Jubilant Andreescu posts 1st Slam win

MELBOURNE, Australia – However many Grand Slam matches Canadian Bianca Andreescu wins in a career that’s still in its infancy, she’ll always remember this one.

It is the first, of course – her maiden Grand Slam main-draw victory.

But it was the way she did it that will remain engraved somewhere in her tennis psyche.

It’ll be a resource she can draw upon in the future. When she thinks she’s in a situation that seems hopeless, she’ll now know that there’s always hope.

The 7-6 (7), 6-7 (0), 6-3 victory over 16-year-old American Whitney Osuigwe took two hours and 46 minutes on a stifling hot day during which several male players had to retire.

Andreescu was struggling with cramps in her calfs, which required some treatment in the second set. Her back was acting up again, requiring a medical timeout after she broke Osuigwe to take the lead in the third set.

But the fight in the player overcame the challenges.

“All I can say is that it’s one of the toughest matches I’ve ever played and I’m so, so, SO happy I pulled through,” Andreescu said afterward. “I have no idea how I won today. My body was a mess – especially after the first set. I just fought.”

Hello, top 100

At a career high No. 106 in the WTA Tour rankings coming into the match, the victory will tick off another box.

Andreescu will break into the top 100 for the first time. In fact, she’ll be inside the top 90.

She was in shock when she heard that. 

“No way. Oh my God,” she said. “I don’t know what to say. I’m just so happy.”

There’s more work to be done. On Thursday, Andreescu will meet No. 13 Anastasia Sevastova of Latvia for a spot in the third round.

Easy road to Melbourne main draw for Andreescu

MELBOURNE, Australia – Maybe there was a little reverse karma happening at Melbourne Park for Canadian Bianca Andreescu.

The 18-year-old’s 2018 summer was compromised by back woes. And it remains an ongoing situation to be managed.

But this week, as she attempted to reach her first career Australian Open main draw, two of her opponents had to retire – with back issues.

And so Andreescu essentially sailed through three qualifying rounds. It was a welcome break after she went from the qualifying to her first career WTA Tour final in Auckland last week.

It’s her second career Grand Slam main draw. Andreescu qualified for Wimbledon last summer.

Here’s what her week looked like.

Swan out with back spasms

Her first opponent, Katie Swan, had to retire with back spasms after the first set. Swan, just 19, was in tears as they worked on her before and after she was forced to retire. She never even got up to shake hands; Andreescu went over to where she was lying on the court. 

Swan left in a wheelchair.

Young Brit Katie Swan was in terrible pain with back spasms that ended with her tearfully being rolled off the court in a wheelchair. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Routine win in round 2

Andreescu’s second-round opponent, Valentini Grammatikopoulou, is a 5-foot-4 dynamo from Greece ranked No. 174, who hasn’t even earned a mug shot on her WTA Tour page yet. (Or on her ITF page, for that matter).

She has yet to advance further than the second round of qualifying at a Grand Slam. And Andreescu put out a no-nonsense, professional effort in dispatching her 6-4, 6-1.

Andreescu had no trouble with 21-year-old Greek player Valentini Grammatikopoulou (and the chair umpire, Catarina Silva of Portugal, had no trouble with either name) (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Which left one more win for the teenager to make her first Australian Open. 

Another back issue

Tereza Smitkova, 24, was inside the top 60 back in 2015. But she fell outside the top 200 before battling back to her current No. 137.

She came in with far more experience than her six-years-younger opponent, as Smitkova had already played in seven Grand Slam main draws.

But her back betrayed her as well. Smitkova lost the first set 6-0, took a medical timeout.

Tereza Smitkova played much of the second set in tears before finally retiring down a set and 4-1. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

It was clear she didn’t want to retire from the match. So Smitkova tried to keep playing even though she was clearly in distress. And it’s a lot harder to see the ball on a tennis court when you have tears rolling down your face during a match.

In the end, at 6-0, 4-1, she pulled the plug.

Osuigwe up in first round

There were 16 players already in the main draw who were awaiting the placing of the qualifiers.

They ranged from a former Grand Slam champion (Maria Sharapova) to top-ranked players expected to make big runs (Elina Svitolina, Karolina Pliskova, Aryna Sabalenka) to a couple of local wild cards.

In the end, Andreescu’s good karma continued.

She drew 16-year-old American Whitney Osuigwe, who’s in via the USTA’s reciprocal wild card.

Andreescu
16-year-old Osuigwe is making her first appearance Down Under – juniors and seniors combined. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Osuigwe has just broken into the top 200; she’s at a career-high ranking of No. 199. But she’s a former No. 1 junior who did the Eddie Herr/Orange Bowl double just over a year ago. She won the French Open junior title two months after turning 15.

Oddly, she never played the Australian Open as a junior; she opted for the early-season clay-court circuit in South America.

So this is her first trip Down Under – ever. 

Andreescu played the Aussie juniors twice. She had to withdraw before her third-round match in 2016 with a stress fracture. But she returned in 2017 and reached the semifinals in singles. She also won the doubles with Canadian-American Carson Branstine.

Anreescu and Osuigwe have never met, at either the junior or senior levels.

Bad back forces Andreescu out of D.C.

On the one-year anniversary of her turning professional and her debut at the Citi Open in D.C., 18-year-old Canadian Bianca Andreescu finds herself out of the tournament.

Andreescu received a wild card into the singles draw for the second consecutive year, and was to face Nao Hibino of Japan in the first round.

But a back issue flared up during the Granby Challenger. And it wasn’t helped by some tough tennis. And that is costing her a chance to play the far bigger WTA Tour event this week.

The No. 3 seed in Granby, Andreescu had issues even in the second round, where she defeated 15-year-old countrywoman Leylah-Annie Fernandez in a matched moved indoors.

She had the back looked at after the first set, despite winning it handily.

And then, she went off court for treatment on it during the second, during which she was down 2-4 before running the table to finish it off.

Andreescu
That’s a good move – especially with a bad back. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Here’s what it looked like. You can see that Andreescu was in periodic distress.

But the coup de grâce – not the good kind – came in the quarterfinals. Andreescu toughed out a 5-7, 7-5, 6-4 comeback win over Australian lefty Ellen Perez. It took two hours, 19 minutes in the heat and humidity.

But when it came time to play her semifinal against eventual champion Julia Glushko Saturday, Andreescu was a no-go.

Sacroiliac joint to blame

It’s not a new issue for Andreescu, more a recurring theme that has to be managed.

AndreescuThere are various levels of pain associated with problems involving the sacroiliac joint, which is what Andreescu is dealing with.

The consensus is that she won’t make it worse by playing. But Andeescu wants to play. But perhaps she has played too much.

The Canadian also ended up sick after the grass-court swing, which also set her back. She tried to play at the Winnipeg ITF event, but retired down 2-4 in the third set of her first-round match.

In Gatineau, Quebec last week, she also lost in the first round of singles. But she and Carson Branstine won the doubles event in her first attempt at doubles since January.

Quarter-final points go undefended

This first year in the pros has had some highs. But even though Andreescu is arguably a better player than she was a year ago, it’s not yet showing in the rankings.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint, though. And there aren’t many careers that go in a straight line to the top of the game.

After defeating Camila Giorgi and Kristina Mladenovic in the first two rounds in D.C. a year ago, she lost in three sets to Andrea Petkovic in the quarterfinals.

In mid-August, she stood at a career-high No. 143 in the singles rankings and seemed on her way. 

Right now, Andreescu stands at No. 185. And that includes a pair of finals appearances during a swing through $25,000 ITF events in Japan in April after she had dropped to No. 221.

In fact, her doubles ranking (No. 150) has been higher than her singles ranking since last October, even though she’s only played two events this season.

Missing the Citi Open is going to hurt. The 60 points she was going to defend are nearly 20 per cent of her total, and her absence will drop her out of the top 200.

Even more key, though, is the Rogers Cup. Her home-country tournament, a Premier 5-level event, takes place the following week.

You would expect, if healthy, that Andreescu would get one of the three wild cards available to the Canadians. One is already assigned to Genie Bouchard; the other two will be distributed to Canadian No. 2 Carol Zhao, Andreescu, Françoise Abanda or even, possibly, the returning Rebecca Marino.

As of Monday, Andreescu will be the No. 3 ranked player in Canada, behind Bouchard and Zhao.

Andreescu got a Rogers Cup wild card last year, and lost 6-4, 6-1 to Timea Babos of Hungary in the first round.

Canadian Fed Cup team bumped, bruised, but tied 1-1

MONTREAL – Canada’s World Group II Fed Cup playoff tie hadn’t even begun, when the first bad news hit.

No. 2 Françoise Abanda, already slowed a little by a knee issue, was doing some final warmup exercises just a few minutes before the teams were to take the court for the opening ceremony. 

And then, she slipped and fell.

Abanda hit her head on the court. Immediately there were a half-dozen Tennis Canada personnel around her, everyone looking concerned. 

It wasn’t long before the decision was made to put in 17-year-old Bianca Andreescu as a last-minute substitute. And Abanda – her head still hurting several hours later – went back into the locker room.

That’s a tough ask for anyone, never mind an inexperienced 17-year-old. Planning to sit courtside with some figurative popcorn, Andreescu expected to work out her cheering muscles and nothing else on Saturday. 

Without a proper warmup, or eating at the right time, or all the myriad preparations that go into a match, she took on world No. 41 Lesia Tsurenko.

Andreescu played brilliantly, taking the first set. But by the middle of the second set, she began to tire. And by the beginning of the third set, you could see her shaking out her leg and trying to fight off cramps.

A few games later, she collapsed in a heap. A cramp that began in her calf moved up into the rest of her leg, and she was really in pain. 

She was carted off the court in a wheelchair, forced to retire from the match.

Two down, Bouchard up next

It was left to Genie Bouchard to salvage a tie on the day. 

And she did, with an impressive 6-2, 7-5 win over world No. 78 Kateryna Bondarenko. It was a victory that never felt as though it might get away from her, despite a couple of nervous moments when she was close to the finish line.

Here’s what it looked like.

But …

Early in the match, Bouchard whacked her left hand on a towel display installed just to the left of her bench. Running at a good clip, she tried to brake, using the left hand, and was left in some pain.

She said that every backhand she hit for the rest of the match hurt – a lot.

But she could still joke with captain Sylvain Bruneau about there being “Three down, one to go.”

Here’s what she said about it.

Canadian infirmary

The release from the ITF about Abanda’s injury said she had a “pero-orbital contusion” – medical speak for a black eye.

But she didn’t, even though the eye was swollen. 

While the medical personnel were monitoring Abanda through the day, they certainly couldn’t rule out a concussion. And that’s scary, especially if there’s even a desire on Abanda’s part to try to play Sunday in the fourth singles rubber.

As for Andreescu, she’s likely to be awfully sore where the cramps hit.

And there’s no predicting how Bouchard’s hand will feel when she wakes up on Sunday morning.

Here’s Bruneau with the medical report.

Dabrowski to the rescue?

You would expect Bouchard to give it a go in the first match of the day Sunday against Tsurenko.

After that, Canada will either be in a position to clinch, or in a position where it needs a victory to stay alive.

Gabriela Dabrowski, a fine singles player but one who has put that discipline aside for the most part to focus on her top-10 doubles career, is ready to go in singles if needed.

If it gets to a fifth and deciding rubber, Bruneau may have no other options left but to put Bouchard and Dabrowski on for the doubles.

It may be a sleepless night for a few people on the Canadian side.

Andreescu’s run ends in D.C.

WASHINGTON – It appeared, after a hard-won first set, that Canadian teenager Bianca Andreescu hit the wall in her WTA Tour main draw debut week.

It’s been numbingly hot. She has twice played on a court measured as the fastest on the entire circuit. All of her opponents have been older, more highly ranked, and a lot more experienced.

Did we mention it’s been really hot? Like, “feet walking on hot coals” hot?

The 17-year-old said it wasn’t so much her legs running out of fuel as it was her opponent, 29-year-old Andrea Petkovic, raising her level a notch.

Petkovic’s 6-7 (3), 6-1, 6-2 win puts her into the Citi Open semifinals against countrywoman Julia Goerges.

Andreescu now will head home to Toronto for another debutante performance – her first main draw at her home-country Rogers Cup.

Here’s what it looked like, on a humid night in D.C.

Andreescu’s ranking will jump about 24 spots, to a new career best of No. 143.

Triumphant homecoming

She’ll arrive home riding a wave of confidence for her first-round match against Timea Babos of Hungary.

She upset one of the hardest-hitting players on Tour, Camila Giorgi, on the fastest court on tour. Then, she made history by becoming the first player born in the 21st century to defeat a top-20 player, No. 2 seed Kristina Mladenovic.

She also won a match in doubles with Louisa Chirico of the U.S. And she got cranked in the head by one of her partner’s serves.

The Canadian received a wild card into the Rogers Cup main draw when Maria Sharapova withdrew. Otherwise, she’d have had to hustle home to play her first round of qualifying Saturday (or, at worse, potentially play two matches on Sunday) to try to get into the main draw.

So everything worked out well. Except the tournament laundry service, which shrunk some of her new Nike dresses and gave her a more, um, streamlined look on court for a couple of the matches.

Andreescu only brought six dresses with her. Luckily, she has plenty more at home.

It’s always key to feel good in your dress when you’re at your second debutante ball in a week.

Here’s what she said about it, just a few minutes after the match. 

It’s always more fun to talk to the press after a win. But every player in the draw except one loses every week.

Talking after you’ve taken a tough loss is part of the gig, but it can’t be much fun. Andreescu handled this one with aplomb.

Another upset for Canadian Andreescu

WASHINGTON – Backing up a three-set win over Camila Giorgi in her first career WTA Tour main-draw match, Canadian Bianca Andreescu went one better Thursday at the Citi Open.

The 17-year-old, who received a wild card into the event, upset No. 2 seed Kristina Mladenovic 6-2, 6-3 to move into the quarterfinals.

Andreescu was down a break, 0-2, to start the match. But she won six games on the trot to take the first set. Unfortunately – and quite helpfully for the rookie – there was not much resistance from Mladenovic. The Frenchwoman is the No. 13 player in the world.

Andreescu is the first 21st-century kid to beat a top-20 player. She was born June 16, 2000.

Here’s what it looked like:

In a perfect Canadian tennis world, Andreescu would have played top Canadian Genie Bouchard in the Friday quarterfinal.

But Bouchard went down 6-2, 4-6, 6-0 to Germany’s Andrea Petkovic a little earlier in the day. So Andreescu will play …Andrea.

Andreescu learned on Wednesday that Maria Sharapova was withdrawing from her hometown Rogers Cup. The wild card given to Sharapova was now available, and Tennis Canada chose to give it to Andreescu.  

The Rogers Cup qualifying, for which Andreescu already had a wild card, begins Saturday. The WTA Tour rules would allow for her to delay her first-round match to Sunday, and play a second match that day if she won.

Now, it’s a moot point.

Late-night doubles on Court 3

Torrential rains and thunder hit the D.C. area during the dinner hour. That resulted in major delays in getting the matches on.

Bouchard’s doubles match with Sloane Stephens was postponed to Friday. But those two already are eliminated from the singles. Not the case with Andreescu, so she and partner Louisa Chirico had to go out and play.

Theoretically, had Andreescu’s doubles match been postponed, she would have singles, then doubles Friday. And if she and Chirico won, a third match in the same day.

They started just after 10 p.m., and lost 7-6 (1), 6-3 to Jocelyn Rae and Jessica Moore. Andreescu and Chirico led the first set 5-2.

Before going out for the doubles, Andreescu came in to do an impromptu press conference that had originally been scheduled afterwards.

She was already dressed and ready.

Andreescu’s WTA debut going swimmingly

WASHINGTON – After the stress of making her WTA Tour main-draw debut Monday against the hard-hitting Camila Giorgi of Italy, 17-year-old Bianca Andreescu’s first-round doubles match Wednesday was a piece of cake.

Andreescu, who received a wild card into the event in singles but got into the doubles with Louisa Chirico on her own ranking, is into the quarterfinals.

The 6-3, 7-6 (5) victory over Americans Kaitlyn Christian and Desirae Krawczyk was fairly convincing. The teams came back to resume play in the middle of the second set after being rained off the court Tuesday night.

But Andreescu and Chirico lost little of their momentum in a first-time pairing.

Out in the boonies

Once again, they were shuffled off to Court 3, which is usually a practice court and has little room at the back and sides to maneuver.

There aren’t even stands for the fans to watch; they have to peer through a chain-link fence. And there are a couple of porta-potties right next to the court.  Glamorous!

Andreescu and Chirico had opportunities to serve out the match at 5-4 and 6-5 in the second set. And they were way up in the tiebreak before the American opponents made it interesting. But they got it done.

The only mildly worrisome moment was when Chirico nailed Andreescu on the back of the head with a serve. But no harm done.

Here’s what it looked like:

Update: Andreescu got some good news Thursday morning, because of the bad news that Maria Sharapova was forced to pull out of the Rogers Cup with a left forearm injury. Andreescu, who hails from the Toronto suburb of Mississauga, will get the wild card vacated by Sharapova’s withdrawal.

Here’s Andreescu after her doubles win, and looking back on the singles win against Giorgi.

Ailing Mladenovic next door

She played her doubles right next to the court where No. 2 seed Kristina Mladenovic and Tatjana Maria went three sets in their first-round match. That one also had been cancelled Tuesday because of the rain.

Mladenovic had some physical issues in that match, including a medical timeout where she was flat on her back on the court. The left knee also appeared to be an issue.

Andreescu

Drama on the singles court

Against Giorgi, there was plenty of drama on the other side. Even during a practice earlier in the week, when Giorgi followed Andreescu and Genie Bouchard onto the court, things seemed tense on Team Giorgi.

Papa Sergio, who is Giorgi’s coach, was spotted with the police on his tail on the grounds over the weekend, after which they gave him a stern talking to. It may, of course, have been as simple as Sergio Giorgi smoking in a verboten area.

During the match, at 4-3 in the third set, a female usher came over and insisted Papa Giorgi vacate the spot where he had been sitting the entire match. The chair umpire was on it, telling Giorgi not to worry about it.

After Giorgi was broken for 5-4 in the third, Papa was giving advice to his daughter, sitting just below. She turned and basically told him to stop talking. Andreescu then went on to serve out the victory.

Andreeescu

Defense first, then offense

Andreescu was the calmer of the two on the court. At first, she was taken aback by the sheer power of Giorgi’s groundstrokes, and scrambled around playing a lot of defence.

She had to execute a quick shoe and insole change against the clock, with the help of coach André Labelle. But that was the extend of Andreescu’s drama.

In terms of Giorgi’s pace, she adjusted quickly. This week has been a great boost to Andreescu’s learning curve with the opponents, and even the practice partners, at a higher level than her previous experiences in the juniors and at the ITF level.

Here’s what the singles win looked like.

Andreescu plays Mladenovic, second up around 4 p.m. on Grandstand 2 Thursday. 

After that, she and Chirico will play Australia’s Jessica Moore and Great Britain’s Jocelyn Rae. It’s another winnable match, although a tougher challenge than the first-round match.

Bianca Andreescu has a hard head

WASHINGTON – Canadian Bianca Andreescu and American Louisa Chirico, first-time partners, are still speaking. No worries.

It’s all part of the game.

During their first-round doubles match at the Citi Open Wednesday, Chirico DRILLED her first-time partner Andreescu (who was at the net) in the head with a first serve.

Seriously flush. Right on. We’ve all had this happen in doubles, right?

It’s more that it’s completely unexpected and kind of a shock than actually painful, because you have your back to your partner and don’t even know exactly when they’ll serve.

Take a look:

Andreescu was fine. And she and Chirico defeated Kaitlyn Christian and Desirae Krawczayk of the U.S. 6-3, 7-6 (5).

The Can-American pair served for it at 5-4, and 6-5 in the second set, but were broken both times – unrelated to the beaning.

Andreescu said later she didn’t even feel it.

She’s from sturdy Canadian-Romanian stock.

The pair will play its quarter-final match on Thursday.

Andreescu, the Canadian, will bring a hockey helmet this time.