When Bianca Andreescu served for a place in the third round of the National Bank Open against Alize Cornet—a wily veteran who had won their previous two encounters, she gave a knowing smile after a thrilling rally to her section where father Nicu, mother Maria, and dog Coco were seated.
The point was an exhibition in execution, a serve out wide from the ad court followed by a crosscourt forehand to send Cornet running the opposite way, then a drop shot to drag her opponent forward, followed by a couple of volleys at the net that showed off her anticipation and touch to make it 30-0 before she eventually served out a tense, thrilling three-set win. It was both smart and clinical in the way she had her opponent scrambling all over the court, and perhaps most encouragingly, trademark Bianca.
“I think especially in these tight matches, those are the key moments that you really need under your belt and when you have them it definitely gives you a lot of confidence,” Andreescu told Complex Canada after the match.
There were plenty of close shaves in her next match against rising star and World No. 41 Qinwen Zheng, but the tense moments went the Chinese teenager’s way in a 5-7, 7-5, 2-6 defeat. Over the course of the three matches Andreescu played in Toronto, we witnessed the flashes of brilliance that saw her join the game’s elite in 2019 (she defeated 11th seed Daria Kasatkina in the opening round as well), but also the inconsistency that reflects a player that hasn’t seen much playing time since.
“I really, really want this, especially after so much time off, taking time for myself and all those rough moments. I really feel like I’m in a great place right now.”
Getting matches under her belt has been the main challenge for Andreescu since a dream 2019 season where she won in Indian Wells, Toronto and became the first-ever Canadian to win a singles Grand Slam title by claiming the U.S. Open. She didn’t play a single match in 2020 due to both injury and COVID-19 forcing the cancellation of several events. Twenty-three of her 53 matches since have come this year and that lack of activity due to both physical and mental struggles have seen her fall from World No. 4 to No. 52. For comparison’s sake, World No. 1 Iga Swiatek has played 55 matches in 2022 alone with 125 matches total across the last three years. Zheng, 19, has played 44 matches (29 at the WTA level) in 2022. That difference in match fitness and sharpness is what’s currently standing between Andreescu being good and great.
“I definitely don’t think I’m there yet,” Andreescu said of finding her best tennis. “I just gotta keep grinding but I also gotta tell myself I can’t play very good every single day. It’s just not what it is sadly, I wish I could do that. I really, really want this especially after so much time off, taking time for myself and all those rough moments. I really feel like I’m in a great place right now and even me just talking right now—last year for instance, I would be more negative but I just feel so great. Also, I’m home, the crowd was for me, win or lose, I feel that they’ve always supported me so that means a lot.”
Knowing Andreescu is in a great place now is a big reason for believing she can get back to her best, possibly even in time for the U.S. Open in a couple weeks that she stressed she is intent on winning. She has always had great belief, but injuries and certain life events took a toll on her positivity and sometimes when things keep going wrong it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Rewind to a year ago when she lost at the same stage of the National Bank Open in Montreal and the Andreescu who showed up to that press conference was summed up by one comment she made after that defeat to Ons Jabeur.
“It kinda sucks I have to do these press conferences after a loss like that because I’m just in the worst fricking mood ever and honestly don’t want to talk to anybody or answer these questions, no offence to anyone,” Andreescu said. “I’m trying to stay positive here right now, I know tomorrow’s another day, I’ll be fine, hopefully, but right now I’m so pissed I could cry a river.”
Andreescu opted out of playing in this year’s Australian Open due to mental health reasons, citing her grandmother spending several weeks in the ICU due to COVID as well as her own struggles to cope with quarantining and spending multiple weeks in isolation. She didn’t play until earlier this April in Stuttgart, where she admitted to identifying herself too much with the sport, loving herself after wins and hating herself after losses.
“Don’t let the haters bring you down, believe in yourself, surround yourself with very supportive people. I think the saying is that for food you are what you eat, but for people you are who you hang with.”
Taking that time has allowed the 22-year-old to reshape her mindset and rediscover her love for the game. There is a lot that comes with being a young star in sports these days in part due to the burdens that social media can bring, but being able to re-establish what’s most important and finding joy and fun in it has Andreescu ready to win big again. Her nine losses this year suggest she’s a breakthrough result away from showing she’s all the way back: World No. 1 Swiatek, World No. 7 Aryna Sabalenka, World No. 8 Jessica Pegula, World No. 11 Belinda Bencic, World No. 17 Karolina Pliskova, a loss in the final of the Hamburg Open, Elena Rybakina at Wimbledon who went on to win the tournament, Shelby Rogers in a match where she dealt with back pain, and then Zheng who has zoomed up to World No. 41 after starting the year outside the Top 100.
Beyond the near and dear family and friends who have helped Andreescu’s mental turnaround are coach Sven Groeneveld who was hired in August of last year as well as fitness trainer and high performance coach Abdul Sillah. Groeneveld is most famous for having coached Maria Sharapova and Monica Seles among others and is renowned for being extremely detail-oriented. He can regularly be spotted taking notes during matches and Andreescu jokes that he’s working on his 10th book since they’ve started working together.
“I like it because I feel like I’m learning something new every day from him,” Andreescu said. “I love that as a Gemini, all the intellect side, I love learning different things, he definitely brings that to the table, and just the connection we have on and off the court is awesome. It’s what I look for in a team more than anything because I see them more than anybody, so, if I didn’t like them then that would be a problem.”
With Sillah, the relationship has been a blend of both pushing her to make the sacrifices that define the best athletes while also recognizing when it’s OK to accept your limits. At the Miami Open in 2021, Andreescu went all the way to the final for a dream matchup against former World No. 1 Ash Barty, and even though she was heading towards defeat, she was looking to play through a twisted ankle just because she didn’t want to retire hurt from the match. Sillah had an honest conversation with her and Andreescu later admitted that “he saved me from myself.”
Sillah has also helped Andreescu make the transition from being a night person to a morning person. While the 22-year-old didn’t see the value in it initially and would counter Sillah’s pleas with how much there was to do at night, his case remained steadfast that this was one of the adjustments necessary to get back amongst the game’s elite. Andreescu started scheduling all her plans and activities for the day before 6 p.m. and despite needing a couple weeks for the adjustment to click, she realized the huge benefits of having a consistent routine beginning at 6:30 a.m. as well as giving the body and mind plenty of time to ease into the night where she’s in bed by 10:30 p.m. Exceptions are obviously made when she’s got tennis matches at night as she did in Toronto.
These adjustments around the margins and a re-embrace of the process after becoming too results-oriented have sparked what is steadily looking like a major inflection point in Andreescu’s career.
“I just enjoy pushing myself a lot, I enjoy challenging myself,” Andreescu said. “Before it was kind of a hassle for me to do that but now I really enjoy it. I love testing my limits and waking up early too. I never used to do that but now I love it.”
The lessons learned have also sparked Andreescu’s desire to be an inspiration for young kids and that’s why her picture book Bibi’s Got Game was centred around meditation and good breathing habits in a fun, engaging way for kids. She held a book signing in Toronto in the middle of July where she met with plenty of kids who see her as a role model and held Q&A sessions to help inspire them as much as possible. Looking back on that occasion while at the tournament, Andreescu reiterated her message about what helped her growing up in the hopes that it may resonate with anyone listening or watching.
“What helped me during my youth was not letting other people tell me that my dreams are too big, or I can’t do this, can’t do that,” Andreescu said. “Now with social media that can get tougher and tougher. Don’t let the haters bring you down, believe in yourself, surround yourself with very supportive people. I think the saying is that for food you are what you eat, but for people you are who you hang with. Also, if you’re really committed to something, work hard, put your effort in there but also don’t forget to take time for yourself. Do the things that you love and just give love.”
Andreescu has decided to skip the Cincinnati Masters—the last big tournament before the U.S. Open—but will be training hard in New York to get set. Before she heads to the city that never sleeps, she does have plans to spend time with family in Toronto, eat some North of Brooklyn pizza, and possibly take a boat to the island and just enjoy nature.
This is Bianca 2.0, a player doing her best to get back to the top of her game while also embracing and enjoying all the challenges that come with it.