Winning, Canada-style: Bianca Andreescu inspires at US Open

Why We Wrote This

Canadian values like warmth and politeness don't seem like they'd go hand in hand with top-flight competitive sports. But rising tennis star Bianca Andreescu has been meshing them seamlessly.

Adam Hunger/AP
Bianca Andreescu defeated Belinda Bencic of Switzerland in New York on Thursday to advance in the U.S. Open tennis championships. She will play Serena Williams in the final on Saturday.

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As Bianca Andreescu prepares to play in the U.S. Open final on Saturday night – the first Canadian singles competitor to ever do so – she has Canadians enthralled, and perhaps seeing a bit of themselves in her.

For many Canadians, the Ontario teen and daughter of immigrants seemed to come out of nowhere. For tennis experts, who have watched her gutsy play for years, it’s her “toolbox” that has catapulted her to the top. “She can do a lot of everything,” says Canadian sports broadcaster Ben Lewis.

But her appeal is about so much more than sport. She knows how to play the crowd and those who watch her say she seems to genuinely love it. She has also come of age navigating social media – and thus her branding – but she manages to do it all without being too over the top.

“You could say maybe she has sort of the Canadian politeness,” says Mr. Lewis. “I want to say she's confident but not arrogant. At the same time I think maybe for whatever reason, she hasn't taken notice of just how fantastic a tennis player she is.”

After clinching victory to become the first Canadian to reach a singles final at the U.S. Open, Bianca Andreescu gripped her head looking up to the crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium and repeated, “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my …”

It’s that display of disbelief, incongruent to the ferocity of her game, that has endeared the Ontario teen, the daughter of immigrant parents, to the Canadian public.

As she faces Serena Williams Saturday night – a rematch of sorts after the Rogers Cup, where her grace and poise sealed Ms. Andreescu’s place in the national consciousness – she has Canadians enthralled, and perhaps seeing a bit of themselves in her.

Her ascent comes on the heels of another fairy-tale Canadian sports story – the Toronto Raptors becoming the 2019 NBA champs. With #WeTheNorth signs still hanging off balconies across Toronto, the nation woke up Friday to a new hashtag: #SheTheNorth.

Even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau weighed in with a tweet today: “You’ll have a whole country with you tomorrow, @Bandreescu_! #SheTheNorth.”

For many Canadians, she seemed to come out of nowhere. For tennis experts, who have watched her gutsy play for years, it’s her “toolbox” that has catapulted her to the top. “She can hit hard. She can hit heavy spin. She can use drop shots. She can slice. She can change angles. She can do a lot of everything,” says Canadian sports broadcaster Ben Lewis.

And she just turned 19. The Globe and Mail gushed this morning, “She looks like our next Gretzky.”

But her appeal is about so much more than sport. After victory on Wednesday, she wondered out loud, “I need someone to pinch me right now, is this real life? Is this real life?”

She knows how to play the crowd and those who watch her say she seems to genuinely love it. A teenager, she has also come of age navigating social media – and thus her branding – but she manages to do it all without being too over the top.

“You could say maybe she has sort of the Canadian politeness. I want to say she’s confident but not arrogant. At the same time I think maybe, for whatever reason, she hasn’t taken notice of just how fantastic a tennis player she is,” Mr. Lewis says.

Fair enough. She ended last season ranked No. 178. After Saturday, she will sit in the top 10.

Her rise has come so fast that tennis commentators haven’t gotten all the details right, says Mike McIntyre, who with Mr. Lewis runs the podcast Match Point Canada.

“They went on the air and were saying she was born in Romania, that she was Romanian and moved to Canada. Well that’s not actually what happened. She was born in Canada and spent a couple of years over in Romania. So that just goes to show you that even the experts don’t know all that much,” he says.

They certainly do now – as do the Canadians, many of whom might not have ever even watched a game, reveling in a feel-good immigration story.

One Canadian news director tweeted: “Bianca Andreescu is the superstar Canada needs. Humble, determined, talented, classy. She’s the daughter of immigrants. Her story is THE Canadian story. I love Serena, but Go Bianca!”

Ms. Andreescu just might be the superstar the world needs right now, and it's why the game on Saturday will be so special no matter who prevails. Ms. Williams had to drop out of the Rogers Cup last month due to an injury and was on the bench in tears. Her opponent, Ms. Andreescu, who’d win the competition because of it, came over and wrapped Ms. Williams in a hug.

“I'm so sorry ... I’ve watched you your whole career. You’re a ... beast,” Ms. Andreescu told her courtside.

Ms. Williams laughed – and continued to cry – and later called Ms. Andreescu an “old soul.”

“Bianca just seemed to know how to handle that moment – to cut the tension and to get the crowd to not only feel that sympathy for Serena but also to really see Bianca in a different light that we haven’t seen before,” Mr. McIntyre says. “I asked Serena, ‘What was the most positive aspect of your week here?’ thinking she was going to answer something other than that day where she was injured, and she said this is the most positive moment because of the way Bianca handled it and the way that she sort of reached out to me in that way.”

It’s a moment that some commentators have called one of the best moments in sports this year – and a show of camaraderie that spans well beyond Canada and the world of sports.

Don’t miss it.

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