TORONTO — The train kept-a-rollin’ for Bianca Andreescu at the Rogers Cup, where she continued her stunning 2019 season with another standout victory.
It would feel more like even more of a storybook result — the hometown kid upsetting the field and making history on centre court — were it not for the clear fact that Bianca Andreescu is, for lack of a better word, legit.
But the plot points are too good to ignore.
Andreescu’s first Rogers Cup memory came four years ago as a fan, when she sat in the stands to watch Belinda Bencic stun the world against Serena Williams in 2015.
Now it could be her turn, as she prepares to face the 23-time Grand Slam winner on Sunday.
The 19-year old Toronto native who lives around the corner from the Aviva Centre punched her ticket to the finals Saturday afternoon with an intense and dramatic 6-4, 7-6 (7-5) victory over 20-year-old American rising star Sofia Kenin.
“I’ve been through so much the last two months, all I can say is that I’m so happy to be back on the court right now,” Andreescu said through tears as she addressed the capacity crowd immediately following the match. “I’m in the finals of the Rogers Cup. Life is freakin’ amazing!”
While this match only required two sets — unlike each of her previous three — but it was the toughest test yet.
Kenin doesn’t carry the top-10 resume of Andreescu’s opponents to date, but she’s a fearsome foe nonetheless, and played like it, nearly pushing the match to a decisive third set.
While Andreescu carries more in her bag of tricks, both are elite competitors and carry an intensity. And while Andreescu’s is generally more outward than Kenin’s, they’re both intimidating players in their own rite.
They’re also two of the brightest young stars on tour. Kenin, who knocked out the tournament’s No. 1 seed, Ashleigh Barty, in Round 2, has has steadily risen on the rankings from 95th in May 2018 to comfortably in the top 40 for all but one week this year.
But she has nothing on Andreescu’s rise, which saw the teen sensation take the WTA by storm, kick-started by capturing the title at Indian Wells. Andreescu was ranked just 152nd back in January, and is now projected to be ranked 20th by the time the Rogers Cup wraps up.
Throughout a bonafide battle of a match, it felt like we were watching the early stages of what could be a marquee rivalry on the women’s tour for years to come. Given how the WTA has seen so much change in the top end of the rankings and parity rules the day – Simona Halep is the only multi-Slam winner in the last three years – a rivalry like this would certainly be welcome.
“It’s always nice to go into a match with someone like Sofia,” Andreescu said in praise of Kenin after the match. “She’s an incredible fighter and she never gives up. So it’s a pleasure for me to share a court with someone like that because I think it pushes me even harder to do better.”
Given the injury that Andreescu suffered in her last match — she entered Saturday’s contest with her right thigh wrapped — Kenin painted the entire court from the get-go as she tried to get Andreescu on the move early.
But the Canadian’s court sense coupled with her ability to drastically alter her attack from point to point once again proved to be a major difference-maker.
Andreescu’s mixed bag is such an asset — and only so dangerous as it is because she has the tennis IQ to know when and how to employ each shot. Early in the first set, she hit a booming forehand that hugged the baseline and then used her deft forehand slice to send the return shot just barely over the net, where Kenin couldn’t reach the ball before it ball bounced twice. Two points later, with Kenin caught out of position, Andreescu used the shot again to take a 2-1 lead in the set.
Each player held serve through the first eight games, but as Kenin appeared to be picking up steam, Andreescu dug deep yet as she has all tournament long, coming back from down 40-15 to take a 5-4 lead. The first break of the set came in the next game where, up 40-15, Andreescu baited Kenin with another forehand slice that brought her to the net and then fired a put-away shot to a wide-open court to claim the first set, 6-4.
In the second set, fuelled by some unforced errors — Andreescu has said all week that she has been angry with not playing at her best level, and seems to channel that anger into focus on the court — the Canadian took over. After securing a 4-2 lead she went into closer mode, flashing the awareness and mental toughness that elevates her otherwise impressive game. She crushed another baseline shot for a convincing 5-2 lead.
But Kenin was relentless. She won three straight games to tie the set at five apiece.
After Andreescu regained a 6-5 lead, Kenin vacated the court for a medical timeout that threatened to slow her opponent’s momentum. While she was away, Andreescu — as she had during a key break in Friday’s match — draped a towel over her head and spent the time in her temporary makeshift sanctuary.
Kenin returned to centre court and double-faulted on the first point. Then again at deuce, setting up match point, where the longest rally of the match ended with a Kenin winner out the side of the court. Andreescu fought back to force another match point but, again, Kenin fired a winner impossible to return as the Canadian teen screamed in agony after a missed chance at the match.
All told, Kenin saved three match points to force the tie-breaker. There, Andreescu promptly regained control. Serving at 6-5 in the tie-break, she sealed the win with a baseline winner in the deep corner.
An elated Andreescu exchanged a brief hug at the net with Kenin — we’ll be seeing more of these two — and knelt down to kiss the court before collapsing onto her back, soaking in the roars from a particularly vocal crowd.
“I’m definitely surprising myself,” she reflected later. “I don’t realize the things I can do on the court. My coach is always telling me that I’m a champion within… Maybe I am starting to realize that.”
It’s a day Canadian tennis fans — and certainly Andreescu — won’t forget, and Sunday won’t be any different with a finals matchup against an absolute legend of the sport and icon for a generation. Don’t expect any of that to intimidate the Canadian teen.
“It would be an honour to share the court with her. But when I go out there, like I said, I’m fearless,” she said. “So hopefully that will be the case when I play her.”
No matter how it ends, this is sure to be the most memorable chapter in Andreescu’s storybook season yet.