Diving deep into Andreescu and Serena's weeks in Toronto

Diving deep into Andreescu and Serena's weeks in Toronto

Andreescu has spent 2019 finding out how good she can be; Serena has spent it facing a new challenge each day.

When Bianca Andreescu learned that her opponent in Sunday’s Rogers Cup final, Serena Williams, had retired with back spasms, the Canadian teen didn’t waste any time. She walked straight over to Serena, gave her a hug, told her she understood what it’s like to be injured, and even made the American smile through her tears. The 19-year-old seemed to disarm the 37-year-old, and broke right through her defenses to cheer her up.

Leave it to Andreescu to jump in where others wouldn’t dare to tread. She’s a rookie who acts like a veteran, an up-and-comer who acts carries herself like an established player, a relative unknown who’s always the center of attention—and one who is quickly becoming known by her first name alone; ”Bian-ca!” the crowd in her Toronto hometown chanted this week. If believing is the first step to achieving, Andreescu is already well on her way to the top of the sport.

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“This is just the beginning,” Andreescu said during the trophy ceremony, with the matter-of-fact confidence of someone who is beginning to think that anything is possible for her. Then she climbed up to the top of the umpire’s chair to show off her trophy.

"I'm definitely surprising myself,” Andreescu said after her win over Sofia Kenin in the semifinals. “I don’t realize the things I can do on the court. My coach is always telling me that I’m a champion within. But I guess—I don’t know. Maybe I’m starting to realize that slowly.”

Asked before her match with Serena what it would be like to face a 23-time major champion, Andreescu zeroed in on the thing that’s most important, and most impressive, about her game. Her total lack of fear.

“It would be an honor to share the court with her,” Andreescu said. “But when I go out there, like I said, I’m fearless. So hopefully that will be the case when I play her.”

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We’ll never know exactly how Andreescu would have played on Sunday if Serena had been healthy. It’s worth noting that in the early going she was deliberately mixing in backhand slices when she had the opportunity to hit something harder, so it seems she had a plan, and her usual thoughtful, varied, unpredictable approach to constructing points was intact.

But the takeaway from Andreescu’s week came in her five matches. She won four of them in three sets, and one of them in two tight sets. She struggled with her consistency, she let leads slip, she berated herself and seemed to be on the verge of defeat more than once. But she won anyway. She won because she was able, at the end of each match, to put whatever mistakes she had made behind her and win anyway. You can’t fake that kind of self-belief.

If Andreescu is finding out what she can do on a tennis court, and how good she can be, Serena has spent this season finding out that things don’t come as easily as they once did, and that every day seems to offer a new challenge.

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“It’s been a tough year,” she said during the trophy ceremony, as tears welled up again.

Serena’s Toronto experience was a familiar one. Again, she reached peak form for one match—this time it came in her convincing and cathartic win over Naomi Osaka in the quarterfinals. Again, she came out the next day and struggled to put a ball in the court. And again, her body betrayed her—earlier in the year, it was her knee, this time it was her back. Serena said she wanted to test herself in a final before the US Open, but she never had a chance to take that test today.

Still, she’ll be among the favorites at the Open. Yes, she’s obviously susceptible to injury, especially over the course of seven matches—but in New York, unlike in Toronto, she won’t be playing every day. She’s also susceptible to a bad day—yet at three of the six majors she has played in her comeback, she was consistent enough to reach the final.

“If I can do it, anyone can do it,” Andreescu told the crowd in her victory speech today. If she can bounce back from an injury to win a big title, surely Serena can, too, right?