A 19-year-old Canadian, Bianca Andreescu, is making history in New York by reaching the 2019 US Open final, powering past Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic and into her her maiden Grand Slam final with yet another electrifying performance on Thursday night in Arthur Ashe Stadium, 7-6 7-5.
I'm just really glad with how I managed that. I tried to change the rhythm as much as possible. That was the goal right from the beginning of the match. But it wasn't easy. When someone is hitting flat and deep, it's hard to do that. But the main reason I won today I think is because I just kept fighting. “I never let up. Bianca Andreescu
“I’ve always dreamt of this moment ever since I was a little kid,” Andreescu said, in her post-match press conference. “But I don’t think many people would have actually thought that it would become a reality.
“I just kept believing in myself,” Andreescu continued. “But I think that moment after the match [point won], I was just in shock.
“At the same time, I fought really hard to get to this point, so I really think I deserve to be in the finals on Saturday.”
It marks 13 consecutive victories in a row for Andreescu, and the winning streak doesn’t even begin to tell the story of the Canadian’s remarkable rise in 2019.
In the final she faces the 37-year-old veteran, Serena Williams, who will be trying to win her 24th Grand Slam title and tie the all-time record held by Australia’s Margaret Court.
The 19-year-old rookie is looking for the first major title of her career, in her first US Open main-draw appearance and a win would also be the first-ever Grand Slam singles title by a Canadian.
“A lot of emotions are running through my body right now. A lot of thoughts, too. But right now I’m just trying to take in the victory,” said Andreescu. “Hopefully I can just keep the momentum going for the finals.
“Hopefully I can play a little bit better than I did today.”
The championship match will be a bit of unfinished business for Andreescu and Williams, who played each other for the first time in last month’s Rogers Cup but, after just 4 games, Serena retired due to back spasms, handing the Canadian her second WTA title of the season.
Ranked well outside the Top 150 when the year began, Andreescu now stands one victory from putting the finishing touches on one of the greatest Grand Slam success stories of the last two decades.
“If someone told me a year ago that I’d be in the finals of the US Open this year, I’d tell them ‘You’re crazy,’ ” Andreescu said on court after the match.
Crazy good is more like it.
In the semi-final, a closely-contested first set seemed to be trending towards Bencic, as the Swiss used steady play, coupled with brilliant down-the-line winners, to give herself chances in numerous Andreescu service games.
The Canadian fended off 2 break points with clutch serving to hold for 2-2, then erased 3 more with similarly aggressive play to eke out a hold for 3-3.
The all-court play from Andreescu finally earned her an easy hold for 4-4, but Bencic was unfazed, grinding out for 5-4 before using an error-forcing approach shot to garner a set point in the next game.
Andreescu did not blink, firing a forehand winner down the line to erase that chance, and clocked an ace to close out the game for 5-5, having saved 6 break points and a set point against her thus far.
After an ace to hold for 6-6, Andreescu zipped to a 5-0 lead in the tiebreak, with her confident play helped along by the Swiss player’s miscues.
Bencic pulled off 3 points in a row, reaching 5-3 after a beautiful backhand winner down the line, but a netted forehand gave Andreescu 3 set points at 6-3.
After another Bencic miss ended a big-hitting rally, Andreescu had eked out the one-set lead after 67 minutes.
It was this type of timely tennis that frustrated Bencic all evening but she didn’t give up the chase, the 22-year-old Swiss hitting a purple patch early in the second set and taking advantage of a lull from the Canadian to break in the opening game.
She continued to connect on her ground strokes, pushing Andreescu around, and after 4 consecutive breaks of serve in the middle of the set, Bencic found herself in front, 5-3.
It could have been the beginning of an epic comeback but, as it turned out, it was the beginning of the end.
Andreescu ramped up her game and pushed back, setting the tone for a dramatic stretch of play that would take her to the brink of victory.
Bencic had a 2nd chance to tie the match at a set apiece at 5-4, and, again, Andreescu fearlessly blasted an error-forcing backhand to bring up a break point in that game, and when the Swiss double faulted, the set was suddenly dead-even at 5-5.
Andreescu grabbed this opportunity with gusto, holding for 6-5 and putting the pressure firmly on Bencic.
The Canadian powered her way to 2 match points in that game before Bencic manoeuvred her way out of that situation, and was a point away from another tiebreak.
Back-to-back forehand errors by the Swiss gave Andreescu a 3rd match point, and the teenager polished off the match with a fiery forehand return that Bencic put back into the net.
“It’s just surreal,” Andreescu said afterwards. “I really don’t know what to say. It’s a dream come true playing against Serena in the final of the US Open.
“A lot of emotions are running through my body right now. A lot of thoughts, too. But right now I’m just trying to take in the victory.
“Hopefully I can just keep the momentum going for the final.”
The manner in which she clobbered her way past her her opponent proved she is no longer an underdog.
Bencic, who battled all the way in the epic 2-hour and 13-minute semi-final, felt the teenager had the game to challenge Williams.
“She beat so many great players. I definitely was not surprised. I don’t think anyone should be,” said Bencic.
“I think she’s definitely a great player. She totally deserves to be in the final.”
Andreescu ended 2018 ranked 178th in the world and now sits at No 15, her rapid rise astounding tennis fans, her opponents and even her coach.
Canadians are eagerly jumping on the bandwagon in support of the youngster and following her meteoric rise.
During the first set of her semi-final the hashtag #SheTheNorth became the No1 trending topic on Twitter in Canada, while fans balked when the main sports station, TSN, bumped her match in favour for the NFL season-opener between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears.
“Whenever my back is against the wall, I think I’m just extra focused in those moments,” Andreescu said. “I remember I told myself at 5-2 that I didn’t want to go to 3 sets. So I think just that switched my mindset.”
It all turned when Bencic served at 4-1 in the second set, helping Andreescu’s cause by double-faulting twice in that game to lose her delivery, and start the Canadian’s comeback.
“I think it wasn’t too fun playing her. But that’s what makes her such a great player,” Andreescu said. “I tried to change the rhythm as much as possible.
“But it wasn’t easy. When someone is hitting flat and deep, it’s hard to do that.
“But the main reason I won today I think is because I just kept fighting. I never let up. In the second set I felt her kind of get tight at 4-1. I fed off of that. I just kept going for my shots,” she added.
Andreescu won 4 consecutive games to erase both service breaks. and, suddenly, Bencic was serving just to stay in the match.
“I think she has a clear game style pattern, with the spinning forehand, then like cutting into the court. I think we both play similar on this,” Bencic added.
“I had little bit of a struggle on the returns today.
“I couldn’t read her serve as well. I think that’s, like, credit to her serve. It maybe [doesn’t] look spectacular, like from [Naomi] Osaka, but I think it’s very effective, smart, variation on the placement.
“I think that gave me a hard time which was maybe also a little bit of the difference.”
Saturday’s final will have significant historical implications, with Williams bidding to tie Court’s all-time record of 24 major singles titles and Andreescu gunning to become the first player in the Open era to claim the title in her US Open debut.
In her 4th Grand Slam appearance overall, Andreescu is bidding to join Monica Seles as one of two players to have won a major title with less than 5 Grand Slam main-draw appearances.
Astonishingly, in her brief but distinguished career, Andreescu has never lost a match against a Top 10 player, and is now 7-0 overall against them.
Taking on the No 8 seed and 6-time US Open champion, who won the first of her 23 Grand Slam titles before Andreescu was even born, the rookie will need to be at her best, and so will Williams if she is to deny the teenager more success.
“She’s a great player. She mixes things up. You never know what is going to come from her,” said Serena after her semi, needing just 70 minutes to dispatch No 6 seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, 6-3 6-1.
“She serves well, moves well, has a ton of power. She’s very exciting to watch. It’s good. I think it’s great for women’s tennis.
“She really knows how to mix up the game and play different shots in different ways. Above all, I just like her as a person. She’s amazing.”
Andreescu will make her Top 10 debut in the WTA Rankings on Monday.
“I remember always telling my team I would have always wanted to play [Williams] right before she retires,” said Andreescu. “I’m really looking forward to it.
“She’s an amazing champion on and off the court. It’s going to be fun.
“I remember watching her when I was about 10,” she added. “I watched her win most of her Grand Slam titles.
“I think she’s fighting for her 24th on Saturday. I’m sure she’s going to bring her A-game. I’m going to try to bring my A-game, too. Hopefully, I guess, may the best player win.”
In their only prior meeting, 23-time Grand Slam champion Williams and Andreescu faced off in the Rogers Cup final last month, but the match ended abruptly after Williams retired due to an upper back injury while trailing 3-1.
“I was about to play a champion of this sport in the finals of Rogers Cup, obviously I was nervous,” said Andreescu, thinking back to that match in Toronto. “But I think I channeled that nervousness into something else.
“When I stepped on the court, I didn’t really think of who was on the other side. Having those 4 games against her I think is going to help me on Saturday.”
On this day, the Canadian fired 40 winners to 38 unforced errors, while Bencic’s 16 winners were negated by her 32 unforced errors.
Andreescu converted 4 out of her 7 break points while Bencic will rue her 3-for-13 break point conversion rate.
“It wasn’t easy at all,” Andreescu admitted, when reflecting on her battle with Bencic. “She hits the ball really hard and really flat, I think every shot.
“My knees were to the ground. I think it wasn’t too fun playing her. But that’s what makes her such a great player.
“I’m just really glad with how I managed that. I tried to change the rhythm as much as possible.
“That was the goal right from the beginning of the match. But it wasn’t easy.
“When someone is hitting flat and deep, it’s hard to do that. But the main reason I won today I think is because I just kept fighting.
“I never let up.”