The Maple Leaf flew around Arthur Ashe Stadium on Wednesday night when Bianca Andreescu, the precocious 19-year old Canadian, pulled off a stirring comeback victory, overcoming the No 25 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium, 3-6 6-2 6-3, to reach her first-ever Grand Slam semi-final in her US Open main-draw debut.
I just told myself to keep fighting and hope that I can switch things around basically, Bianca Andreescu
On paper, Andreescu should have won this match, seeded at No 15, but the occasion and the stage on which it was played could well have blunted her considerable weapons, let alone nerves.
“It took a lot of hard work,” Andreescu said in her post-match press conference. “The passion’s always there, though. Even through the tough times I try to stay as optimistic as I can.”
Last year she lost in the qualifying rounds and now the teenager is in her first career major semi-final.
In the opening set, the 5-foot-10 Mertens, a smooth ball-striker, was impenetrable from the backcourt as Andreescu struggled to find her timing and range, misfiring with her heavy ground strokes on what was a sweltering night in New York
Despite only going 4-for-16 on break points, Andreescu was still able to get past Mertens, who could only break serve twice.
The Belgian had pinpoint groundstroke accuracy in the first set, but ended the clash with 27 unforced errors, compared to just 22 winners.
Andreescu scampered around the court in the opening game to draw early errors from Mertens, earning 2 break points, but the Belgian stayed cool and collected to fend off those chances before knocking off a cluster of good serves to close out a service hold.
The steely early play by Mertens paid dividends when she clocked a backhand winner down the line to earn 2 break points of her own at 2-1, then fired a dipping backhand right at the feet of a net-rushing Andreescu to force a netted error and claim the first service break of the match.
Andreescu was in dire straits serving at 1-4 as well, when she had to summon some fierce forehand work to erase 3 break points and eke out a hold for 4-2.
Mertens was unfazed by the missed chances, and the Belgian’s groundstrokes were hitting small targets with precision.
Serving for the set at 5-3, the Belgian fired an ace to hold serve at love for the one-set lead.
“I just told myself to keep fighting and hope that I can switch things around basically,” Andreescu said later. “I tried to stay more aggressive than the first set, and I felt like I was missing a lot in the first set, as well.
“I saw that [Mertens] was picking on my backhand a lot, so I tried to go more down the line with my backhand so she can go back to my forehand, so I can use my forehand, because I like my forehand,” Andreescu continued, with a smile.
“She executed some good tactics in the first set. I just told myself to just keep fighting and to not give up. That was the main thing.”
She found her range in the second, as the players exchanged breaks early and Mertens used all-court play to stave off 2 break points before holding for 2-2 with a forehand winner down the line.
The Canadian, however, used that same shot to reach a 3-2 lead, then broke the set open with a break at love, punctuated with a fiery forehand to force an error.
Her forehand clicked as she hit 2 winners from that wing en route to a hold for 5-2 and wrapped up the set with another break for good measure, firing a final forehand winner, this one crosscourt, to level the match at a set apiece.
The players had a matching 10 unforced errors in the second set, but Andreescu hit more winners than Mertens, by 14 to 4, which was a far cry from the opening set, where Mertens had 12 winners to 9 unforced errors, and Andreescu’s 11 winners were undone by 14 miscues.
Andreescu made it through the entire 3rd set without facing a break point, while the Mertens’ service games became far more complicated, but the Belgian continued to stay even-keeled, fending off the first 6 Canadian break points of the decider.
The teenager converted lucky No 7, though, cracking a monstrous backhand service return which Mertens clipped with her racket, catching the net and giving Andreescu the first and decisive break of the set to lead 5-3.
In the next game, Andreescu hit one final backhand winner to wrap up the victory and complete the singles semi-final lineup after a 2 hours of enthralling play.
The rapidly rising Canadian finished the match with 40 winners, outnumbering her 33 unforced errors.
“This is honestly so crazy,” admitted Andreescu. “What I’ve accomplished this year, I’m honestly speechless. I need someone to pinch me right now.”
“Is this real life?” she asked the night crowd.
The 19-year-old from Ontario became the first teenager to reach the Last 4 at the year’s final Grand Slam event since Caroline Wozniacki advanced to the final of the 2009 edition.
“I think anyone would be shocked to be in the semi-finals of a Grand Slam, because all of us dream of this moment ever since we’re kids, ever since we picked up a racquet,” Andreescu noted.
“I definitely think that I have fought really hard to get to this point, so I think I do deserve to be here and hopefully I can go all the way.”
It continues the searing run into the elite of women’s tennis for Andreescu, who began the year outside the Top 100 before winning prestigious titles in Indian Wells and Toronto to burst into the Top 15.
Andreescu is on an 11-match winning streak overall, dating back to her title run in her home country at the Rogers Cup last month.
“If someone told me that I was going to be in the semi-finals of the US Open a year ago, I would say, ‘You’re crazy,'” Andreescu stated.
“I think the experience from playing these huge tournaments this past year is just catching up.
“Elise played really, really well so I tried to stay calm. I was getting irritated. I told myself to stay calm and stick to the tactics.”
Andreescu will now face another first-time Grand Slam semi-finalist in the No 13th seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland in the final four, with the winner to contest her first-ever Grand Slam final.
Bencic booked her spot earlier on Wednesday with a straight-set victory over No 23 seed Donna Vekic of Croatia.
It will be the first meeting between Andreescu and Bencic.
“It’s definitely not going to be easy,” said Andreescu. “She’s an incredible player but hopefully I can play my best tennis.
“I have practiced with [Bencic] once, actually in Toronto. I found that she takes the ball really early.
“She likes to be very aggressive. She has a very good serve. She moves pretty well, too.
“So I’m going to do my best to just focus on myself mainly and just keep doing what I’m doing, because I think my game is throwing off a lot of players.
“At this point I think anyone can win the tournament,” Andreescu added.
“The other semi-finalists are incredible athletes, tennis players, so I know it’s not going to be easy tomorrow, and, if I win tomorrow, in the finals, as well.
“So I’m just going to take in this moment now.”
Andreescu has created a sensation on tour when she has been healthy and, indeed, was a trendy dark-horse pick before the US Open began.
The Canadian won 2 of the biggest hard-court tournaments this year, Indian Wells and Toronto, with wins over 5 Top-10 players, but Andreescu also missed a large chunk of the season, including the French Open, where she pulled out after a first-round win, and Wimbledon, with shoulder injuries.
She is a perfect 7-0 versus Top-10 competition in her young career, with all of those wins coming in 2019.
She would meet a player ranked in the Top 10 were she to advance to the final—either Serena Williams or Elina Svitolina.