Says Daniel Nestor, who’s won more than any Canadian tennis player, ever: “There has never been a bigger moment than this.”
Oh yes, sports fans: This is definitely real life.
On Thursday, 19-year-old Bianca Andreescu from Thornhill, Ont., put on a gutsy as all get-out performance with a 7-6 (3), 7-5 win over Belinda Bencic to earn her way into the U.S. Open final and her first-ever Grand Slam Final. She’ll play for the title on Saturday at Arthur Ashe Stadium against the greatest player in women’s tennis history.
Think about all that for a second — about all that makes this the top moment in Canadian tennis, if you ask the now-retired Nestor, author of some incredible moments himself.
Andreescu fought her way to this moment. Down two breaks in the second set against Bencic on Thursday night, the teenager struck back with three breaks of her own, including the final game, to keep her win to a two-setter.
After the match, Andreescu looked into the crowd and said “Oh my gosh” three times. She shook hands and then she sat in her chair on the court with a towel over her face, laughing.
The victory makes Andreescu the second Canadian woman in history to crack a Grand Slam final, and the first Canadian to play in the U.S. Open final. She’s one victory away from becoming the first Canadian in history to win a Grand Slam singles title.
And — yes, it gets even sweeter — Andreescu has earned a re-match with Williams. Andreescu beat her less than a month ago in the Rogers Cup final, after Williams retired due to injury in the opening set.
That’s part of what makes this moment so big, if you ask Nestor. Genie Bouchard made the Wimbledon final in 2014. Milos Raonic made the Wimbledon final in 2016. But their roads there weren’t quite like what we’re seeing with Andreescu (and her parents in the stands and her little dog, Coco).
Nestor is the winningest Canadian in tennis history — among the highlights are Olympic gold, a doubles Grand Slam in 2008, his 1992 Davis Cup upset of then world No. 1 Stefan Edberg on home soil. But he’s not putting himself in the biggest-ever moment conversation.
“Considering the circumstances, Serena trying to win her 24th Grand Slam, them playing again after having played in the Rogers Cup final, and it’s just a huge event. There’s so much importance in the match for both sides,” Nestor says. “Right now we’re living in the present, so three years ago when Milos was in the final, or when Genie was in the final, was also huge. But I just think that the run that [Andreescu] has had has made it quite special. Winning the Rogers Cup is absolutely amazing.
“These are some of the greatest moments in Canadian sports history. If it wasn’t for the Raptors, I think she’d be the story of 2019, for sure.”
Andreescu is certainly doing whatever she can to be the story of 2019 in Canadian sport, with two wins on Tour this season already. Consider that Andreescu is a first-timer at the U.S. Open. Consider that she turned 19 just a couple months ago. Consider that she ended last season ranked 178th in the world. After Saturday, she’ll move into the world’s top 10 for the first time in her career.
But a year ago, nobody was pointing to Andreescu and saying she represented this country’s best shot at a Grand Slam title.
“Obviously Canada’s been waiting for a Grand Slam champion for a long time,” Nestor says. “I guess we thought it was going to be coming from the men’s side last year, either Milos or Denis [Shapovalov] or Felix [Auger-Aliassime]. Bianca kind of came out on the scene and she’s dominated this year.”
Win or lose on Saturday, Nestor doesn’t doubt Andreescu will continue to dominate. Seeing all she’s accomplished at 19, he figures she could be at the top of the women’s game for the next decade. He was playing and winning into his 40s, so Nestor ought to know.
“Because she is the full package,” he says. “It’s rare that you have an athlete that has a really good blend of athleticism and talent. Obviously the best in the world have that combination…When you are able to find those rare ones that combine both, I mean, you have superstars.
“That’s kind of what we have here. It’s amazing.”
It sure is.
Andreescu’s incredible run continues on Saturday, with a storybook rematch and a chance to make history yet again.