Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 February 2020

US Open champion Bianca Andreescu: 'I really think I was born to play this sport'

Canadian has had a whirlwind year and is unfazed by being the only teenager in the WTA Finals line-up

Bianca Andreescu at the WTA Finals official gala  in Shenzhen, China. Getty
Bianca Andreescu at the WTA Finals official gala  in Shenzhen, China. Getty

When Canadian teenager Bianca Andreescu sat on the armchair across from TV host Jimmy Fallon on the Tonight Show following her US Open victory last month, her first words were: “It feels so good. I made history in Canada. I am truly blessed.”

The 19-year-old had just defeated Serena Williams in the final in New York to become Canada’s first-ever Grand Slam singles champion, and the first player born this millennium to lift a major trophy.

Her whirlwind 2019 saw her leap from 152 in the world at the start of the year to her current position of No 4, making her the highest-ranked Canadian woman ever.

Andreescu has indeed made history and she’s not one to shy away from announcing it to the universe.

When she stunned the field at Indian Wells in March, upsetting four top-20 opponents en route to her maiden WTA title, the then unseeded 18-year-old Andreescu sat in front of the press and tried to make sense of what she had just done. “I’m the effing champion of Indian Wells,” she beamed.

She wouldn’t lose another match - not including injury retirements or withdrawals - until October. When she captured her home title in Toronto, she climbed the umpire’s chair with the Canadian flag draped around her shoulders and hoisted the trophy in celebration. Her victory lap post-US Open lasted nearly three weeks in which she met the Canadian Prime Minister, was honoured in a ‘#SheTheNorth’ rally in her hometown, and stopped by television shows, hockey rinks, basketball arenas and football stadiums, receiving tributes all over.

But after soaking it all in, Andreescu returned to the courts at the China Open in Beijing and marched towards the quarter-finals where her 17-match winning streak was halted by Naomi Osaka in a high-quality tight three-setter.

“I was pretty upset because it was very close, it could have gone either way, and I definitely did not miss the feeling of losing,” Andreescu told The National in Shenzhen, ahead of her WTA Finals debut match against Simona Halep on Monday.

“I think that was kind of an awakening moment. Now I think I’m even more hungry to go out there and win as much as possible. But I was really happy with how my game held up with Naomi because she’s an amazing player.”

If you ask Osaka, she’ll tell you that she’s the one amazed by Andreescu, who has exploded on to the scene, not just by posting big results, but by showcasing her even bigger personality.

When Serena Williams sat in tears after being forced to retire against Andreescu in the Toronto final, the youngster rushed to her side to hug her and console her. Not many teens would muster the courage to do that for a 23-time Grand Slam champion.

Andreescu oozes confidence, both on and off the court, and it seems the bigger the occasion, the better she performs.

“I really think that I was born to play this sport,” she reveals. “Like even at the beginning of the year when I had all of those wins, I was surprised of course, but at the same time I really thought that my day was going to come one day, and I think that’s coming from me just believing in myself.”

Her coach Sylvain Bruneau concedes that there is always a risk of getting too confident, but they’re doing their best to keep it in check.

“I think if you become overconfident, it's probably as dangerous as if you're not enough confident, definitely,” he says. “We're aware of it. I'm aware of it. So is she. We try she never gets to this level.”

This year, Andreescu won her first eight matches against top-10 opposition, with her loss to Osaka being the one slip-up tarnishing that inconceivable record.

At the glitzy WTA Finals draw ceremony and gala dinner, Andreescu showed up dressed in a Chinese-inspired outfit. The first question in her pre-tournament press conference was asked by a Chinese reporter, inquiring about her dress.

“I'm in China, so I wanted to be a little bit more authentic. I know that colour means 'difference' and 'royalty'. I'm not saying I'm royalty, but the 'difference' part is that I think I'm pretty different than... I don't know, I bring a different vibe to the game I think. I wanted to showcase that a little bit, hopefully gain some more Chinese fans,” explained Andreescu.

When we sat down later, I ask her to expand on the “different vibe” she feels she brings to the sport.

“I can start with my game style; I think I play different than most players on the tour and it’s given a lot of difficulty for them when I play them, so I think that’s one,” responded Andreescu, who has every shot in the book, combined with an exceptional understanding of the game.

“And I guess just the things that I wear, how I act on camera, off camera. I think I’m like pretty funny, sometimes I have no filter which I think is very… like other people can connect with that and vibe with that.”

Is she as confident as people think she is? “Right now, my tennis, I think I am. But before I had this success I don’t think I was. I think it just grew over time with a lot of preparation.

“So I just try my best to work as hard as possible during practice and just work on myself as a person and try to just fake it ‘til you make it really, I really live by that quote. And I’ve been doing that a lot through visualisation.

“People have to realise that you just have to be yourself out there, because everyone else is taken. I know that’s a cheesy quote, but it’s true.”

Only four players have won the WTA Finals on their debut (Serena, Sharapova, Kvitova and Cibulkova). It wouldn’t be too surprising if Andreescu, the youngest among the eight-player singles field this week, becomes the fifth to accomplish that feat.

Despite her rookie status, Andreescu has every reason to believe she can do well in Shenzhen - after all, she did recently take down the legendary Serena Williams in a major final. Does a win like that make her feel she can accomplish anything else in tennis?

“Serena, yes, is a legend of this sport, she’s an incredible champion, and beating her is an amazing achievement, so I’m very grateful for that,” says Andreescu.

“But it doesn’t stand out as where if I beat her I can accomplish anything, because I know she wasn’t on top of her game that match. Maybe if I played her in her prime I would say, maybe five years ago, 10 years ago, it would be a different story.

“I’m not saying it doesn’t give me confidence, it obviously does because I’ve looked up to her my whole career. Hopefully it can give me some extra confidence when I think about that match for this tournament.”

She assures she is unfazed by being the only teenager in the WTA Finals line-up.

She added: “I really believe that you can accomplish anything, doesn’t matter how old you are, and I think I’ve proved that, and many other players proved that as well, like Serena and Fed [Roger Federer] at their age, and also Venus. So I think if I just keep bringing that to the table I can keep inspiring many people.”

Updated: October 27, 2019 03:05 PM

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