TORONTO — Bianca Andreescu had a purple sweatshirt on and black tights and socks and sandals, and there was a smile on her face about an hour after she’d put up yet another gritty fight, a nearly three-hour battle on a windy night on Centre Court in Toronto.
But it didn’t go her way this time.
“I really wish I won for you guys,” the hometown favourite at the National Bank Open said, addressing her fans, shortly after she’d been knocked out of contention. “I can’t wait to come back, honestly. That’s all I’m thinking about right now. Two more years.”
Had she been in this same place a year or two ago, losing in the third round at home, the 22-year-old Andreescu admits she would’ve been feeling a heck of a lot more negative.
But on this Thursday night, Andreescu walked off the court and she blew kisses to the cheering crowd, smiled a little and then placed her hands over her heart. The 2019 National Bank Open champ had clawed her way back from a set down to force a third, but she came up short against Qinwen Zheng, the teenager from China who knocked out the last Canadian woman standing in the singles draw here with a 7-5, 5-7, 6-2 win.
“I wouldn’t say I was on my ‘A’ game, but I gave my best with what I had today,” Andreescu said. “I think I fought really hard.”
She’s in the midst of a comeback this season, after injuries and a mental health break that kept her on the shelf the last two. Andreescu admits she’s not at her peak performance, not feeling as good as she was back in 2019 when she won here and then at the U.S. Open. “I think it’s getting there,” she said. “But like I said before, if I continue to just give my best and stay really committed to this, because I really, really want this — especially after, you know, taking so much time off, taking time for myself and all those really tough moments. I just feel like I’m in a great place right now.”
Things started off well for Andreescu on this Thursday night. She broke Zheng in the first game of the match, and when she went up 3-1, the crowd got going with the first of many “Let’s go Bianca!” chants during the match (sometimes they went with “Let’s go Bibi!”) But Zheng evened things up and then capitalized on a smattering of Andreescu’s unforced errors to take the first set.
Andreescu wore her emotion in good and bad times, as she does. During her first service game of the second set, she sent a ball into the net and then leaned down and yelled at the court in frustration. When Andreescu fell to the court during one point, she quickly picked herself back up and got to the ball, fired a winner and then smiled, setting the fans off. When she converted on other winners, Andreescu pumped her fist and looked over at her parents, straight-faced.
The high point for Andreescu came in the second set, when the game was on serve at 5-5 and she managed to capitalize on a break point, pumping both fists and yelling: “Yeah, come on!” Her dad, Nicu, rose from his seat and pumped both his fists (and her mother, Maria, remained stoic as she always does). Andreescu served to win the second set, then she threw up both her arms to get the already pumped-up crowd going even more.
Zhang managed to dominate the third set, breaking Andreescu three times, but admits she found it tough given the atmosphere. “In third set the crowd, they were like shouting a lot,” she said. “I was leading and, you know, it’s 30-Love and I served two double faults in a row. Well that’s hard for me because such an important game, last set. But at the end I am happy that I got through the pressure to get this match.”
It was all over after two hours and 58 minutes, and the crowd grew quiet when the match ended, until they cheered again as Andreescu strode off the court for the last time.
Over the course of the first three days of this tournament, no player spent more time on court for matches than she did. “I definitely need like three days off, maybe,” Andreescu said. “I felt pretty good in the morning, and then I started moving and I was like, ‘Oh, gosh.’ But then adrenaline kicked in during the match and all of that kind of went away.” There were some tough points and long rallies that left her out of breath. “But overall, I’m just happy with how my body is,” she said, and the back injury that was hampering her last week wasn’t an issue this week.
Before she said goodbye and went to see her friends and family, Andreescu happily addressed how she became a morning person who wakes up at 6:30 a.m., she got excited when she noticed it was 11:11 p.m. on Aug. 11 (she figured it must’ve been a sign), she talked about the pizza she can’t wait to eat, and she gave kids advice that included “don’t let the haters bring you down.” Andreescu also discovered that Olympic sprinting champion Andre De Grasse and a bunch of Toronto Blue Jays, including Bo Bichette, were in the crowd watching her. “Oh, now I really wish I would have won,” she said, grinning. “Damn it.”
There’ll be time for rest in the days ahead, but then it’s back to work. There’s a big tournament coming up in New York, after all. “I’m trying to win the U.S. Open here,” she said. “I got to keep it going.”