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.
Photo credit: AFP/Getty Images Photo credit: AP
It was inevitable that Roger Federer's career would mirror that of Pete Sampras. Both are legendary players who rewrote the history books at Wimbledon. Both looked at that tournament as the hallowed ground of tennis. Both have similar playing styles. Both have similar gentlemanly personalities. And both have had end-of-career injury problems. For Sampras, his exit from the game came a year after he won his last major - the 2002 U.S. Open. For Federer, his exit from the game has not arrived despite the fact that his last major win was four years ago at Wimbledon 2012.
Their careers have been 10 years apart. Sampras arrived at the 1990 U.S. Open and managed to hang in for 12 years until he won his final major in 2002. Federer arrived in 2000 and his win at Wimbledon in 2012 could have been a final statement and period on his career. I don't think anyone would have been at all disappointed if he had retired after that win. But he has continued. This is where his career and Sampras' career have dovetailed. Their epic match at Wimbledon in 2001 was at the time and is still considered the changing of the guard. For Federer, there has been no such touchstone moment. His losses to Novak Djokovic came much earlier than Federer's 2012 Wimbledon win and Djokovic had already overtaken Federer as #1, so I don't see Djokovic as the heir to Federer.
In fact, there is no heir to Roger Federer. A few years ago and even earlier this year, one might have said that Milos Raonic was Federer's heir. If that was to be true, then you would have to believe that this year's Wimbledon semifinal between them was to be the touchstone moment of the changing of the guard. It certainly had all the dramatics and the right script. But Raonic is no Roger Federer, so that plot point doesn't work. Also, Raonic has turned out to be incredibly mentally vulnerable. The pressure he puts on himself is intense because he has to work so much harder than most to try and achieve anything close to what Sampras or Federer has achieved.
I think Roger Federer has needed that touchstone moment to clearly make up his mind that yes, there is an heir to his throne and can exit the game with grace. But he hasn't had that moment, so he continues to plod along because there is no clear challenger to his throne in the way that he was to Sampras. As the years go by without winning another major, you have to wonder what will be Roger Federer's exit strategy. I can't see him wobbling along, losing early and watching his ranking tumble out of the top 10. I don't want to see that happen to him. I would have been quite happy to have Wimbledon 2012 be his last major victory and have him finish out the year in style, as a champion.
But that is not the way it has worked out. I know he loves the game, but at some point, he's going to have to say enough. The inevitable has happened - injury, something that he has escaped throughout the entirety of his career. I really don't know why he hasn't said that he's going to retire. It would seem the perfect moment. He won a major, he climbed back to #1 in the world, he tried to stay on top, he tried to change his game. He was a success at doing all of that. I really thought that this latest injury would be the writing on the wall. Gone from the game for over six months, and he really thinks that he's going to regain the form to win another major? It's only going to get tougher and his body is not going to like it.
As with Pete Sampras' year-long hiatus from the game after he won the U.S. Open in 2002, I thought that Roger Federer's six month hiatus was going to be the sign that he was finally ready to call it a career. He has nothing left to prove. As a reasonable Federer fan, I don't want to see him stumble and fall, injure himself or injury his humility. It is the unreasonable Federer fans who want to see him play with a walker. Ultimately, it is up to him, but being the champion that he is, he's not going to be satisfied with just going through the motions with no meaningful results. That is why I think he should complete the Sampras-Federer circle by taking the final chapter from Pete Sampras' career and retire with dignity.
Despite the 150 year existence of tennis, there have only been a handful of movies that have exclusively featured tennis. Other films that feature tennis haven't even been about tennis. There are a lot of lists on the web that list 'the best tennis films in history' or 'the top 10 tennis films of all-time'. Both of those headlines are absurdly false. First, most the films that feature tennis are quite awful. Second, there are hardly 10 films that completely feature tennis that could fill a top 10 list. To fill it, you would have to add films that have only tennis matches in them, and documentaries and docudramas. To help you better understand the history of tennis in film, I have separated this topic into two separate lists: scripted films and documentaries - both alphabetically, to avoid any subjectivity as to what films appear should from the top down based on my opinion. This is also not an exhaustive list, as it does not include short films, short documentaries or animated programs.
16-Love (2012) - Feature independent drama.
Balls Out: The Gary Houseman Story (2009) - Low brow, recycled, T and A feature comedy. From the thousands of scripts that were submitted to the Bluecat Screenwriting Competition in 2005, this was the winner. It was released direct-to-video. Enough said.
Break Point (2014) - Feature comedy with Oscar winner JK Simmons.
The Break (1995) - Cable TV film drama with Martin Sheen.
The Christian Licorice Store (1971) - Feature drama with Beau Bridges. Great title that is never explained in the film. Tennis player who is running on empty and burning the candle at both ends. Have never seen this. Would like to.
Hard, Fast And Beautiful (1951) - Feature drama with Claire Trevor. Despite the awkward, brow-raising title, one of the rare films that had tennis as the main focal point.
Jocks (1987) - Typical T and A teen feature comedy with (surprisingly) Mariska Hargitay. Probably worse than Balls Out (if that is possible). When the lead character has no name and is only referred to as 'the Kid', you're in for a film with no substance.
Little Mo (1978) - TV film drama with Glynnis O'Connor as Maureen Connolly.
Match Point (2005) - Feature drama with Scarlett Johansson. Directed by Woody Allen. Probably the most critically acclaimed of all tennis films, though tennis plays only a supporting role.
Nobody's Perfect (1990) - Feature comedy with Chad Lowe.
Pat and Mike (1952) - Feature romantic comedy with Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. Hepburn plays a star tennis player and played her own tennis in the film.
Players (1979) - Feature drama with Ali MacGraw and Dean Martin Jr. (who was a former junior player).
The Prince of Tennis (2006) - Feature drama from Japan.
Second Serve (1986) - TV film drama with Vanessa Redgrave as Renee Richards.
The Seven Percent Solution (1976) - Feature drama with Robert Duvall. Not a pure tennis film and included only for a tennis match played in the film.
Spring Fever (1982) - Another typical lowbrow feature teen comedy, almost as bad as Jocks and Balls Out. Notable because the lead role was played by a real tennis player, Canadian Carling Bassett, who would go on to be a top 10 player the following year.
Strangers on a Train (1951) - Feature psychological crime thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Hands down, the best tennis film ever made. Although tennis is only a supporting character, it plays a crucial role in the film. That it is directed by the legendary Hitchcock, is good to know.
Tennis Anyone? (2006) - Feature independent drama.
Wimbledon (2004) - Feature romantic comedy with Kirsten Dunst. Filmed between matches at Wimbledon 2003.
Documentaries & Docudramas
7 Days in Hell (2015) - Mockumentary with Andy Samberg based on the famous history-making Isner/Mahut match at Wimbledon.
Jelenin Svet (2008) - Documentary on tennis player Jelena Jankovic.
Unmatched (2010) - Documentary on Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova.
Venus and Serena (2012) - Documentary on Venus and Serena Williams.
When Billie Beat Bobby (2001) - Docudrama based on the Battle of the Sexes tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.
The White Game (1968) - Documentary from Sweden on the protests at the 1968 Davis Cup match between Sweden and Rhodesia.
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