TORONTO — It was a dream matchup for tournament organizers and fans alike — the breakout star and hometown hero versus the icon of her sport.
But a dream ending? Not so much, given those watching were treated to just 19 minutes and 15 seconds of tennis until Serena Williams, traditionally the crowd favourite here on most any other day — but certainly not on this Sunday — withdrew from a much-anticipated Rogers Cup finals matchup after four games.
Of course, nobody will complain about the result, which saw 19-year old Canadian sensation Bianca Andreescu cap off a week that saw her beat three top-10 players en route to becoming the first Canadian singles winner at this event in 50 years.
“It’s not the way I wanted to win, but a win is a win,” she said following the victory. “So I’m really, really happy.”
It is Andreescu’s second Masters 1000-level title (the highest level of competition save for the four Slam events) following her stunning performance at Indian Wells earlier this year, where she beat former world no. 1 Angelique Kerber for her first WTA title. But there’s something special about winning at home, says Andreescu.
“I’ve dedicated so much hard work and sweat on that tennis court and in this gym,” she said, “so this tournament is definitely ten times more special.”
Andreescu raced out to a 3-1 lead in the first set, playing the self-proclaimed “fearless” brand of tennis that has fuelled her meteoric rise during her first full year on the WTA pro tour. On this day last year, the Mississagua, Ont., native was ranked 208th in the world. She’ll wake up tomorrow at 14th, the highest-ranked teenager on Earth.
“The crowd will obviously be for her,” Williams said on Saturday, “I definitely would too… Luckily, I’ve had some tough crowds in my career.”
Of course, the crowds weren’t the problem for the three-time Rogers Cup winner on Sunday.
By the fourth game, Williams appeared stiff returning Andreescu’s serve and moved very slow between points until a backhand return sailed long giving her opponent the two-game cushion.
That’s when Serena took a seat with no intention of getting back up.
Andreescu walked over to console her, and Williams told her that she had back pain after experiencing spasms the night before.
Williams was clearly devastated and couldn’t hold back her tears. The 37-year-old has been on a roller coaster ride since returning to action after the birth of her child, and was eyeing her first tournament victory since 2017.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t do it today — I tried,” she addressed the crowd through tears. “Bianca, you’re a great sportswoman. It’s been a tough year, but we’ll keep going.”
“My lower body was fine,” she added during her post-match press conference, “I just couldn’t do anything with my upper-body,” citing it as an injury she’s experienced before.
“I started tearing up because she was tearing up,” Andreescu recalled. “It’s because I know how she feels. Injuries really, really suck. So I just said, Girl…You are a beast. You’re going to bounce back. You’ve dealt with so much in your career, this is just a minor setback for a major comeback, I’m sure.”
As for Andreescu, her rise has been meteoric and much deserved, capturing wins against top-ranked players as her relentless and extremely tactical approach has caused fits from Day 1 — which is nothing new for the five-time junior title winner.
Andreescu’s ability to transition to the next level has been impressive to say the least, and it’s her relative infancy on this stage that made Sunday’s matchup so intriguing.
On the one hand, there was the Canadian teen, in just her 38th career match, yet was already looking to secure her second Masters 1000 title. Standing across the net, Serena, with 947 matches and 72 tourney victories — 23 at Grand Slams — under her belt in what is surely the most illustrious career of anybody to have ever picked up a racquet.
So in case you were wondering, yes, it was deserving of all the hype.
Andreescu has played a Williams sister before, beating Venus in Australia in January — that’s when Serena says the Canadian earned a spot on her radar.
She’s not evading anybody’s radar after this week — and certainly not in this country, where she’s captivated tennis fans with her gritty performances, logging over 12 hours of court time and on the brink of elimination in three of her matches.
There have been plenty of great moments for Canadian tennis fans at this tournament over the last twenty years. In 2010, fans in Toronto watched in amazement late into the night when a 217th-ranked Milos Raonic and 329th-ranked partner Vasek Pospisil teamed up in doubles and beat the team of Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal — then-ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the world. Then, three years later, the two Canadians met in the semifinals thanks to an inspiring wild-card run from Pospisil and a Raonic victory over former U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro. Raonic reached the finals of that Rogers Cup, the first Canadian to do so in the Open era on the men’s side.
There was the memorable 2012 run that saw Aleksandra Wozniak beat former world No. 1 Jelena Jankovic and became the first Canadian in 20 years to reach the quarterfinals. And, more recently, Denis Shapovalov’s star launched at the Rogers Cup when he upset top seed Rafael Nadal in Montreal in 2017.
But today was poised to top them all.
We were denied what, on paper, was set to be a thrilling finals matchup between Andreescu and Williams. But the historic result is significant nonetheless.
Andreescu is a bona fide competitor, but whatever sting that took from winning her hometown tournament will wear off eventually when she reflects on an amazing week of tennis during which she showed exactly why she’s a legitimate threat on the tour — with limitless potential.
Williams was certainly impressed, calling the Canadian an “old soul.”
“She definitely doesn’t seem like a 19-year-old in her words, on court and her game, her attitude, her actions,” Williams said, adding that her brief time on the court with Andreescu on Sunday was the highlight of the tournament for her. “I’m officially a fan,” Williams added.
Join the club.