Bianca Andreescu Returns to the U.S. Open With Winning on Her Mind

So a lot has modified since her first go to, however Bianca Andreescu remains to be undefeated at the U.S. Open, the place she swept to the 2019 title in precociously grand model, defeating Serena Williams in straight units in the last at age 19.

After taking part in no official matches in 2020, she is again in the third spherical this 12 months, however can also be wanting again.

“I work on being in the moment, but I do get the flashbacks quite often here,” Andreescu, who practices visualization methods, advised me on Thursday. “I think that’s a good thing because it builds my confidence a little bit, going back and thinking about all that happened in 2019.”

She was in the identical bodily area as she walked the sprawling grounds the place she grew to become Canada’s first Grand Slam singles champion, but she was in a unique place. Her assist crew is sort of completely new: from her brokers, Max Eisenbud and Marijn Bal, to her health coach, Abdul Sillah, to her coach, Sven Groeneveld, who was taking copious notes in the stands of Louis Armstrong Stadium on Thursday night time as Andreescu defeated Lauren Davis 6-Four, 6-Four.

It felt so acquainted, and but so unusual. Andreescu walked into the interview room as if she had been intent on remaining incognito, masks on, hoodie up, eyes barely seen. It was the identical room that was packed in 2019, digital camera flashes firing in fast succession as she and her former coach Sylvain Bruneau posed with the U.S. Open trophy. But on this night time, with pandemic well being restrictions in place, there have been only a handful of masked reporters. No flash bulbs. No Champagne. No buzz.

After she completed, we revered the U.S. Open guidelines, talking by Zoom for a follow-up interview regardless that we had simply been sitting 12 ft aside in the identical room.

“I feel like we’re in some kind of Blade Runner movie,” I mentioned.

“Exactly,” she mentioned. “It’s just super weird, and it’s crazy that it’s still going on, but you can’t really do much about it.”

The pandemic has taken a toll on tennis gamers, together with Andreescu, who examined optimistic for Covid-19 earlier this 12 months. But her troubles didn’t start there.

At the finish of her breakthrough 2019 season, wherein she additionally received the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., and the Rogers Cup in Toronto, I traveled to Toronto to spend a day with Andreescu and watch her turn out to be the first tennis participant to obtain the Lou Marsh Trophy, awarded to Canada’s high athlete in any sport.

But she was limping that day after receiving a platelet wealthy plasma injection in her ailing left knee, and since then her profession has continued to really feel like a playground recreation of 1 step ahead and two steps backward. Injuries, a priority for Andreescu since she was one among the world’s finest juniors, have repeatedly knocked her again.

Since her return to the tour in 2021, her fortunes have but to flip in earnest. She had to quarantine for 2 weeks forward of the Australian Open at the begin of the season after Bruneau examined optimistic for the coronavirus after the constitution flight to Melbourne. Back in type at the Miami Open, she reached the last in opposition to Ashleigh Barty solely to retire in tears after injuring her ankle. She then missed a lot of the clay courtroom season after testing optimistic for Covid-19 herself in April; cut up together with her longtime administration company; misplaced in the first spherical of the French Open; cut up with Bruneau; after which misplaced in the first spherical of Wimbledon, too.

At 21, she concedes that her love of the recreation and the tour has dimmed on event.

“For sure, a couple times this year, when I caught Covid and the part about not being able to see my friends and family for such a long time,” Andreescu mentioned. “My grandma caught Covid. She’s 86. She survived, thankfully, but so many of these things made me question, should I be traveling during this time? But you can’t stop forever, so I tried to deal with everything in the best way I could. Some things I wish I could have done better, but you live and learn, and I’m in a good place physically and mentally right now, and I think that’s all that matters.”

Eisenbud, the senior vice chairman at IMG, is satisfied that the finest is but to come.

“Listen, you don’t beat Serena at 19 years old in the final of the U.S. Open if you’re not really special,” he mentioned.

Andreescu after profitable the 2019 U.S. Open singles last.Credit…Ben Solomon for The New York Times

That is simple. Andreescu’s beguiling mix of energy, contact and explosive motion makes her a transcendent tennis expertise. But whereas she shall be the favourite to win in the third spherical in opposition to Greet Minnen, she remains to be trying to find confidence and consistency. That is unsurprising, contemplating the many transferring components in her recreation and her lack of expertise and match play. She has nonetheless performed only one full season on tour, and that season in 2019 was additionally interrupted by accidents.

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Variety is her trademark — she has all the pictures — however she additionally has a style for threat and for sharp angles that may lead to flurries of unforced errors. Watching her play and deploy her huge arsenal of weapons may be intoxicating, however there’s additionally the sense that she is winging it, relying on intuition reasonably than a deep tactical understanding.

“I get bored really easily,” Andreescu as soon as advised me. “So even on the court I just try to mix it up. That can be a setback and an advantage, because I have a lot of tools in my toolbox so I try to choose the right ones at the right times as best as I can, but I’m still working on it.”

Her new crew was assembled with enter from Eisenbud, who started managing Maria Sharapova when she was 12 and helped her turn out to be the highest-earning girls’s athlete. He later helped the Chinese star Li Na capitalize on her success.

“One commonality around Sharapova’s Grand Slam wins and Li Na’s Grand Slam wins was that everything around the team was calm,” Eisenbud mentioned. “I need to try to get calm water around Bianca.”

Eisenbud and Bal actively recruited Andreescu and have been collectively managing her since June 1. Silla, her new health coach, helped Naomi Osaka enhance her conditioning and footwork forward of her first U.S. Open title in 2018. Groeneveld, who’s working with Andreescu on a trial foundation, is one among the most skilled coaches in tennis. He coached Sharapova in the later phases of her profession and helped her handle persistent accidents, which was an essential issue for Andreescu.

She interviewed Groeneveld and several other different coaches by FaceTime earlier this 12 months after she made the troublesome determination to half methods with Bruneau.

“Sven really stood out right from the start,” she mentioned. “I had what I wanted in a coach written down and what I didn’t want in a coach written down. I made sure to really, really pay attention to this, because I want to get to the next level, and Sven honestly checks all the boxes: Maria Sharapova, injuries, being around on tour a long time, and that experience really, really helps, and I already see it.”

To keep away from accidents, Andreescu mentioned they’ve tailor-made her schedule to ensure that she doesn’t push too exhausting on the courtroom throughout follow if she is pushing exhausting on her health. She additionally has continued working with Kirstin Bauer, an Austrian physiotherapist and osteopath who’s the one holdover on Andreescu’s crew from 2019, except for her dad and mom and her canine Coco.

“I had so many changes happen with my agency, fitness trainer, coach, and having Kirstin by my side through literally everything I’ve been through the last two and a half years is comforting,” Andreescu mentioned. “We work a lot on prevention.”

Staying wholesome stays the problem for Andreescu, and it’s nothing new. As a junior, she had again and shoulder accidents in addition to stress fractures in her ft that restricted her to non-weight-bearing workout routines.

“We had an office chair, and we took the back off it and wheeled it on the court, and every day she would spend an hour and work forehand and backhand,” mentioned André Labelle, one among her early coaches. “I think she had a three-month stretch in the chair.”

But for all her dedication, she has continued to miss an excessive amount of taking part in time as knowledgeable, and although it’s straightforward to think about her dueling for Grand Slam titles for years to include the likes of Osaka, Barty and Coco Gauff, that imaginative and prescient solely is smart if Andreescu can enhance her endurance.

“I’m very impatient,” she mentioned. “I want everything, you know, right away, but I’m getting better with that.”