It was well past midnight and the grounds of the Billy Jean King National Tennis Centre were eerily quiet. The plaza, the shops, the courts – usually bustling with thousands of fans – were silent. Everyone had gone home. Well, almost everyone.
Bianca Andreescu dragged her feet out of the media centre, with a playful smile on her face as she got set for yet another interview. “I’m so tired,” she said. “I’m up past my bedtime.”
Just an hour and a half earlier, Andreescu was up a set, but down 2-5 in the second in her semifinal against Belinda Bencic. Logic said it was going to a third set, but Andreescu ignored logic.
“I remember I told myself at 5-2 that I didn’t want to go three sets,” Andreescu said. “So I think I just switched my mindset. I was just really, really focused.”
There are few players in the game who can change the outcome of a match when and how they want, let alone at the age of 19.
“I don’t like to lose,” she says, as if it’s a decision. So she doesn’t. Andreescu has won 23 straight completed matches and hasn’t lost since March 2.
“I expect a lot from myself, so I think that pressure also helps me do my best in matches,” she said.
Andreescu views pressure as opportunity: it’s a positive.
As self reflective as she is, she struggles to explain where her fearlessness comes from. Her mindset is just do, don’t think; try your best, work hard and good things will come. And that they have.
From Indian Wells to the Rogers Cup, no stage will be bigger than Saturday’s U.S. Open final against Serena Williams. And although the two faced each other less than a month ago, albeit in a 19 minute final before Williams retired, it was still a valuable experience for the young Canadian.
“I wasn’t 100 per cent physically [headed into the Rogers Cup final],” Andreescu said. “Definitely mentally, I was very nervous. I was about to play a champion of this sport in the finals of a Rogers Cup. But I think I channelled that nervousness into something else. When I stepped on the court, I didn’t really think of who was on the other side. Having those four games against her, I think is going to help me on Saturday.”
Her coach, Sylvain Bruneau, agrees it was important to get her feet wet with a Rogers Cup final.
“I think we got something out of [that shortened final],” he said.
Perspective is relative. As Andreescu gets set for her maiden Grand Slam final, Williams returns to the very court where she won her first Grand Slam title 20 years ago. At the time, she was a week away from her 18th birthday, now she’s closing in on 38.
In the past two decades she’s won, she’s lost, she’s transformed and transcended the sport and above all, she’s become a mother.
She’s been in three Grand Slam finals since she returned from the birth of her daughter Olympia in September 2017. She’s lost all three of those finals in straight sets.
After her most recent Slam loss, 2-6, 2-6 to Simona Halep at Wimbledon, Serena said, “I need to work harder, just do better.”
So she got to work. She practised more ahead of the Rogers Cup than she had prior to Wimbledon. At the U.S. Open, her play has progressively improved, culminating in a dominant 6-3, 6-1 semifinal win over Elina Svitolina.
She just needs one more win.
“I think it’s amazing to come back with a baby and win because it’s hard,” Williams said. “My day off isn’t a day off. I’m literally hanging out with my baby. Being in a Grand Slam is difficult because it takes away a lot of time that we normally have together … I don’t want anything else to take that away.”
To win Saturday in New York would admittedly be Serena’s most personal and perhaps proudest win. It would also tie her with Margaret Court for 24 Grand Slams, the most ever.
Regardless of who wins, the final will be historic. And while you watch Williams’s powerful serve against Andreescu’s fearless returns, just remember what it means to them both.
This isn’t just a match, or a championship, it’s a moment. Their own, very personal moment.