Serena and Bianca: They’re both first-name-only type personalities. 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. Is there room on 78- x 27-foot rectangle for both of them?
We were all set to find out last month in the final of the Rogers Cup in Toronto, when Serena was forced to retire after the fourth game because of back spasms. But somebody somewhere must want us to see the American and the Canadian, the legend and the upstart, face off. It makes sense that it will be in New York: Only the biggest stages will do for these two.
Williams, 37, and Andreescu, 19, may share a common will to win, but they obviously don’t share the same history or credentials. By the time Andreescu was born, in 2000, Serena had already won her first US Open. She has won 22 more majors since, while Andreescu, who is essentially a tour-level rookie, will be playing her first Slam final.
So which should we favor on Saturday, youth or experience? Serena’s recent experience in major finals obviously hasn’t been good. Since her return in 2018, she’s played three of them, and hasn’t won a set. She was on edge in last year’s Open final, and her feet appeared to be frozen to the grass at the start of this year’s Wimbledon final. Will those defeats make her more determined to avoid another? Or will she feel the same tension in Ashe, as she faces another younger and obviously talented opponent, the way she did last year?
While we’ve been watching Serena for much longer, we may have a better idea of what we’re going to get from Andreescu. She has never played for a Slam title, so it’s possible that she’ll suffer from her own anxiety issues. But she’s coming in on a 13-match win streak, and right now there doesn’t seem to be a problem she can’t solve or a challenge she can’t face. The most important questions may be: How will she handle Serena’s serve and power from the ground, and will it give her time to utilize her variety? We won’t know until the match begins, but however it starts, Andreescu has shown a knack for making adjustments, as well as a knack for beating elite players—she’s 6-0 against Top 10 opponents this year.
With Andreescu, there are two wild-card elements. So far she has proven to be a great fighter, but not a great front-runner; she builds leads, gives them back, and then, when her opponent catches up, starts building them again. If she gets ahead of Serena, will she struggle to close? The second wild card is her personality. Andreescu is extroverted and expressive; will her fist-pumps and exhortations get under Serena’s skin and motivate her?
Yet as good as Andreescu is—she’s going to win majors—this match will still reside on Serena’s racquet. It has served her well so far this fortnight; her run through the draw has been unusually one-sided. But none of those matches were finals.
Whoever wins, 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 should make a for fascinating way to finish the 2019 Grand Slam season. Winner: Andreescu
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