“Is this real life?”
Canada’s Bianca Andreescu would ask that rhetorical question twice during her post-match interview at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Wednesday after defeating Elise Mertens of Belgium 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 in the U.S. Open quarterfinals.
Yes, it is real life. Andreescu is off to her first career major semifinal.
The victory over Mertens didn’t come easy on a muggy night in Queens, but Andreescu, as she’s done all year long, didn’t show any quit in coming back for the victory.
The 19-year-old from Thornhill, Ont., improved to 17-3 in three-setters this season with the victory.
So how did she do it? Let’s break down Andreescu’s quarterfinal win.
Andreescu got off to a rough start in the first meeting between the two and seemed to have trouble finding her rhythm and timing against No. 26 ranked Mertens.
Through the first four games, she had 11 unforced errors as Mertens took advantage of the mistakes. The first signs of the set going awry was in the first game when Andreescu went up 0-30, but allowed her opponent back into it on what was a prime break opportunity.
Andreescu also was unable to get many first serves across, which added to her frustration. On a pair of occasions, she smacked the ball after a point — clearly upset with her play.
On one break point for Mertens, Andreescu attempted a backhand drop shot at the net but it fell short, going down 3-1 in the process.
Andreescu finished with 14 unforced errors in the first set and only managed to land 56 per cent of her returns in play.
Give Mertens credit
Despite Andreescu’s numerous errors, Mertens’s play can’t be overlooked.
The Belgian, who beat Simona Halep in February to capture the Qatar Open, was locked in from the start and was placing shots with precision and ease on both the forehand and backhand. Her strong play was rewarded with a first set break, which really set the tone.
Andreescu used a pair of challenges on shots that Mertens painted on the line and were impossible for the Canadian to reach.
One example of the precision shot came in the sixth game of the first set when Mertens’s cross-court backhand nicked the line. Andreescu still held serve in the game, but it was an example of the type of shots Mertens was hitting.
The turning point
Andreescu, currently ranked No. 15 but will move into the WTA’s top 10 after the tournament, started to turn her game around in the fifth game of the second set and tied 2-2.
She came back to hold serve and went up 3-2 after a strong forehand winner. Andreescu hit 14 winners in the second set and started to play with more confidence.
The next game, she carried the momentum forward and broke Mertens for the second time in the set to go up 4-2.
“Yeah, come on!” she yelled after the break.
Another strong cross-court forehand gave Andreescu a third break and also the set victory to even the match at one set apiece.
Bianca Andreescu breaks to take the second set and level the match at 3-6, 6-2 against Mertens. A third set will decide who advances to the semi-finals of the #USOpen #BiancaRising pic.twitter.com/9c5VY24waV
— Tennis Canada (@TennisCanada) September 5, 2019
Taking it home
Andreescu brought her full arsenal of shots in the final set and had full command of her drop shots, lobs and forehands throughout.
Mertens was resilient and saved numerous break points during the match — Andreescu finished with 4-of-16 break points converted — to set up a back and forth duel. The second game lasted nearly nine minutes and finished with Mertens holding serve.
Andreescu continued to wear her opponent down and eventually went up 0-40 in the eighth game before taking a 5-3 advantage.
She would then serve out the match.
Believe it, Bianca
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 5, 2019
Andreescu faces Belinda Bencic of Switzerland of Thursday night with a shot to become the first Canadian woman to reach a major final since Eugenie Bouchard did so in 2014 at Wimbledon.
Bencic is a 22-year-old ranked No. 12 in the world and it will be the first time the two players face each other.
Bencic beat Donna Vekic of Croatia during her quarterfinal matchup and is seeking a fourth career title.
Andreescu, meanwhile, has victories at the Rogers Cup in August and Indian Wells earlier this year.