Bianca Andreescu interview: How the Canadian found her tennis – and herself

Follow live coverage of day two at Wimbledon here. For more stories on Wimbledon, click here to have them added to your feed.

On a warm, muggy morning last summer, Bianca Andreescu sat cross-legged on a couch in a sprawling home in Washington, D.C., talking about everything she had thought about during her time away from tennis. 

While she nursed her injuries and struggled with her mental relationship with the sport to which she has dedicated her life, the star from Canada had gone on a spiritual and yoga retreat in Costa Rica, trying to figure out her true identity and her purpose. She also volunteered with an animal rescue organization and a shelter for women recovering from domestic abuse.

Few in Costa Rica had any idea that she was a tennis player. Even fewer at the shelter even cared. 

Andreescu liked that, so she thought about what her life would look like without tennis.

It wasn’t bad.

The time away allowed her to come up with the tools she needed to battle through injury, to not allow success or failure on the court to define her or determine her well-being. Breathing exercises, meditation, visualization, pursuing outside interests. She developed a large and growing toolbox for handling setbacks.

“Everything happens for a reason,” Andreescu insisted that morning, a few days after she had lost a tight opening match at the Citi Open in the U.S. capital. She’d stuck around to train, at a local court down the street from that same house in the north-west of the city. Some kids watched. She liked that too.

Life was pretty good.

“I learned a lot about myself — honestly more — through injuries than through actually playing tennis.”

Little did Andreescu know that she was about to learn a lot more, opening up that toolbox and going through it all, all over again.

This time, it was a stress fracture in her back that would sideline her for nine months — the latest in a string of bad-luck ailments that have threatened the career of a woman widely seen as a generational talent, a creative force whose presence on a tennis court draws eyeballs with an emotional pull as obvious as it is inexplicable. 

If only she could just stay healthy.

“It sucked,” Andreescu said of that latest calamity, one evening in Paris last month. And then, once more, she was back to trying to make her glass half-full.

“The more I get injured, the more I learn about myself and the more I find tools to help me recover faster and get better quicker.”

Just a few years ago, Canada appeared on the verge of taking over tennis.

In 2019, at just 19 years old, Andreescu became the first player from her country to win a Grand Slam singles title, beating Serena Williams in the U.S. Open.

Bianca Andreescu US Open scaled

Andreescu with the U.S. Open trophy in 2019 (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Leylah Fernandez made the U.S. Open final two years after Andreescu’s triumph there. On the men’s side, Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime were ascendant. They led Canada to its first Davis Cup triumph in 2022.

The Canadian bright spots the past year and a half? Few and far between.

Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov came away from the 2023 French Open with shoulder and knee injuries respectively. Shapovalov’s sidelined him for the rest of the year. Fernandez slumped. And Andreescu, the most successful of all, spent nearly a year figuring out how she had cracked her back — while trying to rehabilitate it in a way that would allow her another chance at continuing an ascent to the top of women’s tennis which once looked inevitable.

Things have at least been looking up lately, and got off to a solid start Monday, with Andreescu and Shapovalov rolling through their first round opponents, Jaqueline Cristian and Nicolas Jarry, on Canada Day, no less. Andreescu sang a few bars of the national anthem on the court when she finished. 

Things have been going Canada’s way on the tennis court for a little while now. Auger-Aliassime made the final in Madrid two months ago, his best result in a Masters 1000 tournament — the ATP Tour’s level one below the four Grand Slams. Shapovalov is playing free once more, collecting wins and finding the form that made him a star on the rise before that knee injury. 

“Nice to see some decent results for the Canadians again,” Fernandez, who is back up to No. 25 in the rankings, said earlier this spring. 

Andreescu had appeared almost out of nowhere just days before, suddenly showing up at the year’s second Grand Slam for her first tournament since last summer. She didn’t expect much, she said, but her doctor had told her the “callus” (essentially new bone, she said) had formed around the break in her spine. She was good to go, restarting once more at 24, five years removed from that breakthrough Grand Slam title but still not even midway through her twenties.

Bianca Andreescu personality scaled e1719832555537

Andreescu smiles through the rain in the Netherlands (Rene Nijhuis/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

She blitzed her way into the third round, beating No. 23 seed Anna Kalinskaya in round two. Then she made the final of her next tournament, on grass in the Netherlands, where she was beaten by world No. 15 Liudmila Samsonova in three sets in a match that was a kind of microcosm of Andreescu’s career: the brilliant mix of power and creativity giving way to back and leg soreness that hampered her down the stretch, inserting another set of question marks on the eve of Wimbledon. She lost her next match Ana Blinkova — a decent player (ranked 60th), but nothing on the order of Andreescu in full flight, which she was on Monday on the Wimbledon grass

That Andreescu spins and angles the ball from all manner of contortions with a flair and improvisational quality that thrills fans.

Now, she realizes, it also fuels her tennis soul.

It is her purpose, her reason for playing tennis at all.

There’s a tension in tennis between the beautiful and the efficient.

Think Carlos Alcaraz, who knows that he could play smarter and maybe even win more if he didn’t try so hard to play like a magician on the court, to create those gasp-inducing, side-spinning running forehands with his back to the net. Except those are the shots that bring him joy, and the joy makes so much else possible. 

As Mary Carillo, the former player and now commentator, often says, “Shooters got to shoot.”

Now think Iga Swiatek; the women’s world No 1, the ultimate in tennis efficiency.

It wasn’t always this way for her. She used to go into splits to reach for forehands, or squat down and graze the court with her backside as she swatted at a backhand. Each match brought another trick, but she wasn’t winning all that many trophies. Then Tomasz Wiktorowski took over as her coach. Very quickly, Swiatek started cutting out the tricks and started hunting her forehand, which she used to steamroll opponents.

This was in 2022, around the time Andreescu was making one of her comebacks. Coaches advised her to do what Swiatek was doing. Play power tennis. Hunt for forehands and pound the ball at every opportunity.

Bianca Andreescu touch scaled

Andreescu builds her game around improvisation and touch as much as power (Mark Brown/Getty Images)

She tried. But she was miserable.

That wasn’t the tennis Andreescu played when she was first falling in love with the sport growing up in Mississauga, just outside Toronto. It’s not the tennis she played in 2019, when she won three of the most important hard-court tournaments, including that U.S. Open. “She’s a creative girl,” said Christoph Lambert, who coached Andreescu through junior tennis, then returned for last season when she was coming back from her time away. “She needs to be who she is.”

In recent months, Andreescu has slimmed down her team and promoted her hitting partner, J.T. Nishimura, a 28-year-old who had a solid college career at California, to become her full-time coach. Nishimura said he has encouraged Andreescu to find a balance between aggression and creativity.

“Creativity is best when you’re in control of the points,” Nishimura said Monday evening after Andreescu’s latest win. “For me, it was really important to get up ahead in these rallies early so that when she has time, which she has the, to take her time on a shot, she can be so much more creative. It’s hard to be a bit creative when you’re running left to right on the court all the time.  Creativity is one of the best, best attributes, but it’s not always easy to do if you’re playing defense all the time.”

And that’s about where Andreescu has landed in this moment. Win or lose, healthy or hurt, she needs to understand what she’s doing and why she’s doing it on the tennis court.

“I felt that I kind of got away from that intuitive side of myself, and that could be because I started becoming less fond of the game and less fond of myself because of all the hardship I went through,” she said last summer. “In that time, I kind of forgot who I was.” 

In the big picture, Andreescu being who she is means playing with her heart on her, uh, visor, bringing anyone who is watching along to ride shotgun with her through all those gritty battles she gets herself into.

Few things give her more pleasure than when fans tell her, either in person or on social media, how they were going through something difficult and thought of a tennis match they saw her play, how she fought her way through it.

GettyImages 1137426557 scaled

Andreescu is popular with fans for her frankness about life as a tennis player (Julian Finney/Getty Images)

In the smaller picture, that means thinking a little less about who is on the other side of the net, about what they might do to her. She looks around the women’s game and sees far more variety than when she first started her rise. She loves that. It tells her there are many ways to win. 

All this down time has given Andreescu the chance to live without the noise, to exist without hearing all those voices telling her who she is and what she should be doing or how she should be playing tennis. She had quiet, alone time, a chance to focus on the most important thing.  

“I think before, I was focusing too much on the opponent,” she also said last month in Paris.

“Now I really want to tune in to me.”

(Top photo: Frey/TPN / Getty Images)

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top