Most of us have never seen her lose.
That’s how fast and unexpected and remarkable this has been. Way back on March 1, in the semi-finals of the Mexican Open, a third-tier event in Acapulco, Bianca Andreescu fell in three sets to Sofia Kenin, then the 35th ranked player in the world. She took home a check for $11,500.
She had made a bit of noise earlier in the season, beating Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniaki in Auckland en route to the Australian Open as a qualifier, but beyond the tennis hard core, those victories hardly caused a ripple.
And before that, Andreescu was precisely as famous as you’d expect the 152nd ranked player in the world to be.
Then, immediately after Acapulco, Andreescu won Indian Wells, sort of the fifth major, and this crazy ride began.
Her only two losses since, a retirement and a walk-over, were forced by injury. Andreescu has otherwise been untouchable. The odd wobble here, the brief loss of form there, but no one has been able to beat her when she was able to finish a match, and there is every reason to believe that in this moment, she is the finest female tennis player on Earth.
That truth was, of course, hammered home on Saturday afternoon, when Andreescu defeated the greatest female player in history, Serena Williams, in straight sets in the final of the U.S. Open — the first Grand Slam victory by a Canadian.
It wasn’t quite prime time Serena, at age 37, but it was very, very good Serena, riding an emotional high after dominating her side of the draw. So no asterisks here. Just try and come up with a historical list of the players Andreescu wouldn’t have beaten that afternoon in Flushing Meadows.
The image of her victory, Andreescu lying on the court, spread eagled as though about to make a snow angel, staring into the New York sky, is already one that belongs on a stamp. She has been propelled over those eight months from obscurity to full-on national sports hero.
And we, as a country, have entered uncharted territory. You can start searching for comparables, but they just aren’t really there.
In tennis, Carling Bassett made it as far as the U.S. Open semis, and Milos Raonic and Genie Bouchard both made Grand Slam finals – Bouchard also made it to two Grand Slam semis – and peaked at number three in the world. Perhaps it’s merely the power of hindsight that paints those results as unsustainable, but the truth is, none of them won, and for all of the excitement in the moment, it didn’t feel anything like this.
In other individual sports, there’s Mike Weir winning the Masters and Lennox Lewis winning the heavweight championship, Brooke Henderson’s recent triumphs and Ben Johnson and Donovan Bailey and a long list of Olympians who at least temporarily captured the country’s heart.
None of those, though, came so quickly, so out of the blue.
Emotionally, the can’t-stop-smiling part of this feels closest to the Raptors’ championship, not just because of She The North, but by the way something went from specific to universal so quickly, by the way it became one big, ecstatic social-media driven national hug.
And now to figure out who this young woman is, since there hasn’t really been time for that. Even the marketers are scrambling to catch up.
You will hear very much in the coming days about her parents and their classic, immigrant story (not a bad time to be reminded of just how Canadian that story is….), about her little dog Coco, about her coach Sylvain Bruneau, about her dogged rise through the ranks when no one was paying attention, about the sacrifices made, about her diet and training regimen, about how she might fare in Melbourne in January, about how she’ll approach the red clay of Roland Garros or the grass courts of Wimbledon next summer, about what it will be like to return to New York as a defending champion, with expectations turned on their head.
How Andreescu handles that whirlwind will be telling. But absolutely no one is doubting that she has the tools, and the varied, nuanced game, to continue to succeed at this level.
At age 19, it’s understandable that Andreescu doesn’t really have the words to describe what she’s living through. In some ways, she is processing it along with the rest of us.
But there is a look in her eyes that, in the context of what we have just witnessed, speaks to a level of confidence that only the greatest athletes possess. It’s as if she was shocked by the moment, yet absolutely unsurprised by the result.
Amazing enough when it comes from a Tom Brady or Sidney Crosby. On a whole other level when it comes from a teenager who has never been this way before.
Emotionally, it might never be so sweet and fresh and beautiful again, and Canadian sports fans have been historically conditioned to wait for bubbles to burst.
But there’s nothing to dread here. Instead sit back, savour what we’ve just witnessed, and imagine the journey to come.