‘Crazy’ and ‘surreal’ have been two of Bianca Andreescu’s favorite words during her run to the US Open final this year.
“It’s just surreal. I really don’t know what to say,” she said after winning her semi-final against Belinda Bencic, going back to her preferred vocabulary well. “It’s a dream come true playing against Serena in the final of the US Open.
You can’t blame her for finding it so hard to believe where she is. A year ago, very few of us had even heard of her name, let alone penciled her in as a young player to watch out for. Part of that may have had to do with the fact that she was never on our TV screens. Unlike the other members of the teenage phenom club, Andreescu had made just one main draw appearance at a Slam before 2019 (Wimbledon 2017); at every other Major she attempted to break into, she lost in qualifying.
Maybe that early run of futility helped toughen her up; maybe it was the spark she needed to light the fire that is currently threatening to engulf the tennis world. Or maybe it was just a simple matter of the Canadian needing time to combine the many working parts of her game into a coherent whole. Attacking players with a lot of options at their disposal have historically taken longer than usual to arrive upon a winning formula; look no further than Roger Federer for an example of that.
That Andreescu has now figured out the formula cannot be doubted. In her first full season on the tour she has been defeated just four times, with a staggering 38-4 win-loss record leading up to the final of the year’s last Slam. She’s also 11-0 in her last 11 three-setters, 7-0 against top 10 players, and currently riding a 13-match winning streak.
Those stats would be enough to intimidate anyone, even if Andreescu is just 19. But the woman she will be facing across the net on Saturday is not someone you’d want to try to intimidate.
Serena Williams has a long and celebrated history of defeating players even before she has stepped on the court, purely on the basis of the aura she carries. Sometimes she doesn’t beat her opponent beforehand but does so in a minute or two after the start of play, with just one swing of the racquet and one cry of passion to the heavens.
Something of that sort has happened in nearly every match she has played at this year’s US Open. Starting with her demolition of Maria Sharapova in the first round, Serena has looked utterly in command against most of her opponents. She did suffer a dip in the first half of her second round match against Caty McNally, but that only seems to have fired her up to seek perfection in the later rounds.
Serena has given up just 17 games in her last four matches, and her performances in the quarter-final (against Wang Qiang) and semi-final (against Elina Svitolina) recalled her most dominant days with their efficiency and ruthlessness. She comes into the final on a blistering run of form, with every single component of her game in fine working order.
In addition to that, Serena brings her own set of intimidating stats to the table. She is chasing her seventh US Open crown in her 10th final in New York, to add to the 23 Grand Slams she has already won. She is also so much more experienced than Andreescu that the comparison is almost laughable; when Serena won her first US Open title in 1999, the Canadian wasn’t even born.
But we’ve been in a similarly mismatched situation on more than one occasion since Serena’s return from childbirth — three times to be exact. The American has lost her last three Slam finals, without taking a set in any of them. Most pertinently, just like this year, she faced a rank rookie (Naomi Osaka) in last year’s final here. We all know how that turned out.
It’s not a secret anymore; Serena has developed the very human habit of becoming nervous in Grand Slam finals. It is clear that the pressure of equalling Margaret Court’s all-time Slam record (of 24) is getting more intense with each passing Major. Serena has actually looked leaden-footed with her movement and tentative with her shot-making in her recent finals.
Can Andreescu become the latest player to take advantage of that? She certainly has the game for all occasions and conditions, so you’d think she would be a good candidate. As we have seen throughout 2019, Andreescu is comfortable at both attack and defense, and her arsenal of trick shots and changes of pace can unsettle any player in the world.
Yes, Serena is not just ‘any player in the world’; she is the veritable GOAT in many people’s eyes. Which is why, despite all of Andreescu’s wiles, the match will largely rest on the American’s racquet. If she is able to conquer her nerves and bring her best, Andreescu will struggle to keep up. But if she is even slightly off with her timing or assertiveness, she could be in for a long night under the lights.
All things considered, this is a dream final for both hardcore fans and casual ones, as it pits the best of the older generation against the best of the upcoming one. Serena vs Andreescu will likely have everything a spectator wants in a tennis match-up: power vs guile, experience vs youth, full-on intensity vs full-on intensity.
The two players have played just once before — in the abbreviated Rogers Cup final last month, where Serena had to retire 1-3 down in the first set due to a back injury. There wasn’t much to glean from that match as Serena was clearly not in the best shape, but the aftermath of the retirement announcement was telling.
Instead of looking relieved or surprised by the turn of events, Andreescu went over to the other side of the net and hugged the veteran as though she was comforting her younger sister. In those few minutes of camaraderie the Canadian looked like an old and wise soul rather than an impetuous teenager, and Serena’s disarmed smile in return showed everyone how rare the gesture was.
That should have been our cue that Andreescu was here to stay, and that she’d tear up the US Open draw like very few newcomers ever have. She may be the underdog on paper going into the final, but she is unlikely to be the underdog too many more times in the future.
It won’t be ‘crazy’ if Andreescu wins the US Open on her first try; she’s actually that good.
Prediction: Andreescu to win in three sets.
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Updated Date: Sep 07, 2019 15:50:19 IST