- 08 Sep 2019
The other side of the net from Serena Williams at the US Open is a lonely place.
It’s extremely lonely when you are in the final and have just spurned two chances to serve out to win a grand slam, with a packed crowd bursting for you to collapse in the biggest match of your career.
That was the challenge 19-year-old Bianca Andreescu faced at Flushing Meadows on Saturday, and at that point it looked very much as if the vast majority of the fans inside Arthur Ashe Stadium were going to get their wish.
For Williams has broken the hearts of so many opponents throughout her glorious career that has encompassed 23 grand slam titles. Her resilience and remarkable ability to come back from the death have been the defining features of the greatest Open Era career in professional tennis.
As Andreescu stuck her fingers in her ears in a vain attempt to drown out deafening noise that greeted Williams going 40-0 up on the Canadian’s serve to cut a 5-1 deficit to 5-4, you would have been hard pressed to find anyone inside the planet’s largest tennis stadium that did not believe a history-making comeback was about to be made.
It didn’t matter that Williams had been completely outplayed for a set and a half. It didn’t matter that she had served pitifully for the vast majority of the match. All that mattered was who had the momentum, and it was firmly in the possession of the player who has long since made the most devastating use of it.
— WTA (@WTA) September 7, 2019
With this contest featuring the largest age gap between grand slam finalists in the Open Era, the odds were firmly on Williams using her experience and riding the tidal wave building against an opponent who appeared increasingly powerless to stop it.
Williams’ long history of completing spectacular turnarounds may have seemed key at that moment. However, it was Andreescu’s recent history of thriving in pressure situations and closing out matches that ultimately proved instructive in her incredible 6-3 7-5 triumph.
Andreescu came into the final having not lost a completed match since March and won all of her seven previous encounters with top-10 opponents. Her prior three matches at the US Open had seen her survive a second-set blip against Taylor Townsend, come from a set down to defeat Elise Mertens and recover from a 5-2 deficit in the second set to claim victory over Belinda Bencic in the semi-final.
Even at her tender age, Andreescu is battle hardened and she proved it once again, rediscovering her composure and her confidence on serve to hold, and finding her fierce forehand in the subsequent game as the teenager chose not to settle for the tie-break, but to go on the attack.
Had she done otherwise and lost the tie-break, the odds would have been firmly in favour of Williams going on to win the decider and a historic title in handsome fashion.
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 7, 2019
Instead it was Williams who cracked in the most crucial juncture of a match, as a forehand winner saw Andreescu complete one of the most unpredictable championship runs of recent memory in her main draw debut.
It leaves Williams facing a hard truth. The other side of the net from her is a lonely place, but it’s one an increasing number of her rivals are becoming more comfortable in.
Williams understandably does not put much stock in her 2018 Wimbledon final defeat to Angelique Kerber, given it came less than a year after she gave birth to her daughter.
There is a lot of weight, though, in the three major final losses that have followed. Naomi Osaka rose to the occasion on the same stage as Andreescu 12 months ago, and Williams was dismantled by Simona Halep at the All England Club in July.
Against Andreescu she was a comfortable second best for all but four games and, when it came time for her to deliver the blows that would change the course of the contest for good, she found her opponent more ready to seize the opportunity and the title.
Williams conceded in her post-match media conference that she did not believe Serena showed up.
She will be 38 by the time she has another chance to “show up” at the Australian Open and, with Osaka, Andreescu and an ever expanding cast of determined young women showing no fear in facing her, it is fair to question whether it will even make a difference if she does.