TORONTO — Bianca Andreescu walked gingerly to the sideline, a slight limp as she favoured her right thigh.
Having just dropped the second set in her quarterfinal matchup with third-seeded Karolina Pliskova — her second straight top-five opponent — Andreescu flopped down into her seat and draped a towel over her head.
A few moments earlier, the 19-year-old Canadian was forced to leave the court due to a groin injury suffered while squatting to return a low shot. It probably didn’t help that she leads all players in time on court at the Rogers Cup by a three-hour margin.
It had been a flat-out weird match to that point, with Andreescu and Pliskova exchanging one-sided performances to split the first two sets.
In that solitary moment before the start of the third set, Andreescu dug deep and was able to access the same toughness which propelled her this far — not just at this tournament but throughout the past year as she opened eyes as the WTA’s top teen. With momentum favouring Pliskova, a former US Open finalist, Andreescu once again fought from behind to win, 6-0, 2-6, 6-4 on Friday and book her spot in the semifinals on Saturday.
The rankings suggest it was an upset victory but, as she has all tourney long, Andreescu hardly looked the part of the lesser player during her time on centre court.
“When I step out on the court I’m fearless,” she said after the match. “I show no mercy no matter who I play, and I think that’s showing a lot.”
The Thornhill, Ont., native couldn’t have asked for a better start. She appeared cool and confident from the outset, a smile on her face and twirling her racquet like a gunslinger during warmups as she set to face her highest-rank opponent at the Rogers Cup yet.
Taking on the WTA’s top server — Pliskova leads all players with 346 aces this year — Andreescu was masterful returning her opponent’s serve, breaking each of her service games in the first set and reaching triple-break point in two separate games.
Her well-varied arsenal of shots was a problem for a clearly flustered Pliskova and seemed to throw her for a loop. Spins, slices with either hand, drop shots and baseline-huggers. On more than a few occasions she employed a forehand slice that didn’t always work, but showed her strategic approach and emphasis on keeping Pliskova uncomfortable.
Andreescu was completely unthreatened through the first set, which took all of 23 minutes to breeze through, 6-0.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) August 9, 2019
But, just like Thursday’s three-set victory, Andreescu couldn’t hold the momentum of a strong opening set, as Pliskova took a quick 3-0 lead in the second- and barely looked back. The more experienced opponent dictated virtually every point as questions surrounding Andreescu’s stamina following a trio of marathon matches seemed valid.
That focused looseness Andreescu had at the beginning of the match appeared gone and she committed 13 unforced errors in the second set compared to just five in the first.
When the third set began, Pliskova promptly broke Andreescu’s serve to take a 2-1 lead as the Canadian limped around the court.
Of the many things we have learned about Andreescu throughout the past year it’s that she will fight to win. She refused to relent on Friday it was hard not to harken back to the candid moment caught on camera at Indian Wells — her breakout tournament — between her and coach Sylvain Bruneau when she pleaded, “I want this so bad,” in between games en route to her first Masters 1000 title.
Eyeing the opportunity for her second, she battled back to tie the third set 3-3 as each player held serve until Andreescu broke Pliskova’s serve once more to take a 5-4 lead.
“The momentum definitely switched from the first set to the second set, but that’s what the best players do. … She definitely picked up her game in the second set,” Andreescu said.
“But then in the third set, I told myself, ‘Go big or go home.’ Literally, go home — my home is like two minutes from here,” she joked.
With her target in the crosshairs, she didn’t waste time and, serving for the match, came out aggressive. First, she attacked her opponent’s backhand before rushing to the net to force a passing shot out.
Next was a forehand that landed in just past the service line and rocketed out the sideline well out of Pliskova’s reach. That was followed by a first-serve ace.
On the next point, Pliskova returned her serve into the net as the crowd erupted. Game, set, match.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) August 9, 2019
Andreescu becomes the first Canadian to advance to the Rogers Cup semis in 50 years and kept her perfect record against top-10 opponents this year intact.
It sets the stage for what should be a thrilling — if unexpected — semifinal Saturday when Andreescu takes on 20-year-old American Sofia Kenin, who has similarly handed losses to some of the tournament’s top-ranked players, including No. 1 seed Ashleigh Barty in the second round.
Andreescu scored a tough win against Kenin in 2017 when the two played on the Challenger tour.
“I know what to expect from her,” Andreescu said. “She is a fighter. She gets to a lot of balls. So I’m going to go out there and just give my best performance.”
There remain questions about her groin injury and to what degree her body will recover between now and Saturday’s 1 p.m. ET match time — an extended post-match ice bath surely helped.
But for now, the moment belongs to Andreescu, who delighted the Aviva Centre crowd during a roller-coaster afternoon.
It’s not hard for fans here to get behind a fellow countrywoman progressing through the tournament — but it’s especially exciting when that player is doing far more than playing off the momentum of a home crowd, and, in Andreescu’s case, displaying the skills and wherewithal that should translate staying power as a WTA threat.
It’s hardly a revelation but it remains true after another hallmark victory: The sky is the limit for the ultra-talented — and equally determined — teenager.