Hometown crowd pushes Canada’s Andreescu to first-round victory at National Bank Open

Bianca Andreescu battled hard to defeat Daria Kasatkina in straight sets 7-6, 6-4, and advance past the round of 64 at the National Bank Open.

TORONTO — Bianca Andreescu may have felt “like absolute crap,” as she put it shortly after her first-round win at the National Bank Open, but the 22-year-old got it done anyhow, complete with yelling at her mom from the court that she was indeed eating plenty of bananas to combat whatever was making her feel ill.

In front of more than 9,000 fans at a raucous Sobeys Stadium, Andreescu fought through dizziness at times to earn a 7-6, 6-4 victory over Russia’s Daria Kasatkina, bolstered by solid ground strokes and plenty of well-timed drop shots that were often followed by intense, straight-faced fist pumps.

When it was all over, the 22-year-old from Mississauga who won this tournament back in 2019 walked into the press conference room wearing a t-shirt featuring Christmas stockings hanging over a fireplace, camouflage pants, and socks with sandals. Andreescu didn’t want to dwell on how bad she felt out there, and she was overly apologetic about what she termed a “bad attitude.” 

“I’m feeling much better,” she said. “I felt really dizzy. I have no idea what it was. Maybe something that I ate or all the stress leading up to the tournament. I have no idea.

“But I feel better and I’m super happy that I was able to clutch it out. I wish my attitude was a bit better, but I really did everything I could with what I had.”

Andreescu several times said she wouldn’t have clutched it out Tuesday were it not for the crowd, which included one of her biggest and quietest fans, her little dog Coco, who sat obediently for most of the match in Andreescu’s mother’s lap. At one point, seeing her daughter struggling on the court and taking deep breaths, Maria yelled at Andreescu to eat a banana.

“I think I ate like three during the match,” Andreescu said, grinning. “Like, shut up, mom.”

It was unclear during the match what was bothering Andreescu, but it was very clear from her deep breaths and medical visits and a blood pressure check that something was off. And it could’ve been many things, really. After all, Andreescu returned this season from a long layoff in 2020 and 2021 due to a knee injury and a bout with COVID, and her decision to take a mental break from the sport. Last week, she battled back pain in a first-round loss.

But her back felt great, she said, and the 2019 National Bank Open champ wasn’t leaving the court and ending her match on account of dizziness.

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“I don’t want to dwell too much on it and like sound so dramatic,” she said. “Even though I might have looked dramatic I was trying my hardest not to show it.”

Dizziness aside, the match was a grind, and it took nearly two and a half hours. Kasatkina served first, and she was up 40-0 before Andreescu won five straight points to open with a break, which delighted the fans here. But it was hardly smooth sailing from there for the hometown favourite. Neither player could hold serve until Andreescu did to go up 4-2, and as a Kasatkina shot sailed long, Andreescu yelled “Yeah!” and the crowd responded with “Let’s go Bianca!” (clap, clap, clap, clap, clap).

The Russian managed to force a tiebreak, and after Andreescu won a point after a long rally, she dropped to the court and began shaking her head. She had a short medical visit and then came back out to finish the tiebreaker.

“I hit a shot and I was just like, I was seeing double almost,” she said. “So that was kind of like the point where I didn’t feel the best.”

When Andreescu won the tiebreaker with an overhead smash to take the first set, the crowd went bananas. Andreescu took a deep breath and gathered her giant light pink tennis bag and left the court for a bathroom break.

“I mean, if it wasn’t for the crowd, I’m going to say it again, they really pushed me to continue,” she said. “And it just shows that fighting spirit that I still have in me. I want to continue building on that.”

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Andreescu returned from her bathroom break and broke Kasatkina to go up 2-0, then shut her eyes and clenched her fists and yelled “Let’s go!” The crowd loved it.

Up 5-4 in the second set, Andreescu had triple-break point to win the match. When she delivered on her third chance, the crowd exploded and many fans rose to their feet as she raised her arms in the air.

Next up, on Wednesday night, Andreescu will play Alize Cornet, the world No. 40, for the third time. “Got my ass whooped,” Andreescu said, of their prior meetings, but having a win against Kasatkina does give her confidence, since both players run down every ball. Tuesday’s match, she decided, was good preparation for Wednesday’s.

And just in case her usual pre-game meal made her feel “like absolute crap,” Andreescu won’t be dining on gluten-free pasta, chicken, pesto sauce and vegetables for dinner on Wednesday. 

“Or maybe I ate too much. I have no idea,” she said, laughing. “But I’m definitely staying away from that.” 

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