Bianca Andreescu sets up dream showdown with Naomi Osaka

The game needs them, and it needs them going at each other for plenty of years to come.

Bianca Andreescu defeated Jennifer Brady 6-1, 6-3 and Naomi Osaka beat Alison Riske 6-4, 6-0 to each do their part in setting up a dream matchup between two of the biggest rising stars in tennis on Friday at 9:30AM EST.

Both share the same claim to fame: defeating Serena Williams in the U.S. Open final. But while Osaka’s win was drowned in tear-inducing controversy involving chair umpire Carlos Ramos, Andreescu’s victory received the adulation it deserved with a match free of unwanted drama.

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In one corner, you have the 19-year-old Canadian who has taken the sporting world by storm, winning her last 26 matches that didn’t end in an injury retirement to give her the BNP Paribas Open, Rogers Cup and U.S. Open titles. Her confidence is at another level, even claiming she’s forgotten what it’s like to lose. In the other corner is the 21-year-old Osaka, who became the first woman to win back-to-back Grand Slam titles since Williams spectacularly won four in a row between 2014 and 2015. The last player who isn’t the Greatest of All Time to do it? Kim Clijsters back at the end of 2010 and beginning of 2011 when she — like Osaka — won the U.S. Open and Australian Open. Osaka also became the first ever Asian player to become World No. 1.

After publicly acknowledging her struggles with adjusting to the increased fame and even losing her love for the game, Osaka appears to be in a much better headspace now, having won seven straight matches without dropping a set across Japan and China.

Tennis has forever been a sport built on rivalries. The current Big Three on the men’s side of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic probably top the list, but right there with them is Chris Evert vs. Martina Navratilova, John McEnroe vs. Bjorn Borg and Margaret Court vs. Billie Jean King. But in today’s game, Federer vs. Nadal vs. Djokovic is nearing the end, and Serena versus the field has run its course. The men’s side waited for the Next Gen and was left still waiting, and now finally Daniil Medvedev has offered a glimmer of hope for the Next Next Gen with his scintillating performances in the second half of 2019 but we’re yet to see who’ll join him.

Bisaka? Osanca? Whatever you want to call it, this has all the makings of tennis’s next great rivalry.

Fire and ice

While both players make plenty of noise with their play on the court, they are fire and ice in terms of their demeanour. Osaka is mild mannered, shy with the media, and whispers pep talks to herself between points.

“I’ve been put in the position where I have to [talk to people] and it’s not something I can avoid anymore. But next time I walk into the press room I’ll be like ‘Whassup?’” Osaka said at this year’s Australian Open.

“It’s like if I’m talking to someone one-on-one, it stresses me out. Because if I tell you guys a joke, there is a 50-50 chance that at least three of you are going to laugh. I don’t know if it’s a pity laugh, but at least it’s a laugh, right? But if it’s one-on-one and that person doesn’t laugh, I just want to leave.”

Andreescu seems born to shoulder all that comes with being a top-class athlete, handling the media with an unfiltered charm that has captivated the world. Who can forget when she let over 20,000 fans in attendance know that when she was struggling during a U.S. Open match, she told herself to “get your sh*t together!”

She has talked about taking the great Billie Jean King’s quote about pressure being a privilege to heart, and has clearly applied that over the course of her run.

Tale of the tape

While Osaka has had her share of mental battles to fight this year, Andreescu’s tough moments have come physically. After being forced to retire from the Miami Open in mid-March, she played the first round of the French Open in May and then withdrew from the tournament ahead of her second-round match. She didn’t play another match until the Rogers Cup in August.

Andreescu may hold the edge in terms of intangibles and her tactical know-how, but she’ll need to be on top of her serve game to overcome Osaka. It’s one of the biggest weapons for the Japanese star and how the Canadian teen copes with it will go a long way in determining the outcome of the match. Andreescu did a terrific job of finding another level with her serve game against Serena in the U.S. Open final, making over 80 percent of her first serves in the first set to set the tone and almost two-thirds for the match overall.

For Osaka, winning a fair portion of the longer rallies is going to be essential. Her serve and forehand combination is arguably the most lethal one on the tour right now, but she’s going to need a complete effort to combat Andreescu’s ability to mix things up — whether it be by changing the pace of the rally, coming to the net or drawing her opponent to the net.

Bianca Andreescu of Canada hits a return during her women's singles third round match against Jennifer Brady of the US at the China Open tennis tournament in Beijing on October 3, 2019. (Photo by GREG BAKER / AFP) (Photo by GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images)
Bianca Andreescu of Canada hits a return during her women's singles third round match against Jennifer Brady of the US at the China Open tennis tournament in Beijing on October 3, 2019. (Photo by GREG BAKER / AFP) (Photo by GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images)

Viral moments

What’s a modern day rivalry without competing for viral moments? The pair provided the two most heartwarming scenes of the season, beginning with Andreescu after winning the Rogers Cup in her hometown. Serena was forced to withdraw due to an ailing back after just four games, and the Mississauga, Ont., native quickly made her way over to console her.

Osaka had her own memorable moment when she consoled 15-year-old Coco Gauff after defeating her at the U.S. Open. Gauff was dismantled 6-3, 6-0 in the third round and cut a despondent figure while packing her things but Osaka instead went and had a word with her, eventually convincing her to do an on-court interview together and talk about the match.

There are no guarantees in sports, so whether or not this matchup grows into a true rivalry remains to be seen, but as far as preludes go in building to an opening chapter, it’s hard to think of many better than the one these two have built up over the past 12 months.

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