‘Is This Real Life?’ Yes, and Bianca Andreescu Is the Real Deal

Andreescu, a teenage prodigy, will face Belinda Bencic, a former teenage prodigy, for a spot in the U.S. Open final.

Bianca Andreescu, 19, is the first teenager to reach the semifinals of the women’s tournament since Caroline Wozniacki in 2009.
Bianca Andreescu, 19, is the first teenager to reach the semifinals of the women’s tournament since Caroline Wozniacki in 2009. CreditCreditMichelle V. Agins/The New York Times

NEW YORK—It was 80 degrees this Wednesday evening. Muggy and windless inside Arthur Ashe Stadium, this was by far the most oppressive night of this year’s US Open. For a set and four games, it was also extremely stifling for 15th-seeded Bianca Andreescu as she struggled versus 25th-seeded Elise Mertens.

In the end, Andreescu had earned a 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 victory to reach her first Grand Slam semifinal, a remarkable feat when you consider that this was the first time the 19-year-old had ever played the US Open main draw. The last two years here, she had lost in the first round of the qualifying to players with triple-digit rankings. Said Andreescu, “If someone told me that I was going to be in the semifinals of the US Open a year ago, I would say, You’re crazy.”

The contrast in temperaments and styles was vivid. Andreescu would be a terrible poker player. Her emotions exist in a near-ripened state, be it channeled through the anguish of poor play or a vocal command such as “Come on!”

Added to this is an expressive physicality to Andreescu’s tennis, a rambunctious synthesis of movement, strength and power. Though Andreescu cites Simona Halep as her tennis role model, she already has far more variety than Halep, including a plausible slice backhand, frequent use of the drop shot and excellent skills at the net, including what may already be the best overhead in women’s tennis. It’s no wonder why many – myself included – can envision Andreescu winning Grand Slam singles titles. Heck, maybe even this one.

Then there was Mertens, cool and poised, graced with superb posture and crisp, flat groundstrokes that have befuddled many opponents over the last two years. At the beginning of 2018, Mertens was ranked 35 in the world. A surprise run to the semis of the Australian Open was the start of a career year that saw her finish ranked 13. Until this year, she’d gone winless in three US Open main draw appearances. The 23-year-old Belgian is also an animal lover, relishing the chance to spend time with her four dogs, as well as pheasants and peacocks.

Getty Images

Through the early stages of this match, Mertens had Andreescu on a leash. Said Mertens, “I was trying to play aggressive, tried to move her.” Fighting off two break points in the opening game, Mertens broke Andreescu at 1-2. This was the first time these two had played one another. Perhaps Andreescu, the player with more options, was uncertain which shots would work best at this early stage. Mertens’ mission was simple: hang and bang. Throughout the first set, Mertens’ flat drives repeatedly extracted errors from Andreescu. In 38 minutes, set one went to Mertens, 6-3.

The turning point came early in the second set. Having squandered a 2-0 lead, Andreescu served at 2-2. A double-fault elicited a mini-mope. This was followed by Andreescu lining a forehand into the net. An excellent 105 mph serve down the T made it 15-30.

Mertens was the zookeeper on this point, pushing Andreescu into the cage. On the ninth shot of this captivating rally, Mertens approached. A highly compromised Andreescu hoisted a defensive lob that touched the baseline. Could Mertens have struck an overhead? Tough to say (though I suspect Andreescu would have). Instead, Mertens struck a banal forehand that largely surrendered all the territory she had gained. The 12-ball rally ended with Mertens netting a forehand.

Two points later, Andreescu cracked an inside-in forehand winner. Mope gave way to hope. Andreescu won the next three games to even the match. Said Andreescu, “I saw that she was picking on my backhand a lot, so I tried to go more down the line with my backhand so she can go back to my forehand so I can use my forehand, because I like my forehand.”

Getty Images

As the third set got underway, it was clear that this was a battle pitting creativity and emotion versus efficiency and logic. As much excitement as Andreescu’s arsenal has generated this year, hand it to Mertens. She fought off two break points at 0-1 and two more at 2-3, 15-40 to level the match at 3-all.

But with Andreescu having shed much of her early match sloppiness, it was hard to picture Mertens winning. Factor one was that Andreescu had won her last 11 three-setters. Factor two was Andreescu’s mix of firepower and versatility, a massive contrast to the stick figure-like qualities of Mertens’ technique. “She never gives up,” said Mertens. “Her serve was coming more in the second and third set. She’s a good runner, gets the ball back, not a lot of mistakes.” 

Only at 3-4 did Mertens snap. Balls hit so flat require exquisite timing and are subject to breakdown should the player get tight. A backhand struck well long, a double-fault and a weak reply to an Andreescu forehand put the Belgian down love-40. Though Mertens fought off the first two break points, on the third, Andreescu torched an untouchable backhand return down-the-line. Liberated at last from the cage, Andreescu closed it out at 15.

Last year in New York, the belle of the ball had been Naomi Osaka. For each, victory Indian Wells had been the breakout run. Now, perhaps like Osaka, Andreescu was on the verge of going supernova.   

Upon winning the the match with a backhand down-the-line winner, Andreescu turned to her player’s box and yelled out, “Is this real life? Is this real life?”

NEW YORK—It was 80 degrees this Wednesday evening. Muggy and windless inside Arthur Ashe Stadium, this was by far the most oppressive night of this year’s US Open. For a set and four games, it was also extremely stifling for 15th-seeded Bianca Andreescu as she struggled versus 25th-seeded Elise Mertens.

In the end, Andreescu had earned a 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 victory to reach her first Grand Slam semifinal, a remarkable feat when you consider that this was the first time the 19-year-old had ever played the US Open main draw. The last two years here, she had lost in the first round of the qualifying to players with triple-digit rankings. Said Andreescu, “If someone told me that I was going to be in the semifinals of the US Open a year ago, I would say, You’re crazy.”

The contrast in temperaments and styles was vivid. Andreescu would be a terrible poker player. Her emotions exist in a near-ripened state, be it channeled through the anguish of poor play or a vocal command such as “Come on!”

Added to this is an expressive physicality to Andreescu’s tennis, a rambunctious synthesis of movement, strength and power. Though Andreescu cites Simona Halep as her tennis role model, she already has far more variety than Halep, including a plausible slice backhand, frequent use of the drop shot and excellent skills at the net, including what may already be the best overhead in women’s tennis. It’s no wonder why many – myself included – can envision Andreescu winning Grand Slam singles titles. Heck, maybe even this one.

Then there was Mertens, cool and poised, graced with superb posture and crisp, flat groundstrokes that have befuddled many opponents over the last two years. At the beginning of 2018, Mertens was ranked 35 in the world. A surprise run to the semis of the Australian Open was the start of a career year that saw her finish ranked 13. Until this year, she’d gone winless in three US Open main draw appearances. The 23-year-old Belgian is also an animal lover, relishing the chance to spend time with her four dogs, as well as pheasants and peacocks.

Getty Images

Through the early stages of this match, Mertens had Andreescu on a leash. Said Mertens, “I was trying to play aggressive, tried to move her.” Fighting off two break points in the opening game, Mertens broke Andreescu at 1-2. This was the first time these two had played one another. Perhaps Andreescu, the player with more options, was uncertain which shots would work best at this early stage. Mertens’ mission was simple: hang and bang. Throughout the first set, Mertens’ flat drives repeatedly extracted errors from Andreescu. In 38 minutes, set one went to Mertens, 6-3.

The turning point came early in the second set. Having squandered a 2-0 lead, Andreescu served at 2-2. A double-fault elicited a mini-mope. This was followed by Andreescu lining a forehand into the net. An excellent 105 mph serve down the T made it 15-30.

Mertens was the zookeeper on this point, pushing Andreescu into the cage. On the ninth shot of this captivating rally, Mertens approached. A highly compromised Andreescu hoisted a defensive lob that touched the baseline. Could Mertens have struck an overhead? Tough to say (though I suspect Andreescu would have). Instead, Mertens struck a banal forehand that largely surrendered all the territory she had gained. The 12-ball rally ended with Mertens netting a forehand.

Two points later, Andreescu cracked an inside-in forehand winner. Mope gave way to hope. Andreescu won the next three games to even the match. Said Andreescu, “I saw that she was picking on my backhand a lot, so I tried to go more down the line with my backhand so she can go back to my forehand so I can use my forehand, because I like my forehand.”

Getty Images

As the third set got underway, it was clear that this was a battle pitting creativity and emotion versus efficiency and logic. As much excitement as Andreescu’s arsenal has generated this year, hand it to Mertens. She fought off two break points at 0-1 and two more at 2-3, 15-40 to level the match at 3-all.

But with Andreescu having shed much of her early match sloppiness, it was hard to picture Mertens winning. Factor one was that Andreescu had won her last 11 three-setters. Factor two was Andreescu’s mix of firepower and versatility, a massive contrast to the stick figure-like qualities of Mertens’ technique. “She never gives up,” said Mertens. “Her serve was coming more in the second and third set. She’s a good runner, gets the ball back, not a lot of mistakes.” 

Only at 3-4 did Mertens snap. Balls hit so flat require exquisite timing and are subject to breakdown should the player get tight. A backhand struck well long, a double-fault and a weak reply to an Andreescu forehand put the Belgian down love-40. Though Mertens fought off the first two break points, on the third, Andreescu torched an untouchable backhand return down-the-line. Liberated at last from the cage, Andreescu closed it out at 15.

Last year in New York, the belle of the ball had been Naomi Osaka. For each, victory Indian Wells had been the breakout run. Now, perhaps like Osaka, Andreescu was on the verge of going supernova.   

Upon winning the the match with a backhand down-the-line winner, Andreescu turned to her player’s box and yelled out, “Is this real life? Is this real life?”

As real as it gets. 

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