Bianca Andreescu has more matches to play and more work to do at the U.S. Open.
Who knows what will happen when she plays Elise Mertens in Wednesday’s quarterfinal match? Some questions have not yet been answered by the 19-year-old Canadian, but one important query has already been addressed.
Bianca Andreescu CAN handle the pressure of being a favorite.
This is not a complicated discussion, but it is an essential one: Can a player navigate the change of winds which occurs when an underdog identity turns into the expectations of being favored? Can a player steer the ship of her career safely into harbor at an important tournament when 50-mile-per-hour gusts are smacking her in the face, instead of being at her back?
Andreescu came out of nowhere to win Indian Wells in March. There was no pressure on her because (although she had been winning lots of matches) a lot of the work she had done had occurred at the lower levels of women’s tennis.
Indian Wells was the first prestigious tournament at which Andreescu thrived. There was no prior basis to expect she would conquer a tournament that important (a Premier Mandatory, of which there are only four on the WTA calendar each season).
In Toronto, a Premier 5 (a slight notch below a Premier Mandatory), Andreescu was more of a known entity, but because she had been away from the tour for four months, there was still absolutely no pressure on her back. Everyone was interested in seeing how Andreescu would recover from her shoulder injury. The pre-Toronto discussion was NOT: “How will Andreescu become the first Canadian woman to win the Rogers Cup since 1969?”
Only at this U.S. Open did Andreescu have pressure.
She was healthy. She had just won a big tournament. With Simona Halep — the elite player in her section of the draw — losing in round two, Andreescu became the favorite.
Yes, the favorite.
So far, so great.
Woz is the kind of litmus test opponent every player has to figure out how to beat. It's a tricky task that requires maturity, patience, and good execution. https://t.co/B5dZB4SPCv
— Juan José Vallejo (@jjvallejoa) August 31, 2019
Caroline Wozniacki, struggling with arthritis (revealed in the latter stages of the 2018 season), is not the player she was in early 2018 when she won the Australian Open. Andreescu was expected to beat Wozniacki in round three at the U.S. Open.
Taylor Townsend — whose win over Halep opened up the draw — was an underdog on Monday night. Andreescu was supposed to win. The unsteady second set from Andreescu revealed, at least to a degree, the pressure Andreescu felt in the moment. The Canadian — as she proves time and again — reset the dial in a third and final set. Whether as the underdog or now as a favorite, Andreescu’s tunnel vision remains intact.
This is not just a player playing with house money anymore. Now, Andreescu is facing genuine expectations. The fact that she is still making adjustments and not allowing winnable matches to slip away from her is powerful and revealing.
Bianca Andreescu is now 11-0 in third sets since Indian Wells (5 vs top 10 players) #USOpen
— Trenton Jocz (@TrentonJocz) September 3, 2019
A good time to remember that it's quite different to be the big favorite instead of the surprising underdog, particularly when you don't have much experience as the favorite. This is a thing all the greats learn to deal with.
— Juan José Vallejo (@jjvallejoa) September 3, 2019
If Bianca Andreescu loses to Elise Mertens in the quarterfinals, it would obviously be disappointing for reasons which don’t need to be explained. Canadian tennis fans would love to get a full-match Andreescu-Serena Williams final, the one they didn’t receive in Toronto when Serena suffered from acute back spasms. That is the match most North Americans want to see.
Yet, Mertens is a major semifinalist (2018 Australian Open) who has lost only 16 games through four rounds at this U.S. Open. Losing to Mertens would not be a bad loss in any way. Bianca Andreescu has already won four matches as a favorite. She has already reached her first major quarterfinal. She has already built on her Indian Wells and Toronto successes, establishing herself as a bigger force in women’s tennis.
Bigger challenges lie ahead for Andreescu, but she has already flown higher and traveled farther than anyone expected at the beginning of this year… or at the beginning of August, with injury-based uncertainties swirling about her.
She has already forged a U.S. Open she can be proud of. Now we will see just how proud she will be in the coming days, as she chases a major championship.