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Anti-climactic yet historic scenes as home hope Bianca triumphs in Rogers Cup

Karthik Swaminathan

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A teary Serena Williams heaped praise on her young adversary after retiring four games into the final following an upper back injury

Toronto: It was the pair’s first career meeting and the match promised everything. Canada’s best player in the final of the country’s biggest tennis tournament taking on arguably the greatest woman to have wielded a racquet. A prodigy looking to create history for her nation versus an almost indefatigable champion who never tires of winning. A teenager looking for another big win in what has been a sensational year, despite an injury layoff in between, against a decorated athlete looking to return to the winners’ circle. Simply put: Today’s Rogers Cup final had all the ingredients to be unforgettable.

While both finalists got a very vocal ovation as they entered the Aviva Centre, there was no doubt which of the two had more support once the chair umpire said, “Play!”. Andreescu, who is a native of nearby Mississauga, was dialled in from the first point and wasn’t found wanting for intent. Williams, serving first, had to fend off break point in the opening game. But it was not long before Andreescu drew first blood, going up 2–1 following a double fault from Williams, her second of the match, in the third game. The youngster then consolidated the break for 3–1 with a flurry of powerful forehands and just as the final showed signs of going to another level, everything came to a screeching halt.

The American, who had been moving slowly in the last game and appeared rather stiff, went to her chair, halted play, and called for a medical timeout. A minute later, the match—barely 20 minutes old—was called and the 19-year-old was crowned the first home-grown Canadian Open winner since Faye Urban 50 years ago. She also improved to 7–0 over top-10 ranked opponents this season and will rise to World No. 14 on Monday, August 12.

The 37-year-old was visibly distraught and in tears. Andreescu, who has had her share of inactivity this season due to injury, was quick to console her senior adversary. “You’re going to bounce back,” she reportedly said during their post-match chat. “You’ve dealt with so much in your career, this is just a minor setback for a major comeback, I’m sure.”

In her press conference following the match, Williams explained her injury. “It started yesterday in my match and it just got worse,” she said. “Just my whole back just completely spasmed, and to a point where I couldn’t sleep and I couldn’t really move.”

These are special days in Canada’s sporting history. Last August, Brooke Henderson won the Canadian Open golf tournament on the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Tour. Now, in hindsight, it seems like a watershed moment. Her triumph was followed by the rise of Toronto Raptors who would proceed to clinch the Eastern Conference before going on to secure the NBA crown earlier this June.

All the while, Canadian tennis has shown sparks too. 20-year-old Denis Shapovalov and 19-year-old Félix Auger-Aliassime, among the men, were teetering around the top-20. 16-year-old Leylah Annie-Fernandez was making waves. But it is Bianca Andreescu—from among the tennis crop—who continues to carve a niche for herself.

Starting the season with a final in Auckland, Andreescu reached the second round at the Australian Open—having braved qualifying rounds in both. And then, she took off. The teenager won Newport and reached the semifinal in Acapulco before landing her fledgling career’s first big title, in Indian Wells. She would reach the last 16 in Miami but retire from the match, the start of an injury-plagued stretch.

Toronto, therefore, marked her return to full-time action and what a return it proved to be!

Women’s Singles – Final
B. Andreescu (CAN) d [8] S. Williams (USA) 3–1 RET

WHAT THEY SAID:

“I love to read self-help books about the mind, how the mind works. Because the mind is an incredible tool. You basically can create your own reality with your mind.” — Bianca Andreescu throws a little bit of light on what has been helping her.

“I’m officially a fan [of Bianca Andreescu]. She is wiser than her — she’s only 19. She definitely doesn’t seem like a 19-year old in her words, on court and her game, her attitude, her actions.” — rich praise from 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams on the teenager, whom she also referred to as a “fabulous personality” and an “old soul”.

Karthik Swaminathan is a burgeoning sports analyst, his views on top-tier tennis and cricket events, including Grand Slams and the World Cup, have been featured on live television. Karthik has also been published on leading magazines and web portals such as Wisden, Golf Digest and Sports Illustrated. His other interests include astronomy, darts and anything tech.