Serena and Bianca: They’re both first-name-only type personalities, aren’t they? There’s no one in the sport quite like either of them. But they also have a few things in common: Emotion, expressiveness, will, intensity, a sense of theater, and a command of the stage—they bring it all to their matches. Is there room on one 78 x 27-foot rectangle for both of them? We’ll find out on Sunday when the American and the Canadian meet for the first time in the Rogers Cup final in Andreescu’s hometown of Toronto.
While Williams, 37, and Andreescu, 19, share a common will to win, they obviously don’t share the same history, or credentials. By the time Andreescu was born, Serena had already won a Grand Slam title. She has won 22 more since, while Andreescu’s main claim to fame so far is her unlikely run to the Indian Wells title in March.
Their roads to the final this week have also been slightly different. Serena, as she has all season, has been up and down. On Friday, she played one of her cleanest and best matches of the year in beating Naomi Osaka; 24 hours later, she could barely keep a ball in the court for the first seven games against Marie Bouzkova. Andreescu, for her part, has been uncannily consistent. She has won three matches 6-4 in the third set, another 7-5 in the third set, and another 7-5 in a second-set tiebreaker. Andreescu hasn’t played perfectly by any stretch, but that has only served to illustrate one of her strengths: Her ability to put a mistake, or a lot of mistakes, behind her and win anyway. Having the Toronto crowd behind her hasn’t hurt, either.
Serena and Andreescu have taken far different paths to Sunday's Toronto final. (Getty Images)
What does all of that mean for the final? The first question that needs to be answered is: Which Serena will we see? And if we see the one who was so unsettled against Bouzkova, will she be able to settle down in time against a better opponent like Andreescu? As Serena herself said after Wimbledon, she has struggled with the particular pressure that comes with playing finals. Andreescu, and the crowd, are unlikely to make life easy for her in this one. The teenager is already adept at disruption, at mixing spins and speeds and trajectories—i.e., not giving Serena the steady pace that she loves. Serena said she wanted to play more non-Slams finals, so she could test herself before getting to a Slam final. This should be a test.
As for Andreescu, how will her own game match up against Serena’s? How will she handle her serve and power, and will she have time to utilize all of her variety? The Canadian is a strong athlete in her own right, but she has played a lot of tennis in her first week back after a two-month layoff. Just as important, how will she react to facing Serena for the first time? Andreescu, who is 6-0 against Top 10 players, is usually the bigger personality on court, but that won’t be the case against Serena. The teenager has gotten under the skin of some of her opponents, most famously Angelique Kerber, who called her “the biggest drama queen ever.” Will Andreescu tone down that drama against Serena, and if she doesn’t, will it make Serena even more determined to beat her?
The fact that there are so many questions to ask about this matchup is a sign of how intriguing it is. Finding out the answers could make for one of the most fascinating afternoons of the year.
Winner: S. Williams