NEW YORK, September 8, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
A New York fortnight ago, Bianca Andreescu started her remarkable run to her first Grand Slam title on Court 10 at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows with a straight-set win over U.S. junior champion Katie Volynets. She ended her journey on Arthur Ashe Stadium Saturday evening in front of a loud, sold-out audience with a forehand return that stunned her opponent, Serena Williams, to become the United States Open champion. After being congratulated at the net by the 23-time Grand Slam icon of women’s tennis, Andreescu collapsed on the court and began soaking in the surreal moment.
The final score line will reflect that the poised, 19-year-old Canadian wunderkind defeated the 37-year-old greatest female tennis player of all time, 6-3, 7-5, in one hour and 40 minutes. The 15th seed Andreescu won on her third championship point opportunity – becoming the first Canadian to win a Grand Slam title – and in her inimitable spirit, she improved her record against Top 10 players to an impressive 8-0. Meanwhile, Williams is now 0-for-4 in Grand Slam finals (0-2 at Wimbledon and 0-2 at the US Open) since returning to the sport after giving birth to her daughter, Olympia, two years ago.
So, is Andreescu the Newcomer of the Year, the Most Improved Player of the Year or, simply, the Player of the Year? Or, maybe all three?
“It’s hard to put in words,” said Andreescu during an interview with Tennis Channel’s Mary Carillo after the trophy ceremony. “Every day this week has been a dream come true, really. Holding this trophy and beating Serena in the final … oh my God.”
It’s pretty remarkable to consider that Andreescu wasn’t even born when Williams won the first of her 23 Grand Slam singles titles at the United States Open in 1999. In the same Arthur Ashe Stadium that Williams won her first Grand Slam singles title at age 17 over Martina Hingis, the grande dame of women’s tennis faced the fast-rising Andreescu, who played with fearless demeanor and comported herself well throughout her title run. She was playing in her first major final and was just the third woman to reach the US Open final in her debut. Heck, she broke Williams in her very first service game after being aced on the very first point of the match, then took off from there on a mission that could be best described as “refuse to lose.”
Andreescu described it this way: “I was just really, really focused right from the start of the game. I knew she was going to serve really well. She double faulted a lot of the times because I was making her work for every ball. That was the game plan from the start.”
The championship match came down to who could handle the pressure the best and, surprisingly, it was Andreescu – not Williams. She hit 19 winners to 17 unforced errors and broke Williams six times in 13 opportunities. Although Williams hit 33 winners, she was undone by an inability to get first serve in consistently, finishing with a paltry 44 percent efficiency. She struck eight double faults and committed 33 unforced errors.
“I thought (Bianca) had the game to beat Serena, but didn’t think she would win,” said Hall of Famer Chris Evert, analyzing the final broadcast on ESPN throughout North America. “I thought Serena would win her 24th Grand Slam.”
Instead, Andreescu’s breakthrough season, which began when she lifted the championship trophy at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells and continued last month as she won the Rogers Cup in Toronto, in her home country, culminated with her improbable victory Saturday evening over the six-time US Open champion.
When Andreescu was asked to sum up her feelings during the trophy ceremony after the biggest tennis moment of her young life, she said, “It’s so hard to explain in words, but I’m beyond grateful and truly blessed. I’ve worked really, really hard for this moment, I can’t complain. This year has been a dream come true, and now, being able to play on this stage against Serena, a true legend of this sport, is amazing.”
In her first major final playing against Williams, who was chasing after a 24th major singles title that would equal Margaret Court’s 46-year-old record, somehow, Andreescu managed the moment very well and with great maturity. “Oh man, it wasn’t easy at all. I tried to prepare my best like I do every other match. I tried to step on the court, not really focusing on who I was playing. That’s really easy to say, but I’m really proud with how I dealt with everything.”
At 6-3, 5-1, Williams saved a championship point with a forehand winner and, soon, pulled even at 5-all by winning four consecutive games while playing in survival mode. It meant Andreescu had to come back after being ahead – not always an easy thing to do. Yet, she kept her focus and kept applying the pressure on Williams, who was desperate to come up with a game plan of her own to win.
“She’s a champion of the sport and it’s expected that she would come back and keep fighting,” Andreescu told Carillo during the Tennis Channel interview. “I just tried to not let the crowd go into my head too much. It was crazy, it was really loud. I could barely hear myself thing. I’m just proud how I blocked everything out.”
During the trophy ceremony, with a hint of laughter in her voice, Andreescu said to the crowd, “I know you guys wanted Serena to win. So, I’m so sorry!”
During her post-match press conference, Williams said, “I’m not necessarily chasing a record. I’m just trying to win Grand Slams. It’s definitely frustrating, you know. But for the most part I just am still here. I’m still doing what I can do. …
“I honestly didn’t play my best today. I could have played better. That’s the only solace that I can take right now.”
Although Williams maintained her composure through this year final, unlike in her controversial loss to Naomi Osaka in the 2018 final, she described losing to Andreescu as “Definitely disappointing. I felt like I could have done so many things a little bit better. But she played really well, and she deserves this championship.”
This year has been a long journey for Andreescu and despite a shoulder injury that sidelined her throughout the entire European clay and English grass-court campaigns earlier this season, she’s remained positive and upbeat. By the end of championship night, all seemed well.
A perfect ice breaker! ❄
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 7, 2019
At her post-match press conference, Andreescu summed up the personal journey that ended with her hoisting her maiden Grand Slam trophy this way:
“I was feeling many, many things before the match, more than any other match,” she said. “In the finals, playing Serena. I just tried to breathe as much as I could from the moment I woke up until the match. I tried to just do that throughout the whole match, to just keep my nerves in place.
“It wasn’t easy at all. But I think that’s what I’ve been doing really well throughout this whole year.”
By the numbers
Among some of the many history-making numbers for Bianca Andreescu after winning the 2019 US Open:
• She became the first Canadian player to win a major singles title in the Open Era.
• She won her first Grand Slam title in just her fourth major appearance, which ties her with Monica Seles for fewest appearances before first major title.
• She’s the first teen to a win a major since Maria Sharapova won the 2006 US Open at age 19.
• She’s the youngest woman to win a Major since the 2004 Us Open by Svetlana Kuznetsova.
• Serena Williams’ player’s box was full of team members, family and friends – and they were seen often on TV in between points and during changeovers. In addition to her coach Patrick Mouratoglou and her fitness trainer Mackie Shilstone, there was her mother Oracene Price, her sister Venus Williams, her husband Alexis Ohanian, and a couple of her high-profile friends: Vogue editor Anna Wintour and British Royal Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex.
• Bianca Andreescu was already set to make her Top 10 debut regardless of the outcome of the final. Now, with her victory over Serena Williams, Andreescu is tentatively set to move up to No. 5 when the new WTA Rankings come out on Monday. Williams will drop a place to No. 9.
What they’re tweeting
Soon after Bianca Andreescu lifted her first Grand Slam title trophy at the US Open, social media lit up to congratulate her, including many from her home country of Canada. There were tweets from Major League Baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays, whom she threw out a ceremonial first pitch earlier this season, and the NBA’s world champion Toronto Raptors. And, there were none better than from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who tweeted:
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) September 7, 2019
What they’re saying
Lindsay Davenport, Hall of Fame great and Tennis Channel analyst, on Bianca Andreescu’s ability to find a way to win: “I was so impressed, not only with how Andreescu was able to start the match but also with how she was able to finish it. It’s not easy when a 5-1 lead in the second (set) all of a sudden gets to 5-all. She was able to reset and refocus. She started this tournament out on Court 10 and ended it on Ashe with a forehand return to become champion. It’s a remarkable run for her.”