Visualisation the key for Bianca Andreescu to see off Serena Williams

19-year-old conquered Williams to become Canada’s first grand slam singles winner

Bianca Andreescu celebrates winning the women’s singles final against Serena Williams at the 2019 US Open. Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Bianca Andreescu celebrates winning the women’s singles final against Serena Williams at the 2019 US Open. Photo: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

 

If you have been considering active visualisation, this seems a fine time to start. The technique certainly has worked wonders for Bianca Andreescu, a 19-year-old Canadian tennis player, who for years has been closing her eyes and envisioning herself winning the US Open against Serena Williams.

On Saturday, with her eyes wide open and her shots so often bold and true, Andreescu went out and did just that. “For it to become a reality is so crazy,” Andreescu said, breaking down in tears in her post-match news conference.

“I guess these visualisations, really, really work.” Her remarkable 6-3, 7-5 victory, which capped her first appearance in the US Open, thwarted the 37-year-old Williams’ latest attempt to match Margaret Court’s record of 24 major singles titles. Much more significant to Andreescu’s compatriots was the fact that her victory gave Canada its first Grand Slam singles title in a sport where Grand Slam tournament play began with Wimbledon in 1877. Shortly after Andreescu’s victory, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sent her a congratulatory message with the hashtag #shethenorth.

“So many Canadian athletes have paved the way for me when I was young,” said Andreescu, born in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga. “Hopefully I can be that person to them.” It was the latest Grand Slam setback for Williams, who is beyond question the greatest player of this era. But against Andreescu, she made too many unforced errors (33 in all), double-faulted on break points three times to lose her serve and put only 44 per cent of her first serves in play. That was by far her lowest percentage at this Open.

“I love Bianca; I think she’s a great girl, but I think this is the worst match I played all tournament,” Williams said. “It’s hard to know you could do better.” Williams, who was also complimentary of Andreescu’s game and mentality, has shown remarkable drive and resilience in her comeback to the tour after giving birth to a daughter, Olympia, in September 2017. She is back in the top 10, back in contention for tennis’s biggest prizes. But for a proud champion who has had long stretches of dominance and has won 23 major singles titles, only one result is cause for genuine celebration.

The bottom line for now: Williams has yet to win a tournament since her comeback and is 0-4 in major finals without managing to win a set in any of them. She alluded to her struggles at the award ceremony as she thanked her team for being supportive in “the ups and downs and downs and downs and downs and downs and downs.” “Hopefully,” she added, “we’ll have some ups soon.” Andreescu has had no shortage of ups and downs in her short career. Her rise has been astonishingly swift. She lost in the first round of qualifying at the US Open the last two years and was ranked outside the top 150 when the season began.

Andreescu hits a return. Photo: Johannes Eisele/Getty Images
Andreescu hits a return. Photo: Johannes Eisele/Getty Images

But she has long believed that tennis greatness awaited her. After winning the prestigious Orange Bowl junior title for the second time in 2015 at age 15, she wrote herself a mock cheque as if she were champion of the US Open and then updated it each year, with the new prize money total.

“Every year,” she said. But she has been prone to injury, including back problems, and said earlier this season that she had weaknesses in her core that needed to be addressed. After deciding last year with her new coach, Sylvain Bruneau, to focus more on using the full range of her shotmaking and tactics, she broke through in earnest this March by winning the prestigious hardcourt tournament, the BNP Paribas Open, in Indian Wells, California.

But she then was forced to miss nearly all the clay-court season and miss all the grass-court season with a torn rotator cuff. Since returning to the tour last month, she has resumed dominating her elders. Andreescu is 8-0 against top 10 players this year and has not lost a completed match since March 1st. She has prevailed twice against Williams in the last month: winning the Rogers Cup in Toronto when Williams retired with a back problem in the final after just four games and defeating Williams on Saturday in the biggest stadium in tennis.

The sellout crowd pulled hard for Williams and occasionally applauded Andreescu’s errors and missed serves, prompting British chair umpire Alison Hughes to turn “Please” into a mantra as she tried to keep the crowd under control. Andreescu could so easily have cracked. She started out superbly, striking the ball cleanly even though she admitted feeling intimidated by Williams. “Of course,” she said. “Before the match I was super nervous.” And yet she danced and sang to herself, headphones in place, in the tunnel leading to the court and then matched Williams’ power and intensity from the start, returning aggressively and breaking her in the opening game as Williams double faulted twice in a row.

Andreescu came up with well-placed serves and groundstroke winners on key points in her own service games and gradually built a 6-3, 5-1 lead and served for the match. “The game plan right from the start was to make her work for every ball, to get as many returns in the court as possible,” Andreescu said. “I think she was intimidated by it.” But Williams fought back in that game, saving a championship point with a forehand return winner and then breaking Andreescu’s serve to get back to 5-2. With the crowd a factor again, Williams reeled off the next three games to get to 5-5 before Andreescu steadied herself to hold to 6-5.

She then broke Williams’ serve for the sixth time in the match, closing out the victory with a forehand return winner of her own. “I know you guys wanted Serena to win, so I’m so sorry,” Andreescu said to the crowd after the match. “Obviously it was expected for Serena to fight back. She’s done that so many times in the past. That’s why she’s a true champion on and off the court, but I just tried my best to block everything out.”

Andreescu, the self-assured daughter of Romanian immigrants, won the US Open in only her fourth Grand Slam tournament. The only other woman in the Open era to have required so few majors to win one was Monica Seles, who capture her first title at the 1990 French Open.

“Bianca played an unbelievable match,” Williams said in her post-match remarks to the crowd and to Andreescu, who was standing calmly beside her. “Congratulations. So proud and happy for you. I wish I could have played better. If anyone could win the tournament, outside of Venus, I’m happy it’s Bianca.”

Williams has now lost four grand slam finals in a row. Photo: Johannes Eisele/Getty Images
Williams has now lost four grand slam finals in a row. Photo: Johannes Eisele/Getty Images

After giving birth in 2017 and enduring potentially fatal health complications, Williams returned to competition in 2018. She has had undeniable success since her comeback, reaching four Grand Slam singles finals, but she has lost all four to much younger opponents and has yet to win a title at any level of the tour during that span.

Andreescu’s victory was a flashback to 20 years ago when Williams won her first major singles title, sweeping through a brutal draw at age 17 to win the US Open. But Andreescu’s victory was a flashback, in some ways but hardly every way, to last year when Naomi Osaka, a 20-year-old playing in her first major final, defeated Williams to win a tumultuous US Open marred by Williams’ clash with chair umpire Carlos Ramos.

Happily, there were no boos in this award ceremony, no tears of dismay from Andreescu. But like Osaka in 2018, Andreescu won the first title of her career in Indian Wells and then went on to win her first major title at the US Open against Williams.

After shaking Williams’ hand, Andreescu put both hands to her head and then dropped to the blue court and lay on her back. After rising, she quickly climbed into the stands to celebrate with her team, including Bruneau and her parents. “I’ve always believed in you,” Bruneau said as they embraced. Andreescu, seeded No15 at Flushing Meadows, will break into the top 10 in the rankings at No5 on Monday. Williams, the oldest women’s Grand Slam singles finalist in the Open era, will be No10 and will turn 38 later this month. But the number that matters most remains 24, and it remains quite a barrier. “She needs, on her own, nobody else, to just ask herself: ‘What do you want from the next year and a half, two years of your life?’” said Billie Jean King, the former champion who has mentored Williams. “If she still wants to stay in this and still wants to go for the record, then there are certain things she needs to do. But if she wants to, she can still do it.” – New York Times

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