MEDIA CREDITS: Graham Hughes/CP – Canada_Bianca_Andreescu
TORONTO — Bianca Andreescu sat on a couch at Tennis Canada headquarters and looked up at a 2019 Rogers Cup poster on the wall.
Her photo was front and centre and her name was in big block letters.
After spending her formative years in the sport working in relative obscurity at the training centre next door, Andreescu is now a feature attraction.
Knocking off two of the biggest names in the sport and winning a WTA Tour title will do that for you.
"It’s been a crazy ride," Andreescu said.
The 18-year-old from nearby Mississauga, Ont., originally set a modest goal for 2019 of trying to get a direct entry into the main draw of the French Open.
She’s on track to do much more than that.
Her breakout performance came a few weeks ago at the ASB Classic in Auckland with upset wins over former world No. 1s Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams. Andreescu made it to the final before falling to 14th-ranked Julia Goerges.
The next day she was off to Melbourne for another qualifying draw. She made it through and won a Grand Slam main-draw singles match for the first time at the Australian Open.
Andreescu followed that up last week by winning the Oracle Challenger Series tournament in Newport Beach, Calif.
In just one month, she rocketed from No. 152 to a career-best No. 68 in the world rankings.
Andreescu jumped 38 spots this week alone, making her the new Canadian No. 1.
"I always dreamed big but I didn’t think it would happen so soon and so quickly," she said Tuesday in a sitdown interview. "I had a really good pre-season and I was feeling confident.
"I guess it came sooner than later, so I’m really pleased."
Andreescu is 16-2 on the season and a staggering sixth in the WTA Race standings, ahead of the likes of Serena Williams, Elina Svitolina and Angelique Kerber.
Not bad for someone who doesn’t turn 19 until June.
"I’ve gained a lot of experience, that’s for sure," Andreescu said. "I’ve learned that I can be calm during important points. Before I felt like I would just get overwhelmed. I usually would put pressure on myself.
"But now I’ve learned to just stay calm, cool and collected during those moments, which I think is very important."
Andreescu, who lived in Canada and Romania as a youngster, started playing in the federation’s junior program at age 10.
Louis Borfiga, Tennis Canada’s vice-president of high performance and development, has said she had a "complete game" by age 14.
Over the last few years, she enjoyed some success at the junior level and on the lower-level Challenger circuit. The move to the top-flight WTA Tour has been a smooth one so far.
Armed with a varied skillset, Andreescu has the shots to be aggressive and keep her opponents on their heels. She also has the defensive acumen to fight off pressure.
"She’s able to do everything on the court," coach Sylvain Bruneau said from Montreal.
Andreescu also likes to change things up on the court. Unlike many of her power-shot heavy peers, she relies on variety, slices, changing spins, while working in drops and lobs.
"I think I have good hands so I try to use them to my advantage," she said. "But sometimes I have too many tools in my toolbox, which means I might hit the wrong shot at the wrong time.
"But I’m improving and hopefully I can keep improving that."
Andreescu made her Grand Slam debut at Wimbledon in 2017. She lost in the final round of qualifying at the French Open and the All England Club in 2018.
She has also gained experience playing for Canada in Fed Cup play. Andreescu has an 8-3 record since making her national team debut two years ago.
Last fall, Andreescu moved her off-season training base to the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., which allowed her to practise against tougher opponents.
There were immediate results in Auckland, with each victory boosting her confidence. She was a single game away from upsetting Goerges before fading in the third set.
It was Andreescu’s fourth career appearance in a WTA Tour main draw.
"Most of the coaches of the players she’s played have come to me after matches," Bruneau said. "Pretty much everybody was like, ‘Wow — and she’s only 18. All the stuff she’s able to do on the court is very amazing."’
Injuries have been a concern for Andreescu at times.
Lingering tightness in her left hip has led to occasional pain in the groin and back areas, but she noted there were no issues last week and she’s feeling good now.
In Newport Beach, she thumped former Canadian No. 1 Eugenie Bouchard en route to the final before dispatching American Jessica Pegula in three sets for the title.
Next up is a well-earned week off before leading Canada against the host Netherlands in a Feb. 9-10 World Group II tie. After that, stops in Acapulco and Indian Wells are on her calendar.
"Every tournament I go into and every match I play, I gain experience," she said. "Also the confidence really helps any player. Hopefully that can continue for as many years as possible."
Andreescu’s next short-term goal for the Tour is trying to crack the top 50.
Her list of long-term goals is much longer.
"It’s what I dream about every single day, I have a lot," she said with a smile. "I want to become No. 1 in the world. I want to win as many Grand Slams as possible. I want to create history. I want to be an inspiration to as many people as I can.
"I want to change the sport for the better. I want to do a lot for women’s tennis."
Tue, 29 Jan 2019 18:48:39 EDT