Bianca Andreescu will play for a Rogers Cup singles title on Sunday – the first Canadian woman to do so in 50 years.
For a fifth straight day, Canada’s 19-year-old fast-rising tennis star found a way to win a roller-coaster match – this one 6-4, 7-6(5) in the semifinals over World No. 29 Sofia Kenin of the U.S.
Andreescu threw her hands over her face after the final point as celebratory tears streamed down her cheeks.
The skyrocketing Canadian, who already wowed the tennis world by winning a title at Indian Wells, will now battle for one in her hometown -- and against one of the greatest players of all time. She will face 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams — a three time Rogers Cup champion.
Andreescu can become the first female Canadian singles player since Faye Urban in 1969 to win this event. The youngster will come in toting a 6-0 record against Top 10 players this year.
It would be a full-circle moment for Andreescu, who says she came to Toronto’s 2015 Rogers Cup and watched 18-year-old Belinda Bencic beat Williams in the semis of a tournament the Swiss player eventually won.
“It’s so incredible I’m in the finals right now, I had no expectations,” said Andreescu, who had been sidelined rehabbing shoulder soreness since the French Open. “I’m definitely surprising myself. My coach is always telling me I’m a champion within, and maybe I’m starting to believe it.”
Just for making the finals, Andreescu – currently the World No. 27 – will climb inside the Top 20 when the next WTA rankings come out Monday. If she wins Sunday, she’ll jump inside the Top 15.
Centre Court Stadium inside Aviva Centre was full to see Andreescu in Saturday’s semifinal, the now-popular resident of nearby Thornhill, Ont.
The Canadian teen had a 2-1 career record against 20-year-old Kenin. She beat her in a lower-tier event in 2017, and at Miami this past March. Kenin’s one victory over Andreescu came at Acapulco in February – the last time the Canadian ended a tournament by a loss rather than an injury retirement.
Once again, Andreescu showed up with athletic tape on her thighs to ease the groin pain she’s been experiencing since playing Genie Bouchard in Round 1 on Tuesday.
They remained on serve for most of a very business-like first set. Andreescu worked to rev herself up in key moments – whacking the net hard with her racquet, clenching her fists to loudly holler ‘come on!’.
The crowd delighted in her on-court smarts at times. They erupted in appreciation as she charged hard at the high overhead ball, wound up as if to smash it, and instead tapped it softly just over the net – a winner. Kenin got no love from the crowd, and had to deal with it.
“Obviously it's tougher,” said Kenin. “I knew it was going to happen, so it wasn't like a shock. But, yeah, I tried to just block it out and do the best I could.”
The first break of the match came on a winner by Andreescu after a 16-shot rally – it won the set 6-4. Kenin headed for a bathroom break.
In the second set, it was Kenin who earned the first break to go up 2-1. The Canadian broke right back, and let out a loud scream.
Andreescu found occasions to expertly drive Kenin back to the baseline with a powerful shot, and then force her to chase toward the net by dropping in that gentle drop shot. The Canadian was drilling cross-court winners too, and wearing down the American.
Andreescu hit the gas pedal and went up 5-2 – within a game of a berth to the final. But it was still well out of reach.
Kenin began playing with absolute desperation and yanked back control. The American held serve, then broke the Canadian for the first time in the match. Then, as Andreescu bent with errors, Kenin broke her again.
Andreescu fought back to make it 6-5 – again so close to the finals she could surely smell it.
That’s when Kenin called a medical timeout, and left the court to go get some groin tape too. Andreescu was forced to sit in her seat and wait.
Kenin returned to the court, served for her life in a game that would drone on for more than 11 minutes and see the American fight off three match points. Kenin saved on by zinging a short-court winner to end a 17-shot rally, then another by drilling one out of Andreescu’s reach in the back-court.
The Canadian committed a couple of errors and scolded herself loudly. The American was quietly muttering encouragements to herself. Match point No.3 then failed too – Andreescu sailed an attempted winner just long.
Kenin held serve to force the tiebreak and looked energized by having survived. Andreescu appeared drained by it.
“I was really nervous. I'm not going to lie,” said Andreescu. “So many thoughts was going through my head. I tried to stay as calm as possible.”
In the tiebreak, Kenin fought off a fourth match point. Then the fifth was a charm for Andreescu, and it came on a backhand winner.
The Canadian threw her hands over her face. She kissed the court. She cried. The crowd chanted her name, including her parents Nicu and Maria, who held their daughter’s toy poodle Coco in their arms.
Andreescu has never played Williams (the current World No.10). The American tennis star beat Czech player Marie Bouzkova 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 in her Saturday night semifinal. Williams won the Rogers Cup in 2001, 2011 and 2013.
“For sure there’s some pressure, but I have nothing to lose,” said Andreescu. “I’m just going to try to stay in the present moment. I know there’s going to be many, many thoughts going through my mind, but hopefully I can go all the way through.”