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Canadian teen Andreescu holds her nerve to beat Williams in US Open final
UPHOLDING the premise that she possesses otherworldly guts, the 19-year-old Bianca Andreescu foiled both Serena Williams and a blaring Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd on Saturday (Sunday morning, Singapore time) at the US Open, forging one breakthrough and thwarting another.
She became the first Grand Slam singles champion from the flourishing tennis country of Canada, and she curbed Williams' latest push for a 24th such title that would level her with Margaret Court atop the all-time chart.
Further, the Ontario-born daughter of Romanian immigrants spent the closing scenes of her 6-3, 7-5 win regathering herself on the fly amid pretty much the most harrowing turn a woman on court could face during these last 20 years: Williams blasting back from a deficit, in this case from 5-1 to 5-5.
Then Andreescu dropped the curtain fittingly, taking a 119-kph second serve and sending it screaming like the Canadian wind past Williams on her forehand wing.
"I told myself to put the ball in the court," Andreescu said of that last game, "and just breathe as much as I could because she was serving, first of all."
Indeed, Williams was serving, a spectre causing many a quiver across these last 20 years. But she directed in only two of six first serves that last game, lowering her dismal match-long, first-serve percentage of 44, and she saw her record in service games plummet to a shocking 5-6, quite apart from 51-3 in the first six rounds.
"All of it is honestly, truly super frustrating," Williams said of her fourth straight-sets loss in a Grand Slam final in the last two years. "I'm, so close yet so far away. I don't know what to say. I guess I got to keep going if I want to be a professional tennis player."
All the while, as Andreescu posted 17 unforced errors to Williams' 33, and as she fulfilled her game plan of making Williams play as many balls as possible, Andreescu had tweaked the perception of an occasion that came just four weekends earlier.
When the 37-year-old Williams retired against Andreescu after four games in the Rogers Cup final in Toronto, and when Andreescu walked over to console Williams while giving her the jock compliment "beast", that setting clearly featured two "beasts".
The younger "beast" indicated as much on Saturday in her first Grand Slam final, against a player in her 33rd, by improving her record against top-10 players this year to 8-0.
Her name readied to romp further up the rankings from No 15 and into the top five, which counts as really something given she spent last New Year's Day at a lowly No 178. All this got real 12 months after Andreescu entered US Open qualifying, then exited tepidly in one mere match.
"It's crazy, man, I've been" - and then Andreescu lowered her head and started to cry, before continuing: "I've been dreaming of this moment for the longest time."
She did all this in a setting that appeared tilted against her. The crowd rang with vehemence toward Williams but without hostility toward Andreescu from the moment it saw Williams on the video screen walking down the hallway toward the court.
A stunning 20 years after Williams first appeared in a US Open final, she walked out as a finalist in a futuristic setting, Andreescu wearing white earphones. The roof was open, the weather was pristine and the clouds were puffy and harmless.
Then the first game told much. In it, Williams led 40-15, but Andreescu got her into banging exchanges that led to two Williams errors.
"I think she was intimidated a little bit by it," Andreescu said.
At deuce, Williams double-faulted, long twice. At break point, Williams double-faulted again, the first long, the second netted. The score went to 4-2 on serve from there, with an audience hungry for tennis history seeming to carry a sense of not again, with Williams having lost three previous Grand Slam finals in the last two years, all in straight sets, since returning from childbirth.
With Williams serving at 2-4, Andreescu submitted her to five break points, all of which Williams saved as she showed her own familiar reservoir of will to hold.
Yet when Williams got to 3-4 and then got to her first break point in that next game, Andreescu seemed so rattled that she placed a 170-kmh ace into the corner. She held, then broke Williams, the set bookended with Williams' third of eight double faults.
Andreescu began playing without concern, and Williams began coming unglued. Andreescu hurried to a match point at 5-1, but Williams presented a beautiful forehand return.
Then: "I just couldn't go down like that," Williams would say.
In the quirky construct of tennis, some players have home Grand Slams while most others do not, and so Andreescu would say: "I could barely hear myself think, really. It was really, really loud. But I guess that's what makes this tournament so special. I'm sure it's really nice for the Americans to come on that court."
Noise cascaded. Andreescu covered her ears. Williams cleaned up her game, got close to airtight and fought. Then, with a hold at 30 featuring two service winners and a break at 30 with ripped shots, Andreescu fought more.
"I've really strived to be like her," she said of Williams, "and who knows, maybe I can be even better." Soon, her coach, Sylvain Bruneau joined her in the interview room for a trophy presentation.
"I'm not used to this," he said, standing next to her. "Well, get used to it," was the reply from Andreescu. WP