Thursday, August 17th, 2017

Andreescu, Abanda look to build on recent successes at Rogers Cup

Sunday, August 6th, 2017 at 7:47 pm , filed under Tennis News by

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TORONTO – Even as Eugenie Bouchard struggles to replicate the 2014 form that catapulted her to heights never reached by a female Canadian player, the Rogers Cup promises plenty of intrigue from the hometown field.

Joining Bouchard in the main draw in Toronto are two young upstarts who’ve sent ripples through the sport this summer, Bianca Andreescu and Francoise Abanda.

Andreescu, a 17-year-old Mississauga native who says she models her game after Simona Halep (with whom she shares Romanian roots), just made one of the splashier entrances onto the pro circuit you’ll see. This past week in Washington, in her first WTA main-draw appearance, Andreescu surged all the way to the quarterfinals, and surprised even herself by taking down world No. 13 Kristina Mladenovic in straight sets along the way.

“To be honest I didn’t think I could win that match,” Andreescu told theScore at the Aviva Centre on Sunday. “But I believed in myself and just (left) it all on the court. I think it really gave me a lot of confidence, especially coming into Rogers Cup – and experience as well, which is what I need right now.”

Though she handled the transition about as well as could be expected, Andreescu also came away from her WTA debut with some hard-won lessons after she fell to Andrea Petkovic in the quarters despite winning the first set.

“The difference between the juniors and the pros I think is that with the juniors you can slide off with a couple points during the match, but in the pros you have to stay on it, every point,” Andreescu said Sunday. “You just have to be in the zone, or else they’ll come back.”

Andreescu’s season has featured two junior Grand Slam doubles titles with partner and fellow Canadian teen Carson Branstine, and while she plans to focus more on singles moving forward as a pro, she hopes doubles will continue to be a part of her career.

“I haven’t really talked about that with my team yet, but I think playing doubles would really help my singles,” she said. “Obviously singles would be a priority, but doubles I think would be really fun to play.”

For now, she’s concentrating on what’s in front of her: a chance to make a mark at a tournament she’s been coming to since she was a child.

“I came almost every year since maybe 2010,” she told reporters. “I remember I watched Belinda Bencic in the finals* against Serena (in 2015), which was really amazing. She was really young. I pictured myself in her spot. So maybe one day I’ll achieve that.”

Abanda is taller and more naturally powerful – if less consistent – than her compatriot (she idolizes Venus Williams, which should tell you plenty about the differences in hers and Andreescu’s games). While she’s been around the pro tour a while longer, it’s only recently that Abanda’s talent has begun to shine through.

She made the second round at a Slam for the first time at this year’s French Open, then matched that result at Wimbledon, with one crucial difference: While she got double-bageled by Caroline Wozniacki in the second round at Roland Garros, she gave French Open champ Jelena Ostapenko all she could handle at Wimbledon, winning the first set and going up a break in both the second and third sets before dropping a heartbreaker.

Despite the sting of that defeat, Abanda had only positive takeaways.

“I think it showed me I’m very, very close,” she told theScore. “To breaking top 100, to winning these big matches. Obviously I have a few (things) to improve, but I feel like I’m very close, and obviously it was a match I could have won. It (just) didn’t really go my way.”

The 20-year-old Montrealer has largely relied on herself to address those areas of weakness. She’s yet to find a full-time coach that suits her (she’s been playing without one since April), and said she plans to fly solo until at least the US Open.

This will be Abanda’s fourth main-draw appearance at the Rogers Cup, and she’ll be trying to advance past the second round for the first time. That’ll be a tall order, with a first-round matchup against Lucie Safarova and a potential second-rounder against world No. 11 Dominika Cibulkova on tap, but Abanda feels prepared.

“I feel like I have a little bit of experience now coming in this year,” she said.

“I’m really ready.”

Done with their media duties for the day, Andreescu and Abanda took the court together to play a practice set and prepare each other for the challenges that await them in the main draw.

“With everyone doing so well in Canadian tennis right now,” Andreescu said, “I think we all motivate each other to do better and better.”

*Bencic did win the title in 2015, but it was the semis, not the final, when she beat Serena Williams.

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