Bianca Andreescu’s Extended Break From Tennis Has Served Her Well

ROME – Bianca Andreescu’s first Italian open had just come to an understandable halt in the quarterfinals against Iga Swiatek, a steamroller disguised as a tennis star.

But even after failing to prevent the top-ranked Swiatek from extending her winning streak to 26 matches, Andreescu still took a seat in the Roman sunshine with a broad smile on her face.

Defeat at this stage does not have the same hard edge that the defeat has in other phases of her career.

“Honestly, I’m just fired up to get back out there and play her again,” Andreescu said in an interview after her loss, 7-6 (2), 6-0, on Friday. “If I look at myself a year ago, there’s just been so much progress in the way I’m handling back tours and my wins and my losses. I ‘m just super motivated. I want to go back to court right now and work on being more aggressive or whatnot. “

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

Ranked a career-high No. 4 in the month that followed, she will be No. 72 on Monday but still has that beguiling blend of finesse and punch and a rare ability to shift gears and spins. She also has a powerful leg reminiscent of her role model Kim Clijsters that helps her cover the court explosively and generate big-time pace while lacking the leverage of taller players (she is 5-foot-6).

“There’s no shot she can’t hit,” said Daniela Hantuchová, an analyst and former top-five player who was commenting on the courtside on Friday as Andreescu and Swiatek played on the tour for the first time.

“In that first set, Bianca wasn’t far from her top level at all,” Hantuchová said. “For me, that was the best set of tennis in the women’s tournament so far. In a way, it almost feels like a mirror against a mirror. They have different techniques, but they have points between their routines mentally, and tactically they know exactly what they are trying to do out there. Both are great athletes, and I kept saying during the match that I hope we see this matchup more often. It would be a wonderful rivalry to have. “

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

She used her time off to do community service, 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 supplement visualization and meditation work that she, like Swiatek, started during her junior career and has cited one of the keys to her precocious, if intermittent, success. General Chat Chat Lounge

“After Indian Wells, I legit, like, didn’t want to play anymore,” she said. “I don’t know if I was being dramatic, but that’s just how I was feeling in the moment. But now, I’m just super happy that I didn’t stop, because having that time off really made me appreciate my time on the court more now, because that was a decision that came from me. It wasn’t anything external like injuries or an illness or whatever. It was my call, and so I felt very empowered, and that was a big step in taking more control over my life and just not putting pressure on myself and just enjoying myself.

“During that break, I did basically everything I love to do, and I told myself if I do come back, I want to be in the same mind-set. Obviously, I want to be competitive and upset if I lose, but I also want to feel that I enjoy myself on the court and that I’m more motivated after a loss instead of just crawling in my bed and just like crying all night, which I was doing last year. “

Andreescu, like her fellow tennis star Naomi Osaka and some other prominent athletes of her generation, has been open about the mental-health challenges she faces. With three tournaments in her latest comeback, Andreescu is clearly in a better place and will head into the French Open with the red clay that suits her varied game.

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

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

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

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

“They can call me out without being defensive, and I think that really helps,” she said.

Groeneveld, whose highest-profile pupil in recent years was the now-retired Maria Sharapova, declined to comment on Andreescu because they are “still early” in their relationship. But he has a systematic approach to his work, sitting courtside during matches and noting the score point by point along with the key patterns of play and other details, including the concentration in a player’s lapses.

“He could write like 10 books with all the notes he ‘s taking. 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 a picture book titled herself “Bibi’s Got” last year. Game: A Story About Tennis, Meditation and a Dog Named Coco. “

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

She has an incandescent game as clear as Hantuchová and anyone else who watched the opening set on Friday before Swiatek kicked into a gear that Andreescu was not ready to match, at least not yet.

“She clearly gained some confidence from that first set,” Andreescu said. “I was trying to be more aggressive, but at least in the second set I was missing by inches. But she’s on a 25-match streak, well, make that 26 now, for a reason. “

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