It seemed much longer ago than two years, and further away than the distance between Toronto and Montreal, since Bianca Andreescu won her homeland’s WTA tournament. Don’t just call it another decade. Call it another universe. But here Andreescu was this evening, at the National Bank Open, a WTA event in Montreal, struggling to commence a successful defense of the title she’d earned in Toronto in the summer of 2019. Through ups and downs, patches of power and passivity, even down a break in the third set, Andreescu found her game at the right time to turn back an inspired Harriet Dart, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.

Certainly, Andreescu was aided by playing at home. “It was so awesome,” she said. “I had all the feels. It was super emotional at the end. I got goosebumps walking on the court. Having the crowd cheer so long, it's just a crazy feeling. I'm so happy the tournament was able to be played. I know they only said 5,000 people, but it looked like way more. It was really nice.” Fueled by competing on native grounds, Andreescu felt proud at how she’d regained her composure after failing to win in straight sets.

As much as Andreescu struggled to play her best tennis and stay positive, one can also imagine the tranquility that her new coach, Sven Groeneveld, will bring to their post-match analysis and how they connect through subsequent matches. Having worked with a great many players, including Maria Sharapova, Mary Pierce and Caroline Wozniacki, Groeneveld understands the sport at the very highest levels. It will be intriguing to see what language he and Andreescu create.

But quite likely, even the wise and friendly Groeneveld can’t fully comprehend the way events of recent times have weighed on the psyche of various tennis players. Consider the specific case of Andreescu and the remarkable twists and turns of her tennis journey. In 2018, she failed to qualify for the US Open. A year later, still a teenager, having already won titles at such prestigious events as Indian Wells and Toronto, Andreescu beat Serena Williams in the finals of the US Open. After tearing the meniscus in her left knee a month later at the WTA Championships, Andreescu did not play a single match in 2020. In March of this year, at last gaining momentum, Andreescu reached the final in Miami, only to retire in the second set with an ankle injury. A month later, she tested positive for COVID-19. All this before turning 21 in June.

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Andreescu found her game at the right time to turn back an inspired Harriet Dart, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.

Andreescu found her game at the right time to turn back an inspired Harriet Dart, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.  

Question: What do you call a college junior who’s won the Nobel Prize? Answer: an undergraduate. Only this year did Andreescu play the Australian Open, Roland Garros and Wimbledon for the second time. Just once has she played the US Open. The pandemic has only complicated Andreescu’s tennis education, the familiar path of practice and competition, results and frequency, all massively derailed.

Now more than ever is the time when the notion that anyone in the top 200 can beat anyone is highly applicable. So what if Dart is currently ranked 152, compared to Andreescu at number eight? When the entire world is so heavily off its axis, how significant is a ranking or any past result? Soon enough, Dart found herself less concerned with Andreescu’s resume and more focused on grappling with the incoming ball. Said Andreescu, “she definitely started going for her shots more.”

In most of the rallies, Dart was often sharp and mobile, intermittently imaginative and persistent enough to serve at 2-1 in the decisive set. But, with Dart serving at 15-30 in that game, there came a short rain delay, an interruption Andreescu believed slightly reset her focus. Subsequently, there indeed came those moments when Andreescu showed off the form that has made her exceptionally compelling – power off both sides, adroit use of the drop shot, angled volleys. But to say Andreescu stormed through five of the last six games is hardly accurate.

The Andreescu who hit the tennis radar two years ago was a new voice, her style a refreshing mix that blended the confidence of a Monica Seles, the intellect of a Martina Hingis and, as is the case with most champions, a voice and passion all her own. Amid all the stress of recent years, one hopes Andreescu can stay healthy and continually trot out more of her best tennis.