TORONTO — First impressions can often be telling. And based on just 19 minutes of actual tennis action and the admiration both Bianca Andreescu and Serena Williams showed for one another, one can only hope this wasn’t the last.
The fans were ready, so was Bianca Andreescu. Unfortunately for the Rogers Cup climax, Serena Williams wasn’t. Four games into the first set of a highly anticipated final in front of a packed house that was into it from the moment the pair took to the court to prepare for their first encounter, Williams sat at her chair and cried knowing she was done. Back spasms left her unable to continue, the toll of five matches in five straight days for the first time since Rome in 2016 proving too much to bear.
Her struggle was evident in the little time she was on the court. Serving at 1-1, she sent three comfortable forehands long, made another unforced backhand error, then tossed in a double fault to hand Andreescu the early break. After the Canadian consolidated the break, the match was over.
There is potentially a new beginning, though, as Andreescu quickly made her way over to Williams upon hearing of the 23-time Grand Slam champion’s injury retirement and tried her best to console her.
“I started tearing up because she was tearing up,” Andreescu revealed after the match. “It's because I know how she feels. Injuries really, really suck. So I just said, ‘Girl, you are ...’ I'm not going to say it [laughs]. You are a beast. You're going to bounce back. You've dealt with so much in your career, this is just a minor setback for a major comeback, I'm sure. And she was really nice. She was saying very nice things about me, so I really appreciated that.”
Serena called Andreescu an “old soul” because of her maturity and wisdom beyond her years. It’s shown on the court in terms of being able to pull out tough three-setters, combining guile with excellent variety in her play against more experienced and higher-ranked players to topple them. Andreescu also reads self-help books about the mind, acknowledging she understands just how important it is to have that as a tool on the court.
“You basically can create your own reality with your mind,” Andreescu said. “And ever since I started doing that and working on that, it's been showing the past couple of months, and I'm really grateful for that. So I'm not going to change anything and I'm going to continue.”
She only got to showcase a little bit of it in the match against Williams, but the living legend was impressed nonetheless.
“My best moment is definitely today out there with Bianca,” Williams said. “I'm officially a fan. I mean, I was before, like I said but I just think I was really sad, and she made me feel a lot better, so that was really nice.”
Williams is 37 now, and her search for a first title as a mother continues. This is her fourth final defeat, the other three all coming in Grand Slam finals including Wimbledon in July. That does little to take away from the fact that this is Andreescu’s moment, though, one that — despite the unwanted ending — she will cherish for a lifetime.
“I would say that the win in Indian Wells was — I mean, it was a hard-fought battle,” Andreescu said after the match. “So, I felt like it was a sweeter victory at the time. But this tournament is at home, I've dedicated so much hard work and sweat on that tennis court and in this gym, so this tournament is definitely ten times more special.”
The Mississauga, Ont., native won the Indian Wells Masters with big wins over Garbine Muguruza, Elina Svitolina and Angelique Kerber in the quarters, semis, and final to earn that title, but there was still the missing element of having her parents, her dog Coco and her home fans in attendance.
Andreescu explained life’s simple joys of just being able to hug her parents after and dedicated the trophy to them for being right there with her as she tried to cope with the disappointment of the shoulder injury that kept her out since the French Open. She took a lap of the court to acknowledge the support of all the fans in attendance and possibly appease them as well after getting to watch just four games in a final. Even four hours after the match, she took time to greet all the volunteers for the event and thank them for helping make the tournament what it is. In short, she gets it.
Expectations will undoubtedly soar through the roof ahead of the U.S. Open as Andreescu rises to No. 14 in the WTA rankings, has one Premier event as well as one Premier 5 event under her belt and is, incredibly, still yet to lose to a Top 10 opponent this year.
Players may start to catch on to the looped forehand changeup, the slices, the overwhelming power. But what Andreescu has shown time and again is that the impression she’s created isn’t that of a fluke. Her game has staying power and she’s a fighter. Throw in the results, and she’ll keep believing the sky’s the limit.
“This has definitely got my confidence level up here [points above her head],” Andreescu said. “Being able to deal with all the pressure and all the expectations from everyone, I'm just really proud with how I dealt with everything.”
Her and Canada both.