Toronto Premier 2019: Teenager Bianca Andreescu is first home-town champ in 50 years

Injured Serena Williams retires, as long wait for title continues

Marianne Bevis
By Marianne Bevis

The biggest tournament of the US Open Series thus far—and a key indicator of who to watch come the last Major of the year in New York at the end of the August—promised much, and delivered on all fronts. Well almost.

The entire top 12, aside from an injured Petra Kvitova, were in the draw, including all three of this year’s Major champions. Each of those champions, Ashleigh Barty, Naomi Osaka and Simona Halep, had held the No1 ranking at some stage during 2019, and the top spot could pass from Barty back to Osaka or to No3, Karolina Pliskova ahead of the US Open. Sure enough, it did—to Osaka—once Barty lost early.

Serena Williams, three times a Canadian Open champion, was back at the tournament for the first time since 2015, and despite making three Major finals since her return from maternity leave in the spring of 2018, she was yet to win a title. Her last came at the 2017 Australian Open while almost two months pregnant, and her last non-Slam title was Rome in 2016.

To make her return to Toronto even more noteworthy, the draw promised a meeting between Williams and Osaka for the first time since their memorable final at the US Open last year. And they did indeed play one another in the quarter-finals, a 6-3, 6-4 win for Williams.

She would, in fact, be the only seeded player to make it to the final four, a 37-year-old superstar alongside three women age 21 and under. And the youngest of the three just happened to be Canadian.

The 19-year-old Bianca Andreescu was born a hop, skip and jump from Toronto city, and she had proved her credentials already this season by winning her first title at one of the biggest tournaments in the tennis calendar, Indian Wells. And if she could get the better of Williams in the final, she would be the first home winner since 1969—she was already the first home finalist since that same year.

Remarkably, Andreescu had started the year ranked 152 after spending most of 2018 working her way through ITF events, until she exploded onto the WTA tour in January. She won seven matches to reach the final in Auckland—via Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams—and won the WTA125 in Newport Beach. After Fed Cup duty, she made the semis of Acapulco, and then lifted the trophy in Indian Wells.

And it took her to 24 in the ranks, but the youngster hit the buffers with a shoulder injury, retired in the fourth round of Miami and could not play her second match at Roland Garros. She would then miss the whole grass season. What hope, then, of a big run in Toronto?

Well her draw was tough, but she powered through No5 seed Kiki Bertens and then Pliskova, both in three sets, and now faced the ultimate test.

Meanwhile, Williams had her business face in place, and it needed to be, because the young Canadian was not about to be star-struck in front of her packed home crowd. Sure enough, Andreescu worked a break point in the very first game before Williams held. The Canadian then broke at the next opportunity, 2-1, and held for 3-1. But all at once, it was over.

Williams retired, forced to give up her bid for the title due to back spasms: All she could do was weep and embrace a sympathetic Andreescu. After all the teenager knew what it was like to have her season disrupted by injury.

This was the fourth time Williams has been forced to retire this year—with Indian Wells, Miami, and Rome, too—and that out of just six tournaments prior to Toronto. Yet she will rise to No8 in the ranks, and she and her fans must be grateful that at least this time it was not due to knee and ankle problems.

As for Andreescu, it was of course not the way she would have hoped to thrill her home crowd, but the face that has been plastered around Toronto and across the Canadian media rose to the difficult occasion as though born to it.

“Serena, you made me cry. I know how it is to pull out of tournaments, it’s not easy… This wasn’t the way I expected to win. You are truly a champion. I’ve watched you win so many times, you are truly a champion on and off the court.”

But she clutched the maple-leaf shaped trophy and beamed:

“I’m speechless right now. This has been a dream come true.”

Andreescu will not just break into the top 20 for the first time but will rise to No14 ahead of Cincinnati and the US Open. And as she said to her team in her acceptance speech: “This is just the beginning.”

Closing note [courtesy of WTA.com]

The 19-year-old Andreescu is the eighth teenage Rogers Cup finalist this century.

· In 2000, 19-year-old Martina Hingis beat 18-year-old Williams for the title.

· The following year, 19-year-old Williams won her first trophy, beating Jennifer Capriati.

· In 2003, 19-year-old Lina Krasnoroutskaya was runner-up to Justine Henin.

· In 2006, 18-year-old Ana Ivanovic beat Martina Hingis in the final.

· In 2008, 19-year-old Dominika Cibulkova was runner-up to Dinara Safina.

· And in 2015, 18-year-old Belinda Bencic beat Simona Halep to become champion.

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