Bianca Andreescu came through hell and high water to become Canada’s first Grand Slam singles champion in the open era on Saturday, battling not only Serena Williams but the 23,000-strong partisan crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium.
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. Bianca Andreescu
In such a stressful atmosphere at its most extreme, most would have floundered when Serena recovered from a set and 1-5 down to level the second set, but not this 19-year old, who believes in her destiny and held on tight to upset the American GOAT, 6-3 7-5.
Never having been further than the 2nd round at a Grand Slam, Andreescu’s maiden major title in her first ever title match appearance emulates what Naomi Osaka (US Open) and Ashleigh Barty (Roland Garros) have achieved over the past 12 months.
In 2019, there are 4 different Grand Slam champions – Osaka (Australian Open), Barty (Roland Garros) Simona Halep (Wimbledon) and Andreescu – for the 3rd year in a row, reflecting the depth of women’s tennis and a changing of the guard.
Going into the final, many picked Serena to win her 7th US Open title and emulate Margaret Court’s 24 Grand Slam triumphs.
Her greater experience would surely rule over a pretender, just under 19 years her junior and in a major final for the first time, for whom the occasion would prove a step too far.
Serena’s friend, Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, was sitting next to her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, with her family in the player box, and the scene was set.
The presence of royalty at the final, however, was reported to be concerning to her team since the last time the Duchess cheered Serena on, she had crumbled in the Wimbledon final to Simona Halep.
“Serena asked her coach about Meghan coming when she won last night and everyone is worried, as tennis players are very superstitious, and Serena lost when Meghan came to watch her at Wimbledon,” a source told the New York Post.
“Patrick keeps telling her, ‘Focus focus focus’. The aim is getting her to win her 24th Grand Slam.”
On Saturday, there could not have been more pressure placed on the Canadian’s young shoulders, who proved, yet again, what an extraordinary tennis warrior she is.
She plays her best when she is up against it, utterly fearless, her coach, Sylvain Bruneau, calling her a ‘street fighter’.
Andreescu relishes people doubting her, but for a spell there, things got pretty rocky for her.
For the first hour of the match, the rookie looked more like the veteran, though, as she kept Williams guessing with precise, aggressive hitting off the ground, and dominated the rallies with her forehand.
She hogged the baseline, stepping into Serena’s bombardment and refusing to be bullied.
Williams, meanwhile, struggled on her serve, aiding Andreescu to build a hefty 6-3, 5-1 lead and dumbfounding pundits.
The American double-faulted 3 times to lose serve over the first set-and-a-half, and found herself a point away from defeat as Andreescu served for the match the first time, in the 7th game of the 2nd set.
Saving match point with a big forehand winner, Williams was given new life, as the muted partisan crowd found its voice and sprang back to life, roaring support, and she embarked on a run of 4 straight games to level the set.
“I had some doubts because I’ve witnessed her come back from being 5-0 down, 5-1 down, 5-2 down,” Andreescu admitted on Williams winning 4 consecutive games to tie the set at 5-5, whipping up the crowd up into a frenzy, standing and screaming after every point, in the process.
After dropping the first set 6-3 and falling behind 5-1 in the second, Serena suddenly had the look of a champion again, but Andreescu buckled down and brought her best into play to ride out the storm.
“I just told myself to stick with my tactics, Andreescu reflected later. “She started playing much better.
“I think the crowd really helped her, as well. I was blocking out the noise, or trying to.
“I could barely hear myself think really. It was really, really loud., but I guess that’s what makes this tournament so special… but it definitely wasn’t easy, especially when she started coming back in the second set.
“I mean, it was expected. She’s a champion. That’s what champions do. She’s done that many, many times throughout her career,” the Canadian added.
“I just tried to stay as composed as I could. It’s hard to just block everything out, but I think I did a pretty good job at that.”
She took a deep breath before serving as spectators continued to yell, settling down to hold her first serve in the better part of a half hour to edge back in front, 6-5, and halting the Williams momentum.
She screamed ‘come on’ after moving a game away from the US Open title, as the pressure shifted back on Williams.
The American served to force a tiebreak, but, this time, it seemed to be too much for the 23-time Grand Slam winner, and Andreescu ended the match with her 19th winner, a down-the-line forehand return she will never forget.
It took an hour and three quarters for Andreescu to shatter Serena’s ambition of matching Margaret Court, and make history of her own, winning her first Grand Slam singles title in straight sets.
“It’s so hard to explain in words. I’m just beyond grateful,” Andreescu said, beaming during the trophy presentation inside Ashe.
“I’ve worked really, really hard. This year has been a dream come true.”
Williams, who has now lost her last 4 Grand Slam Finals, praised the Canadian after her first-ever title.
“Bianca played an unbelievable match,” she said. “It was incredible tennis out there.”
The two competitors, who played aggressively and with great intensity, have immense respect for one another.
“Serena is a true legend of the sport,” Andreescu said. “She came up to me in the locker room and said things to me I’ll cherish for a really, really long time.”
When asked how she handled playing Williams and battling the crowd, Andreescu admitted it wasn’t easy.
“I tried to prepare my best. I’m really proud with how I dealt with everything,” she said.
Andreescu apologised to the crowd for winning, acknowledging they were all cheering for Williams.
Just before the players step onto the historic Arthur Ashe Court, they see a plaque with the words ‘pressure is a privilege’ on it — famous words once said by the great Billie Jean King.
“Bianca plays well under pressure. She goes out and plays hard,” Williams said. “She does what she does best and that’s hitting winners.”
Rising above pressure in the biggest matches defines the great champions and Andreescu is certain to be numbered among them over the coming years.
Overrun with emotion during her post-match press conference when she talked about realising this moment, Andreescu talked about playing out this exact scenario in her mind so many times before.
“This wasn’t the only time I’ve been visualising playing in the final against Serena Williams,” she said, stopping to catch her breath. “I’ve been dreaming of this moment for the longest time.”
Andreescu said she has been incorporating meditation and visualisation as a part of her daily practice for the past couple of seasons.
“I really believed I could be at this stage. Since then I’ve been visualising it every single day. I guess this visualisation works!”
She said she felt a different pressure waking up on championship morning but immediately started her breathing exercises in advance of her first-ever Grand Slam Final, going over almost every scenario imaginable before hitting the court.
“I was feeling many, many things before the match, more than any other match.
“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,” Andreescu added.
“It wasn’t easy at all, but I think that’s what I’ve been doing really well throughout this whole year.
“I put myself in situations that can happen in a match and find ways to deal with that so I’m prepared for anything that comes my way,” she explained.
“At this level, everyone knows how to play tennis. The thing that separates the best from the rest is your mindset.”
Andreescu began this season ranked 150th in the world and her rise has been meteoric.
She has not lost a completed match since the beginning of March, scoring a 45-4 record, the best on Tour, and winning 12 consecutive 3-set matches.
The teenager is undefeated this season against top-10 ranked players and now, including her US Open championship win, she holds a perfect 8-0 against the best tennis players in the world.
“It’s been a long journey. Well, maybe not so long. I’m 19,” Andreescu said. “It hasn’t been easy, though.”
She broke through, winning her first title at Indian Wells event, making many pundits sit up and notice her, and rocketed into the headlines when she captured the Rogers Cup title, winning it all after Williams retired in the trophy match.
“Last year wasn’t an easy period in my life,” Andreescu said. “I was going through a lot of injuries. I told myself to never give up. I persevered. I just kept believing in myself.”
What Andreescu has been able to do in one year is nothing short of incredible, especially considering she lost in the first round of US Open qualifying in 2018.
“It’s just crazy what a year can do,” she said. “I’ve dreamt of this moment ever since I was a little kid. But I don’t think many people would have actually thought that it would become a reality.”
She hopes to inspire young Canadian athletes with her performances and points to athletes before her who have paved the way and inspired her.
Back home in Canada, she is already doing just that.
Two years ago Andreescu’s goal was to make enough money playing tennis for her parents to be able to travel with her.
Now she is the US Open champion, earning $3.85 million and she is just getting started.
“Let’s keep this going,” she said to her box before lifting the US Open trophy.
Fans have been tweeting their congratulations as the 19-year-old from Mississauga, a suburb of Toronto in Ontario stole Canadians’ hearts – #SheTheNorth? She the champion…
Bonnie Crombie, the Mayor of Mississauga, tweeted that the key to the City of Mississauga would be Andreescu’s forever, while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the player made ‘a whole country very proud, with fans across the country echoing that sentiment loudly, and proudly.
She finished 2018 ranked No 178, and reached a career high at No 15 heading into the US Open.
Andreescu joins Monica Seles in that exclusive club of debutantes, having been just the 6th woman to reach a major final in 4 main-draw appearances or less.
Born 9 months after Williams won her first Grand Slam singles title at the 1999 US Open, Andreescu will now soar into the WTA’s Top 5, at No 5, to equal the highest ranking ever achieved by a Canadian woman.