NEW YORK, September 5, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
Canadian teen sensation Bianca Andreescu, just 19, has been enjoying her first United States Open main draw experience in a fortnight full of milestones, which has included playing twice on Arthur Ashe Stadium, the biggest show court in tennis.
On Wednesday evening, the debutante played in her first major quarterfinal against quiet and unassuming Elise Mertens of Belgium. During a pre-match interview, Mertens, 23, who was playing on Ashe for the first time this tournament, admitted “It’s going to be a difficult match, but I’m going to enjoy it.”
For the first set, at least, it appeared the more experienced Mertens, who hadn’t dropped a set through the first four rounds of the US Open, was clearly enjoying the moment. She broke out to an early 3-1 lead and won the opening set handily. Then, as Andreescu later admitted during a post-match interview after she won 3-6, 6-2, 6-3, at first she “wasn’t playing my best tennis.” So, she realized, it was time for her to “get your sh*t together.” And, so she did.
A born competitor, Andreescu, who plays fearless tennis – sometimes, problem-solving on the fly – wasn’t intimidated by either Mertens or the New York night session crowd that can really be intimidating. She kept chipping away by attacking the Belgian – “staying calm and sticking to the tactics” – and blasting away point by point, game by game. From 2-all in the second set, Andreescu strung together five straight winning games. Suddenly, by the time she leveled the match in winning the second set, the odds shifted toward Andreescu. After all, she had been perfect (11-0) in third sets since Indian Wells and 13-3 for the year. This just shows that when it comes to the US open Tennis odds anything is possible.
When Andreescu broke Mertens to go ahead 5-3 in the waning moments of the third set, following her 38th winner that was produced by a solid backhand return, it was a matter of time before it would be lights out – game, set and match. Soon, Andreescu closed out the two hour and two minute match with a backhand winner that whizzed past the dejected Mertens.
In an upper half of the draw where there’s been opportunities galore, Andreescu becomes the first teenage US Open semifinalist since a 19-year-old Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark was runner-up in 2009, and the third teenager to reach the last four of a major this year, following the paths of French Open finalist Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic and Roland Garros semifinalist Amanda Anisimova from the United States.
While there’s room for improvement in the 15th seed Andreescu’s game, there’s a sense of completeness, too. There’s power in her groundstrokes and she enjoys hitting angles and running her opponents senseless all over the court. Such was her winning strategy against unseeded American qualifier Taylor Townsend on Monday night, during her fourth-round victory, and it’s something she was able to do at times against the No. 25 seed Mertens.
“She’s able to do a bunch of different things on the court – which sometimes is great, which sometimes gets her in trouble, but overall has been good,” said Andreescu’s coach, Sylvain Bruneau, during the WTA Coaches press conference earlier in the tournament, as quoted by the WTA Tour website.
Although Andreescu has transcended into a Top 20 player after beginning the year ranked outside the Top 100, thanks to winning titles at Indian Wells and the Rogers Cup in her own country earlier this year, both hard court tournaments, she’s had very little experience playing majors. Asked what she’s learned from playing in the US Open, she said after beating Townsend in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, “It’s not like anywhere else, playing here in front of you guys. Obviously, the crowd wasn’t for me today. But I heard some Canadians! I love you guys! They definitely helped me.”
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 5, 2019
Then, after her quarterfinal victory against Mertens, in which she hit 40 winners to 33 unforced errors and broke her opponent’s serve four times in 16 opportunities, Andreescu was asked how she would put her milestone victory into words. She paused for a moment, then answered, “Honestly, this is so crazy. A year ago, I was in the qualifying round. I was suffering from a back injury. Now, what I’ve accomplished this year, I’m honestly speechless. I need somebody to pinch me. Is this real life? Is this real life?”
On Thursday evening, Andreescu will face another first-time major semifinalist in 13th seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, who advanced over No. 23 seed Donna Vekic from Croatia, 7-6 (5), 6-3, Wednesday afternoon. “It’s definitely not going to be an easy match,” said Andreescu. “She’s an incredible player. She’s had an amazing career so far. Hopefully I can play my best tennis.”
U.S. duo advances to doubles semifinals
Unseeded Americans Caroline Dolehide and Vania King upset 14th seeds Lyudmyla Kichenok of Ukraine and Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia, 7-6 (2), 6-4, to reach the women’s doubles semifinals. Next, Dolehide and King will play fourth seeds Elise Mertens of Belgium and Aryna Sabalenka from Belarus on Friday.
Mixed doubles final set
No. 1 seeds Hao-Ching Chan of Taiwan and Michael Venus from New Zealand and unseeded Bethanie Mattek-Sands from the United States and Jamie Murray of Great Britain reached the mixed doubles final with semifinal victories Wednesday evening on Louis Armstrong Stadium.
Chan and Venus advanced over fourth seeds Latisha Chan from Taiwan and Ivan Dodig of Croatia, 7-6 (3), 7-5, while Mattek-Sands and Murray beat third seeds Samantha Stosur of Australia and Rajeev Ram of the United States, 6-3, 6-1.
The mixed doubles final will be played Saturday at noon.
By the numbers
• When No. 15 seed Bianca Andreescu beat American qualifier Taylor Townsend, she became the 12th woman in the Open Era (since 1968) to reach the US Open quarterfinals on her debut in New York, and just the fourth in the past 30 years following Venus Williams in 1997, Agnes Szavay in 2007 and Belinda Bencic in 2014.
• None of the players who remained in the top half of the draw at the start of play Wednesday – Belinda Bencic, Bianca Andreescu or Elise Mertens – had reached the US Open semifinals before, and only Mertens had made the last four of any major – at the 2018 Australian Open.
• With her quarterfinal victory, Bianca Andreescu became the first Canadian semifinalist at the US Open since Carling Bassett-Seguso in 1984.
Thursday women’s schedule
Singles semifinals / Arthur Ashe Stadium
No. 5 Elina Svitolina vs. No. 8 Serena Williams, 7 p.m.
No. 13 Belinda Bencic vs. No. 15 Bianca Andreescu.