NEW YORK — After dropping the first set, 3-6, of her first-ever grand slam quarterfinal to Elise Mertens in lifeless, error-ridden fashion, Bianca Andreescu walked to her chair at Arthur Ashe Stadium, her frustration seemingly dripping off her like sweat.
She sat in her chair, rummaged through her bag to find a dry shirt, and tried to motivate herself before taking the court again.
What exactly did she say to herself?
“Get your s— together,” the 19-year old remembered later in front of a delighted crowd.
And her pep talk worked. Andreescu stormed back, winning the next two sets convincingly, 6-2, 6-3, in just over two hours in total to advance to Thursday’s semifinals. She had 40 winners on the night, and won 82 percent of her net points — including eight of nine in the third set. She clinched the victory with a backhand winner, and then put her hands on her head in disbelief. She then shook her fists as she turned to look at her family and friends in her player box. “Is this real life?” she mouthed to them twice.
“Well, I mean, I think anyone would be shocked to be in the semifinals of a Grand Slam, because all of us dream of this moment ever since we’re kids, ever since we picked up a racquet,” she said later.
No one can blame her. It would be an impressive comeback for anyone on the biggest stage in tennis, but it’s particularly noteworthy because this is her first appearance at the US Open, and just her fourth main draw appearance at a Grand Slam. It marked her 11th consecutive victory.
“She never gives up,” said Mertens after the match. “Her serve was coming more in the second and the third set. She’s a good runner, gets the ball back, not a lot of mistakes.
“She’s still young, no pressure. I think if you can serve well at the big moments, she can do well at the big moments. That’s maybe something she does very well.”
With a big game and a personality to match, Andreescu has quickly become a fan favorite in New York, and on tour. She counts two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash and New York Liberty star Kia Nurse among her growing legion of fans. She has the athleticism and swagger of a basketball player, and the confidence of someone far more accomplished. But she’s getting there quickly.
To say the Canadian has had a breakthrough year would be an understatement. She opened 2019 by qualifying at Auckland, then made an unexpected run to the finals, upsetting top seed Caroline Wozniacki along the way. As a wild card at Indian Wells — her first premier tournament — she stunned the field, fans and the media alike with a dominant performance, which included wins over Garbine Muguruza, Elina Svitolina and Angelique Kerber, to take home the title.
“The fricking champion of Indian Wells,” said Andreescu, then 18, shortly after becoming the youngest champion at the event since Serena Williams in 1999, and the first ever wild card to do so. “It’s crazy.”
She was sidelined for much of the summer due to a right shoulder injury, but in front of a supportive home crowd at the Canadian Open in Toronto, the Ontario native won her first very tournament back after more than two months away and became to the first Canadian woman to do so since 1969. She was leading Williams, 3-1, in the first set of the title match before the 23-time Grand Slam champion retired due to a back injury. Their on-court conversation quickly went viral, as Andreescu tried to console a crying Williams.
“I’m so sorry,” Andreescu said before asking if she could give Williams a hug. “I’ve watched you your whole career, you’re a f—ing beast. Injuries — I’ve been through so many already, and you know how they are. This sucks — on your back, right? I know everything about you!”
Not the ending we all expected, but what a moment for these two. ❤️����
– Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) August 11, 2019
“I’m officially a fan,” said Williams later. “I mean I was before, but I was really sad, and she made me feel a lot better, so that was really nice. She’s only 19, she definitely doesn’t seem like she’s a 19-year-old in her words on court, her game, her attitude, her actions.”
Born in Canada to parents who had emigrated from Romania in 1995, Andreescu moved with her parents to their native country when she was seven. It was there she first picked up a tennis racket, but she didn’t get serious about the game until the family returned to the Toronto area a few years later.
Her mother, who was wearing a colorful shirt that read “Dog Queen” on the collar while holding Bianca’s dog, Coco, on her lap for most of the quarterfinal on Wednesday, has become a social media sensation in her own right throughout the tournament, which only helps Andreescu’s budding popularity. Andreescu also says she is her lifelong role model, and the reason for her confidence. “My mom’s honestly the coolest person I know,” she said after the match.
i love this dog, coco andreescu pic.twitter.com/tj3qES9DTj
– Becca Laurie (@imbeccable) September 5, 2019
Andreescu hasn’t lost a match since the second round of the French Open in May. Based on her strong performance in Queens, which includes wins over Wozniacki and Taylor Townsend, it seems like maybe she’s forgotten what it’s like to lose, and doesn’t want to remember.
“I’m just fighting really hard,” said Andreescu. “It’s not over till it’s over. I have had many situations where I have come back from 5-0 down and won the match, and even vice versa… You never really know, so I just try to play every point like it’s the last.”
Andreescu and Williams could have a rematch in the final on Saturday in what would be their second-career meeting. Williams faces Svitolina in the first semifinal on Thursday, while Andreescu has to get through a resurgent Belinda Bencic.
While Williams is still very much a contender at every tournament she plays, Andreescu is cementing her spot in a crop of exciting young players that include Coco Gauff and Caty McNally, as well as slightly older stars like Naomi Osaka and Ashleigh Barty. If Andreescu can win two more matches this week, she will be very much part of the present, as well as the future.
She isn’t all that concerned about any of that yet. Currently ranked No. 15, she will break into the top 10 for the first time next week regardless of how she fares from this point forward. And no matter what, she’s happy to be here.
“If someone told me that I was going to be in the semifinals of the US Open a year ago, I would have said, ‘You’re crazy,'” she said. “So I’m just really proud of myself with how I dealt injury-wise while I was injured. I kept that passion going.
“At this point I think anyone can win the tournament. The other semifinalists are incredible athletes and tennis players. So I know it’s not going to be easy tomorrow, and if I win tomorrow, [it won’t be easy] in the finals, as well. So I’m just going to take in this moment now.”