set to take on Serena Williams for a US$3.85-million top prize. It’s tough to believe that one year ago, Andreescu quietly arrived at the U.S. Open ranked No. 208 in the world, battled with back pain and didn’t make it out of qualifying.
Her rise began in earnest right after that, although few outside of the most attentive Canadian tennis enthusiasts may have noticed. Her confidence spiked last October and November in North American tournaments on the ITF women’s circuit, a development track for the WTA Tour. There, in five fall events, she won 18 of her 21 matches and earned two US$25,000 titles.
She spent her off-season in Montreal and at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., facing a variety of top-100 players in practice sets. Her coach, Sylvain Bruneau, says Andreescu won all of them.
The Canadian began 2019 ranked No. 152. In January, she reached the final of a WTA event in Auckland, turning heads there by beating former world No. 1s Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams on back-to-back nights.
In January, Andreescu won a US$125,000 tournament in Newport Beach, Calif. In March, she made her second WTA semi-final in Acapulco, stopped by what remains today her last full-match loss on Tour – 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 to American Sofia Kenin. She earned an invitation to play at Indian Wells, where she became the tournament’s first wild-card champion.
Shortly after the Tour’s intriguing new star had arrived, she vanished from competition. Andreescu retired in the fourth round in Miami with right shoulder pain. She tried to come back at Roland Garros, but that same shoulder caused her to withdraw from a second-round match. She was absent for most of the clay and grass seasons.
After extensive shoulder rehab, the resident of Thornhill, Ont., narrowly made it back for the Rogers Cup in Toronto. Yet, she did not show much rust. Instead, she became the first Canadian female singles player to win the tournament in 50 years.
Another monster jump in the rankings landed her in New York as the 15th seed. There, she has bulldozed through Katie Volynets, Kirsten Flipkens, Wozniacki, Taylor Townsend, Elise Mertens and Belinda Bencic on her way to a meeting in the final with 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams. Andreescu becomes the first woman in her maiden U.S. Open main draw to reach the singles final since Venus Williams in 1997.
Canadians Genie Bouchard (2014) and Milos Raonic (2016) each advanced to a singles final at Wimbledon, but neither became a Grand Slam champion. With the 37-year-old Williams back to fine form, and sure to be supported loudly in New York by an American crowd, it could be the toughest test yet for Andreescu.
When the WTA’s newest world rankings come out Monday, the Canadian is expected to make her debut inside the world’s top 10. If she can maintain a spot inside the top eight on the year’s Race to Shenzhen list, she will compete in the year-end WTA Finals in China. That event will have a US$14-million total prize purse, including a possible US$4.75-million to its winner.
So when you hear the young Canadian repeatedly use the word “crazy” to describe her skyrocketing ride in 2019, she is nailing that one right down the line.