Wednesday, October 18th, 2017

Andreescu wins a battle, loses the war in sobering hometown debut

Wednesday, August 9th, 2017 at 4:01 pm , filed under Tennis News by

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TORONTO – Bianca Andreescu had just gotten broken, and her opponent, Timea Babos, was serving for the first set of their first-round Rogers Cup match. Babos had come into the tournament on a nine-match losing streak, but seemed to be finding her form, serving well and finding the range on her groundstrokes. Andreescu had yet to earn even a break point in the set.

In the first point of the ninth game, Babos countered a well-struck return with a stinging forehand right down the line. Andreescu had to slide to her backhand side just to get a racket on the ball, lofting it back to the service line. Babos then wound up for the knockout punch, and sent back an angled cross-court forehand that should’ve killed the point. Instead, Andreescu caught up to it again, stuck out her racket, and poked the ball back.

It clipped the net cord on its way over, leaving Babos in a tough spot, with the ball at her ankles and no room to work with. She improvised nicely, chipping a backhand dropper at an acute angle. Andreescu ran it down, dug it out from a couple inches off the concrete, and flipped it into Babos’ deuce corner. She was already smiling at that point, even as Babos prepared to send a forehand into the open court. But the Hungarian put too much air under her shot, and Andreescu had time to cut off the angle and hit an excuse-me drop volley off the top of her frame. Point.

The Centre Court crowd in Toronto – trying to buoy the last remaining Canadian woman in the singles draw – erupted. Andreescu, giddy, turned to them, raised her arms, and urged them to get even rowdier.

“I love to try to put on a show for the crowd,” the 17-year-old said after the match. “That was a crazy point. I don’t even know how I won that. I fought ’til the end, and I got it.”

Andreescu would go on to break and get back on serve, but she’d get rebroken the following game to lose the set, and win just one game the rest of the way. She struggled to read Babos’ serve, struggled to land her own first serves, and saw her ground game grow increasingly wobbly as the match went on. She’d won a heck of a battle, but she lost the war pretty handily.

Still, she was grateful for the experience, and vowed to commit its lessons to memory.

“Every match I play I try to learn from it and I try to improve on certain things,” Andreescu said, citing her service game as the area she feels needs the most work. “I’m probably going to go tomorrow and hit many buckets of serves.”

Simona Halep, the player Andreescu says she most admires and tries to emulate, would likely agree that the experience was more important than the outcome for her disciple. She told theScore earlier this week that the advice she gave Andreescu, when the two met in Montreal last year, was to play pro matches as early and often as possible.

“I told her to move, not to play juniors anymore,” said Halep, who stayed in juniors until she was 18 and wishes she’d gotten the same advice. “I think it’s good for her, because she needs to face the stronger players.”

Part of that process, though, is maintaining reasonable expectations. Before Andreescu’s match, Eugenie Bouchard (fresh off her own first-round loss) complimented her compatriot, and half-joked that perhaps now “someone else can carry the burden of Canada.”

Expectations had been understandably high, given that Andreescu was coming off a quarterfinal appearance and a top-20 win in her first-ever WTA main draw in Washington last week. She got Centre Court, night-session billing, and had drawn a badly slumping opponent. After that hair-raising point, and the timely break that followed, it seemed like she might be ready to ride the crowd’s energy and make good.

But then she reminded everyone that she’s a teenager who can count the number of WTA matches she’s played on one hand. And perhaps the outsized pressure placed on Bouchard these past few years, both by others and by herself, will be instructive. Andreescu may well be able to take on – or at least share – that burden in the future, but her Rogers Cup main-draw debut suggested she’s not ready just yet.

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