Wayne Gretzky, Canada’s greatest sports hero, was at the US Open Friday night. Too bad he didn’t stick around one more day to see Bianca Andreescu, Canada’s newest superstar, shock Serena Williams to win the 2019 US Open women’s singles crown.
Gretzky actually has more in common with Williams. Both have won multiple championships and are international celebrities who hobnob with the rich and famous.
Williams might have had the Duchess of Sussex in her player’s box, but Bianca is the Queen of the North.
Andreescu, the 19-year-old from Mississauga, Ontario, is the first Canadian ever to win a Grand Slam singles title. Her 7-5, 6-4 victory in Arthur Ashe Stadium denied Williams a chance for her 24th career Grand Slam, which would have tied Margaret Court’s all-time record.
“I know you guys wanted Serena to win,” she told the crowd after the match, “so I’m so sorry.”
Williams may have had the crowd on her side, but Andreescu had the support of an entire nation.
“She’s been a huge star in our country now and it’s been really fast,” said Canadian sportscaster Elliotte Friedman. This rise started in March, when she won her first career title in Indian Wells. Last month, at the Rogers Cup in Toronto, she became the first Canadian to win that tournament in 50 years. Now she is the US Open champ.
“There’s a whole country watching her today,” Friedman said before Saturday’s match. “Not too long ago, only the hardcore tennis fans knew her. Now everybody knows her.”
In many ways, it’s been a transformative year for Canadian sports. First, the Toronto Raptors knocked off the heavily-favored Golden State Warriors to win the NBA title. And now, Andreescu has added to that history.
She may have been a bigger underdog here than the Warriors, but she broke Williams to open the match and never let up after that. After taking the first set, she stormed to a 5-1 lead in the second and had match point. That’s when Williams mounted a comeback, winning four straight games. The crowd became frenzied, and it appeared the dream run might stall.
“Obviously, it was expected for Serena to fight back,” Andreescu said. “She’s done that so many times in the past. That’s why she’s a true champion on and off the court. I just tried my best to block everything out.”
Andreescu held serve for a 6-5 lead and then closed it out.
“She played really well,” Williams said after the match. “She deserved this.”
Andreescu has talked a lot this fortnight about her visualization tactics. When she talked during her post-match press conference about visualizing herself playing Williams in the final, she started to cry.
“I’ve been dreaming of this moment for the longest time,” she said after composing herself. “I really believed I could be at this stage … I’ve been visualizing it almost every single day. So for it to become a reality is so crazy. I guess these visualizations really, really work.”
The Toronto Raptors and Canadian NBA star Steve Nash are among the accounts that put out congratulatory tweets shortly after the match ended. As popular as Andreescu will be among sports fans in her country, she feels it’s her mission to set an example for Canadian athletes.
“It’s been a goal of mine to inspire many people,” she said, “especially Canadian athletes. I think that this win will hopefully do that. Not only this win, but just what I’ve accomplished this past year, because so many Canadian athletes paved the way for me when I was young. And hopefully I can be that person to them.”
Andreescu listed former retired women’s player Carling Bassett as one of those inspirations. Bassett once reached the semifinals at a US Open, though the last time she appeared in a Grand Slam was 1989—10 years before Andreescu was even born.
Basset was big in Canada in the ’80s. Andreescu, especially in the age of social media, will be much bigger. She probably already is. With her win Saturday, she is about to be more famous in Canada than even she could have visualized.
“I never really thought about being famous,” she said. “My goals have been to just win as many Grand Slams as possible, become No. 1 in the world, but the idea of fame never really crossed my mind. I’m not complaining, though. It’s been a crazy ride this year, and I can definitely get used to this feeling.”