Andreescu on a knife-edge as she seeks to regain bearings, confidence and titles

Bianca Andreescu will compete for titles in Canada, the US Open and Indian Wells in the coming weeks, all of which she won in 2019. She is only 21 years old and has only one real season under her belt, but already faces a lot of pressure

Bianca Andreescu at Montreal in 2021

Bianca Andreescu defied all the laws of logic in 2019, convincing us that she was not following the same rules as the rest of the tour. The Canadian, who had accomplished her first tour de force by winning Indian Wells in March 2019, was coming back from injury ever faster and ever stronger. In the summer of 2019, she triumphed back-to-back in Toronto and at the US Open, even though she had not played since the French Open. But the first Canadian to win a Grand Slam title has since become mortal again, and fragile.

After a serious injury to her left knee during the WTA Finals at the very end of the 2019 season, the then-world No 4, who seemed destined for the very top, descended into a nightmare.

“Sometimes I just sat on my bed crying, because I couldn’t do anything,” she told the Guardian at the end of January. She endured an empty season in 2020 and a comeback in 2021, which remained a struggle. She was one of the athletes forced into strict quarantine in Melbourne before the Australian Open, injured a foot in the Miami final as she was getting back to a high level of play, missed out on the clay swing after contracting COVID-19 – and therefore a new period of isolation – and injured her abdominal muscles in Strasbourg, just before the French Open.

“It was a complete stop … and that was probably the worst feeling that I had,” Andreescu said in a recent interview with The Canadian Press. “It brought me down many levels, because after that I didn’t play for a year and a half. You go from that high to that low … And it’s like, how do I get back into that zone?

“This year was about adapting a lot, but I think I dealt with it in the best way I could and I learned a lot about myself…I try to just move forward and deal with anything that comes my way and learn from it.”

But the string of disasters has also affected her game and her confidence: she was knocked out early at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, and did not play in the Olympics. But Andreescu is facing new problems for reasons other than injury.

“I want to put 2019 in the past,” she explained in a press conference in Montreal. “I was the new kid on the block, but now I’m seeded in tournaments, I’ve won titles and I have to defend them. But on the court, I am still the same and, for the moment, I feel confident.”

ANDREESCU, READY TO DEFEND POINTS WITH A NEW TEAM TO HELP HER

Today the situation is simple: between August and October, after Indian Wells, Andreescu must defend 3,900 of her 5,331 points – 900 in Canada, 2,000 at the US Open and 1,000 at Indian Wells. In the worst-case scenario, if she were to lose them all, she would fall out of the Top 50. Not only does she have to hold on to her points, she has to rebuild her game, her fitness and her confidence. With only three matches won since her Miami final, the Canadian is in a unique situation: she has only one real tour season in her legs (2019), but finds herself with the pressure and expectations of a superstar as she defends the only three titles of her career. On paper, after a year of not playing and eight months of being in a rut, it’s impossible.

But Andreescu has created an image of a player who has turned the impossible into a routine, and has probably come to believe it herself. And, frankly, who doesn’t want to see her bulldozing her way through the tables again with a rare game that combines power and love of variation, absolutely unstoppable, with the added bonus of charisma that bursts through the screen? Ultra determined, ultra ambitious, ultra powerful, ultra talented: Andreescu has everything to dominate the circuit. Everyone knows it,  including her. We were salivating at the prospect of seeing her face to face with the other stars of the new wave, such as Naomi Osaka, Ashleigh Barty, Iga Swiatek or Aryna Sabalenka.

Bianca Andreescu with one of her 2019 titles

The only way for Andreescu to get back to being that player on her way to the top this summer is to put it all behind her and start from scratch. Or rather, to start with the Indian Wells 2019 mindset: nothing to lose, fear of no one, willing to tear down everything in her path and build her game for the next ten years. At 21, she has plenty of time ahead of her: it is not the results at the end of this season that will determine her career. However, the choices she has made at the end of the season could.

Andreescu decided to change everything in her team, which is never without risk, but which also shows that she is not afraid to take her destiny into her own hands. She decided to part ways with her coach Sylvain Bruneau and to hire Sven Groeneveld on a trial basis to replace him. She has also hired a mental trainer, in addition to the sports psychologist she has been consulting for years, and who has been supporting her with visualisation and meditation. Hoping to break a long cycle of injuries, Andreescu also opted in March to change her fitness trainer, putting her trust in Abdul Sillah, who had worked with Sloane Stephens and Naomi Osaka. The wind of change has also affected her business as the Canadian announced in June that she had left the Octagon agency to sign with IMG, where she will be represented by Max Eisenbud (Maria Sharapova, Li Na, Denis Shapovalov).

For the time being, Andreescu is happy to have opted for Groeneveld as her coach. The Dutchman is one of the big names on the circuit and has a lot of experience at the top of the game, having worked with Monica Seles, Mary Pierce, Ana Ivanovic, Caroline Wozniacki and Maria Sharapova on the WTA tour. The determination and ambition of a player is also judged by the investment she puts into her team: no doubt for Andreescu, she is always aiming for the stars.

“I wanted someone who’s a very good communicator, who doesn’t bulls**t me, who’s very honest. If he doesn’t like something, I want him to tell me up front. And I want to be able to be open with that person as well because that’s how you improve and you build on a relationship. And also, having good experience on tour because I want to get to the next level in my career. And he has all of those things.”

SUFFERING AND DOUBTS, CREATORS OF GREAT CHAMPIONS

For her return to Montreal on Tuesday, the country’s heroine assumed her role by winning in three sets (6-1, 3-6, 6-3) against the British qualifier Harriet Dart. The last time she had played in Montreal was in 2016 thanks to a wild-card: she was 16 years old and ranked 610th in the world. She was down a break in the deciding set on Tuesday, but Andreescu proved her mettle again under pressure by pulling off the win.

“I had all the feels. It was super emotional at the end. I got goosebumps walking on the court. Having the crowd cheer so long, it’s just a crazy feeling.

“There’s always going to be pressure, but I really use it to my advantage, especially here at home. Having that crowd support really helps me. Win or lose, I know they’re always going to have my back, so that definitely relieves a lot of pressure.”

We’ll see if this win has served as a trigger for the rest of her summer. Andreescu rose so high so fast that she is doomed to a crash course in the demands of the top and the pitfalls that come with it. The ultimate competitor, she has already experienced the worst possible situation of being out of the game for over a year. But perhaps that will serve her well in the future, as she will now know what it takes to get back to the top when you’ve fallen off the train. So when you’re tempted to raise an eyebrow at her results since Paris, you have to remember that Andreescu is like one of those teenagers who gains four or five inches in a summer and has to learn to use her arms and legs again. And she, as a bonus, hurt a knee in the process.

That she needs time to recover from all this is normal. No, the only concerned voice that has a right to be heard is the one that hopes Andreescu doesn’t go through the same pain as Juan Martin Del Potro, Milos Raonic or Laura Robson, on a different scale. There are players with all the talent and motivation in the world whose bodies have consistently refused to keep up. Andreescu has already suffered far too many glitches, but she has also moved through the stages so quickly that, again, it may just be a matter of needing to wait before she can take it all in.

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