That reaction, pumping her arms, is what I will always remember the day Bianca Andreescu won the US Open.
First Canadian ever to win a grand slam singles title.
First woman ever to win the US Open in her debut appearance.
First player born in the 2000s to win a grand slam title.
Those are stunning statistics, really. Considering she was ranked close to #200 at the time the previous year, and #152 at the start of the year. The change and the turnaround in her game is remarkable. Those statistics are of someone who is both a phenom and a seasoned pro.
In assessing the fortunes of promising Canadian tennis players since the rise of Milos Raonic in 2011, I picked Felix Auger-Alliassime to be the class of the field and the one with the brightest future, capable of amassing titles, multiple majors and reaching #1 in the world.
To be honest, I didn't see that in Andreescu. I thought she was a fighter for sure and would give top ranked players problems (like many Canadian players have done over the years), but I didn't see her at the top of the game and winning titles or majors. This success she's having - it's come out of nowhere. It's other worldly, stunning and so unlike anything Canadian tennis has ever seen before. There has been no slow build to this success. It's as if a switch has been turned on and she's gone from promising good player to champion overnight. It's taken me by complete surprise. It usually takes many seasons to achieve this kind of success. But it's happened all at once. I think I'm still in shock.
I'm so glad media outlets have correctly said she is the first Canadian singles player to win a grand slam. Sebastien Lareau was the first Canadian to win a grand slam of any kind when he won the 1999 US Open men's doubles title with an American partner. And of course, legendary Canadian doubles player Daniel Nestor has won 8 major doubles titles since then. Gabriela Dabrowski was the first Canadian woman to win a major title with a mixed doubles title at the 2017 French Open. But this grand slam singles title is big for Bianca and Canadian tennis. So big.
To defeat crowd favourites in the 3rd and 4th rounds showed immense focus and concentration, even with the raucous New York crowd against her. That she did not fold or let that get to her told me that she had the mental fortitude and strength that is so important in professional tennis. Without that mental toughness, matches (and careers) can go sideways in a hurry. She's so tough mentally and that is the stuff that champions are made.
The next two matches were very close. They were players who, on paper, she should beat even though they were ranked above her. But because of the circumstance of a major, they were very tight matches, and once again, Andreescu held her nerve and made it to the final.
The final, the most watched tennis match in Canadian history, was stunning. Bianca raced out to a 6-3, 5-1 lead and it was shocking how easy it looked. Then, the crowd got involved and it could have gotten very ugly. Somehow, she held her nerve and her serve until it was 6-5. When she broke to win the title, it was a moment I will never forget. I had waited all my life to see that moment and it had happened. It didn't seem real.
That she apologized for winning over the crowd favourite was oh so Canadian. I'm really looking forward to see what is next for her. We could be witnessing a Hall of Fame, multiple grand slams, #1 in the world career in its infancy here. It's so exciting. And she's Canadian.
For me, the ultimate pinnacle for any Canadian athlete is to win their own country's national championship. Whether it is tennis or golf, or any other sport, a win symbolizes not only an athlete at their absolute best, but a demonstration in overcoming adversity. Let's be honest - the pressure to win at home is crushing at best. That's what makes Bianca Andreescu's win at the 2019 Canadian Open so spectacular.
I've watched a steady stream of Canadian professional athletes come to the table for decades with guts, heart, fight and talent to try and win their country's national title. In golf, Mike Weir was within arm's length of the trophy, but it was not to be. Brooke Henderson finally erased a curse in 2018 by winning the LPGA's Canadian Open, after so many talented Canadian golfers tried before her.
In tennis, only Carling Bassett, Helen Kelesi, Patricia Hy, Aleksandra Wozniak, Grant Connell, Andrew Sznajder, Vasek Pospisil and Milos Raonic got to the quarterfinals in my lifetime. I cheered all of them on. They all tried valiantly to go further, but the luck of the draw, opponents and the oppressive pressure to win at home proved to be too much. (Raonic drew Pospisil in the SF and then was defeated by Nadal in the final).
By the time the 2019 Canadian Open rolled around in August, the best Canadian prospects were on the men's side with Felix Auger-Alliassime and Denis Shapovalov. Both were defeated early. I gave Bianca Andreescu little chance of doing much of anything - her first tournament back after almost 3 months; playing with what looked like a severe shoulder injury back in March; the media frenzy; the pressure; playing in her home town... For any other mortal, it was going to be all too much.
But, like she has shown in 2019, Bianca is not the same player we thought she was prior to January. As the week went on, she began to pull strength from I don't know where. She looked down and out on numerous occasions from the first round through to the semifinals. Her first 4 matches were 3 full sets of comebacks, steely determination, mind-blowing mental fortitude and athleticism. Just when you thought she was on the ropes and out of gas, she came storming back and won the match.
It was incredible to watch. The atmosphere of the final was electric. It turned out to be anti-climactic when Bianca won it and the title, becoming the first Canadian in 50 years to win the Canadian Open. Now, as it did then, it doesn't feel real. There was no absolute conclusion to the match and the realization that she had won the title took many hours to sink in. She had made history, yet again in 2019, continuing to stack up wins she shouldn't have won, and just blowing everyone's minds and making them say, 'where did she come from?' and 'this is unbelievable'.
To be able to witness a Canadian win the Canadian Open was a lifelong dream come true. I truly never thought I would live to see it happen. The pressure to do that is just so immense. By the time the tournament ended, a new Canadian sports hero was born. The perseverance through a serious injury, the mental fortitude to focus, and the ability to block out the pressure were the keys to her win.
Bianca Andreescu is not like any Canadian tennis player we have seen before. What she had done so far is only the beginning of the career of a superstar of her sport.
September 7, 2019: A day to be remembered by all Canadians, whether they are sports fans or not.
Since the beginning of the game of tennis, through the amateur and professional eras, no Canadian had ever won a major singles title. Only Eugenie Bouchard in 2014, and Milos Raonic in 2016 had even reached a major singles final for a chance to play for a title. Bianca's US Open win is a big deal. She made history.
The year she has had has also been unprecedented. This time last year, she was ranked outside the top 200 in the world. At the beginning of the year she was #152. She lost early at the Australian Open. Then, she caught fire.
I can't explain why she caught fire. Sometimes, it just happens to athletes. It's called the zone. Everything is clicking on all cylinders - professionally, personally, athletically, mentally. For Bianca, she was in the zone.
Before the Aussie Open, she got to the final of a tournament in Auckland, then won a top tier ITF tournament in Florida. She got to the semis of her next tournament in Mexico, and then in Indian Wells, CA, (a major tour event just below the grand slams) she won the title - the biggest singles title a Canadian man or woman had ever won.
But she had played so much tennis, her shoulder was overworked and she injured it. Unwisely, she entered the following week's Miami Open and continued to injure it. Ultimately, she would be out of the game for almost 5 months (except for an appearance at the French Open).
In August, at the Canadian Open, she returned, but I had very little optimism for her success. She was a Canadian at her home tournament (usually the kiss of death for any Canadian); it was her first tournament back from injury; and the field was deep. But is was as if she had never left the court - or the zone. She knocked off seed after seed, staging comeback wins and saving set and match points (which were ultimately championship points). The anticlimactic final was almost like a dream. She won and became the first Canadian in 50 years to win the singles title.
At the US Open, she was still in the zone, but here while playing crowd favourites, she faced a hostile crowd, which only added to the incredible mental strength Bianca has. Again, she came back from sets down, break points and set points to stage the most unlikely run ever at the US Open. The matches with Wozniacki, Townsend, Mertens and Bencic were unbelievable shows of mental and physical strength. At the end of the matches, I couldn't believe what I was witnessing - because any other player would have wilted under the pressure, as so many players do. I suddenly realized that this was a very special player - and she just happened to be Canadian. When she raced out to a 6-3, 5-1 lead in the final, I expected it from her. It wasn't a surprise. The win and the moments after were a complete fog. I had to replay the match to make sure it was real.
The media hoopla after the US Open was most deserved. Only a special player like Bianca could put all of that aside and step back onto the court to finish off what is easily the best year a Canadian tennis player has ever had in the history of the sport.
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