Bianca Andreescu’s extended tennis hiatus has served her well

ROME — Bianca Andreescu’s first Italian Open had just stalled in the quarter-finals against Iga Swiatek, a steamroller disguised as a tennis star.

But even after failing to stop top-ranked Swiatek from extending her winning streak to 26 games, Andreescu still took a seat in the Roman sun with a big smile on her face.

A defeat at this stage does not have the same hard advantage as a defeat in other phases of her career.

“Honestly, I’m just excited to get back out there and play her again,” Andreescu said in an interview after her loss, 7-6(2), 6-0, on Friday. “When I look at myself a year ago, so much progress has been made in the way I deal with the weather on tour and my wins and my losses. I’m just super motivated. I want to go back to court now and work on being more aggressive or something.”

Andreescu, a 21-year-old Canadian from the suburbs of Toronto, remains one of tennis’s great talents, which she made abundantly clear in 2019 by winning the US Open singles title in her first attempt by Serena Williams in straight sets. defeat.

Ranked as a career high number 4 in the month that followed, she will be number 72 on Monday, but still has that mesmerizing mix of finesse and punch and a rare ability to shift gears and spins. She also has powerful legs reminiscent of her role model Kim Clijsters, which help her blast the field and generate a fast pace despite lacking the leverage of bigger players (she’s six feet tall).

“There isn’t a shot she can’t hit,” said Daniela Hantuchová, an analyst and former top five player who commented on the court on Friday when Andreescu and Swiatek were on tour for the first time.

“In that first set, Bianca was not far from her top level,” said Hantuchová. “That was the best set of tennis for me in the women’s tournament so far. In a way, it almost feels like a mirror against a mirror. They have a different technique but they have their routines between the points mentally and tactically they know exactly what they are trying to do. Both are great athletes and I kept saying throughout the game that I hope we see this match-up more often. It would be a great rivalry to have.”

But until now, unlike 20-year-old Swiatek, Andreescu has only been a part-time threat. There has been a series of injuries, a career long concern and more recently the malaise that led her to take her most recent extended break after the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, in October 2021, before returning for a tournament in Stuttgart previous month.

She used her free time to do community services, volunteering at a children’s hospital and a shelter for victims of domestic violence. She went to a wellness retreat in Costa Rica and focused on developing more mental tools to complement the visualization and meditation work she, like Swiatek, began during her junior career and has cited as one of the keys to her precociousness. , albeit intermittently, success .

“After Indian Wells, I honestly didn’t want to play anymore,” she said. “I don’t know if I was being dramatic, but that’s how I felt at the time. But now I’m just super happy that I didn’t stop, because that free time has made me appreciate my time on the track more, because that It was a decision that came from me It was nothing external like injury or an illness or anything It was my calling so I felt very empowered and that was a big step for me to take more control of my life get and not pressure myself and just enjoy.

“During that break, I basically did everything I love to do, and I told myself that when I come back, I want to stay in the same spirit. Of course I want to be competitive and be upset if I lose, for example, but I also want to feel that I’m having a good time on the track and that I’m more motivated after a loss instead of just crawling in bed and crying all night, which I did last year.”

Andreescu, like her fellow tennis star Naomi Osaka and several other prominent athletes of their generation, has been open about the mental health challenges she faces. Three tournaments into her latest comeback, Andreescu is clearly in a better place and will enter the French Open with momentum on the red clay to match her varied game.

She arrived at Friday’s interview with no tape on her body or ice packs in tow.

“Nothing,” she said. “I’m just super grateful for my body, especially because that’s been a huge problem. But I can see myself becoming a great clay court player if I just keep doing good and working hard in practice and believing in myself.”

The challenge on tour – a 10-month test of stamina and resilience – is to maintain health and enthusiasm.

Her team, led by the experienced coach Sven Groeneveld, is focused on keeping her fresh and, according to Andreescu, also calling her bluff.

“They can yell at me without me getting defensive, and I think that really helps,” she said.

Groeneveld, whose most prominent student in recent years was now retired Maria Sharapova, declined to comment on Andreescu because they are “too early” in their relationship. But he has a systematic approach to his work, sitting on the field during matches and noting the score point by point, along with key game patterns and other details, including a player’s lack of concentration.

“He could write ten books with all the notes he takes. It’s hilarious,” Andreescu said.

Andreescu, as Canada’s first and only Grand Slam singles champion, has already written a book about her called “Bianca Andreescu: She the North” published in 2019, and has written one herself, a picture book published last year featuring the title “Bibi’s Got Game: A Tale of Tennis, Meditation and a Dog Named Coco.”

But with the surprising retirement of reigning Wimbledon and Australian Open champion Ashleigh Barty earlier this season, the women’s game leaders can only hope Andreescu’s tennis story is just beginning.

She has a glowing game, as was apparent to Hantuchová and anyone who saw Friday’s opening set before Swiatek kicked into gear Andreescu wasn’t ready for, at least not yet.

“She clearly got some confidence from that first set,” Andreescu said. “I tried to be more aggressive, but at least in the second set I missed centimeters. But she has a run of 25 games, don’t make those 26 for nothing.”

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