TORONTO — Members of the Romanian-Canadian community proudly charting Bianca Andreescu’s meteoric rise to sports stardom say the tennis phenom has earned her place among the greats, regardless of how Saturday’s historic match turns out.
Fans will watch with bated breath when the 19-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., plays Serena Williams in the U.S. Open women’s singles final. If she wins, she’ll become the first Canadian to win the title.
“For the Romanian community in Canada, she’s become a dazzling star. Not only in tennis, but among the community itself,” said Cristina Onose, 33, of Toronto.
She said the community is adding Andreescu’s name to the list of Romanian sports superstars, which already includes Nadia Comaneci, the first gymnast to be awarded a perfect 10 at the Olympics, and tennis great Simona Halep. Andreescu’s “Canadian-ness” adds something more to the pride, she said.
“She lives here, she was born here, she grew up here, and I think that adds another level of admiration,” Onose said. “I think she’s stolen many hearts among the Romanian-Canadian community. We’re all really proud of her.”
Onose, who will take in Saturday’s game at a Tennis Canada viewing party in Toronto, said Andreescu has only been on her radar for a year or so. But even in that short time, she said, watching her rise has been thrilling.
Last month, Andreescu took home the Rogers Cup in Toronto after Williams retired due to injury.
At the end of 2018, Andreescu was ranked 178th in the world. Ahead of Saturday’s match, she was 14th — and win or lose, she’ll break into the top 10 by tournament’s end.
Watching Andreescu play is nothing new for Bogdan Stanescu, who is president of the Ontario Romanian Canadian Association and an avid tennis player. He said he’s had the chance to watch her practice on several occasions over the years.
“It’s amazing to see the progress of this young lady,” he said, hailing her dedication and hard work.
He said it’s exciting to now watch her play at viewing parties, surrounded by dozens of others. His organization helped plan a viewing party at a Toronto pub on Thursday night where a crowd of like-minded fans cheered Andreescu on together.
“We’re very proud of her and the achievement she has done for Canada and for the Romanian community,” he said.
Stanescu said he believes Andreescu’s success will usher in a new era of Romanian-Canadian tennis greats.
“The Romanian tennis players in Canada and Ontario, we’ll see quite a few of them in the near future,” he said.
But pride in Andreescu extends well beyond the relatively small Romanian-Canadian community — roughly 240,000 people identified as having Romanian heritage in the last census.
The athlete’s success prompted the trending hashtag “SheTheNorth” — a play on the Toronto Raptors’ “We the North” slogan that was everywhere during the team’s championship run earlier this year.
Hazel McCallion, the former longtime mayor of Andreescu’s hometown of Mississauga, Ont., said she thinks Andreescu is “super!”
“The city has sponsored tennis programs in Mississauga for years to give the young people an opportunity to excel in tennis, and finally we’ve found a winner,” the 98-year-old McCallion said.
The city’s current mayor has also been excited about the teen’s success.
“Our city has been cheering her on from the very, very beginning, and we’ve been watching her star rise over the past few years,” Bonnie Crombie said in an interview. “We’re now beyond excited that she’s made it all the way to the U.S. Open.”
Crombie noted that she had the opportunity to meet Andreescu after the Rogers Cup, and was impressed by how deftly she balanced her compassion with her competitive streak.
“I was so proud of the integrity she showed and the sportsmanship she displayed,” she said.
Crombie said her schedule is packed on Saturday, but she’s trying to rearrange things so that she can end the day at a sports bar to take in the game. Her efforts to stream the game in the city’s Celebration Square were unfruitful, she said, because someone had already booked the venue.
“I want to encourage everyone to watch from home or from their favourite sports bar tomorrow, and cheer loudly so that hopefully she can hear us all the way in New York,” she said.