By Mike McIntyre
Photo Credit: Peter Figura
With an unprecedented level of Canadian talent currently on display on the professional tennis circuit it can be easy for fans in this country to focus on the present without giving much thought to what lies ahead. Milos Raonic has just defeated Roger Federer to start the year with a title in Brisbane, Vasek Pospisil seems poised to build on making the quarterfinals of Wimbledon last summer and Genie Bouchard is starting to show signs of regaining her form from 2014 where she rose to No. 5 in the world rankings. While Canadian tennis fans have much to be excited about right now, there is also plenty of reason for optimism with the next wave of emerging tennis players that are quickly making a name for themselves as they come up the ranks.
Leading the charge among our rising female tennis players is fifteen year old Bianca Andreescu. Despite her young age, Andreescu has already proven that she can hang with older competition and her success in 2015 propelled her all the way to number four in the ITF junior world rankings. Just how far can the youngster go? I sat down with Andreescu just before Christmas to get her views on her potential as a professional tennis player and the events that have led her to this point.
Photo Credit: Mike McIntyre
Born in Mississauga but beginning to develop her tennis skills as a child in Romania between the ages of six and eight, Andreescu was not raised as a total tennis fanatic. She does not recall having a favourite player growing up and revealed that tennis became more of a priority for her when she turned twelve. Since then the improvements in her game have come quickly and have attracted the attention of Tennis Canada who continue to help her progression as an elite young tennis player.
Andreescu now works heavily with retired pro Nathalie Tauziat, former Wimbledon finalist in 1998, who travels with her to all of her tournaments. Andreescu has seen her baseline game and attacking style flourish under the tutelage of Tauziat and fully realizes that she is lucky to have someone of that caliber coaching her at such a young age.
“I’m very fortunate to have her as my coach” Andreescu acknowledges, “she used to be top 3 in the world.”
The success that Andreescu has recently experienced goes a long way towards justifying the attention and emphasis that Tennis Canada has placed on her. Highlights in 2015 by Andreescu’s own admission include winning the Canadian Open Junior and reaching the finals of the $25,000 Pro event in Gatineau where she fell to American Alexa Glatch who was ranked 155th in the WTA rankings at the time and who is more than ten years Andreescu’s senior. She also enjoyed helping Canada to a third place finish in the Junior Fed Cup and made her debut in the qualifying draw at the Rogers Cup in Toronto in August. Andreescu’s biggest moment though was the way she finished her season by winning the Metropolia under 18 Orange Bowl International Tennis Championship in December. Andreescu had won the Under 16 version of the tournament a year ago and joins some pretty elite company who have won the two back-to-back including Chris Evert and Mary Joe Fernandez on the women’s side and Ivan Lendl and Jim Courier among the men.
Photo Credit: Christopher Levy
“Winning this tournament gave me a lot of confidence especially against tough opponents but now I know that if I put my mind to it I can beat anyone. I actually dreamt of this moment, I visualized me holding that trophy and I believed it and it came true. I try to visualize every night basically how I want to play each match and what I want to accomplish.”
As I chatted with Andreescu I was struck by her incredible poise and maturity in articulating her grasp of where her game is at the moment and what remains for her to work on in order to attain her future goals. She feels that her serve and return of serve are areas that require increased focus as she begins to play more experienced and powerful opponents. There exists a big gap in ability between junior level players and the pros amongst whose ranks Andreescu aims to one day join.
“I feel like most junior player compared to the pros they don’t hit as hard and as deep and they don’t play with the passion that the pros play I guess,” Andreescu remarked.
The young Canadian did have the opportunity just prior to Christmas to hit a few balls with fellow Canadian Genie Bouchard while down south in Key Biscayne. She found the experience an enjoyable one and noted that, “I was holding my ground. But I thought she would hit harder though!”
While Canada is at present arguably enjoying its highest ever success levels on the international tennis scene, Tennis Canada is hard at work behind the scenes to ensure that the next wave of Canadian talent finds its way to the top of the sport in order to continue this newly established legacy. That being said, there is certainly no reason to rush youngsters like Andreescu into the professional ranks if they are not yet ready or could benefit from more time at the junior level. Gone it seems are the days of teenagers winning Grand Slams as they once did with Steffi Graf, Monica Seles, Martina Hingis and Maria Sharapova. Today’s female tennis players need a little more time to develop and find that added power that is required to hit with the likes of Serena Williams or Andreescu’s current idol, Romanian Simona Halep.
In between all the time spent on court and completing her high school degree online, Andreescu does try to maintain some semblance of normalcy in her life but finds it difficult to partake in regular teenage activities like going to the movies and seeing her friends back home in Vaughan.
Asked what she misses the most of maintaining a regular teenage schedule she stated , “Basically all the social stuff. I barely have time for that because I’m basically playing tennis all the time and doing homework. It’s really hard.”
Yet when I talked to her about specific goals for the coming season, Andreescu sounds like someone who is focused entirely on becoming the best tennis player she possibly can even if that means giving up a few things in her personal life. “My goal for next year is to reach the top two hundred in the WTA,” she said. “And for juniors, I mean, I’d like to win a Grand Slam and to finish number one next year.” Her ambitions are high but given what she has accomplished over the past twelve months, I don’t think anyone can argue that the potential is definitely there. The future of tennis in Canada looks promising with the likes of Bianca Andreescu leading the charge.