Finding balance between tennis and health key to Andreescu’s success

Like many of her colleagues, Bianca Andreescu spent two weeks in Australia earlier this year in isolation. She worked out of her hotel room, talked on the phone with family and friends, and watched YouTube videos on her laptop. She also took the time to watch herself. More specifically, her searing, sensational 2019 self.

“The quarantine was kind of like a heart-stop,” Andreescu said earlier this week before the start of the Miami Open. “I was super-lucky I was able to get [2019] under my belt before the pandemic. Watching myself play, I kept remembering what I was capable of. It gave me motivation and inspired me to keep pushing.”

After a shortened 2020, a month in Australia answered many of the early questions percolating in and around women’s tennis.

Naomi Osaka remains the one to beat on Grand Slam hardcourts. Serena Williams is still a major player. Ashleigh Barty and Simona Halep – and a resurgent Garbine Muguruza – can still do serious damage.

Perhaps the biggest question at the second 1000-level event of the season: What to expect from Andreescu?

Bianca Andreescu: Feeling at home in Miami

After winning the 2019 US Open, she did not compete in 2020 while recovering from a serious knee injury. Following that hard quarantine Down Under, she played only six matches, losing to Hsieh Su-Wei (ranked No. 71) and Marie Bouzkova (No. 52). Five weeks, including another two-week quarantine in Canada, have since passed.

Her brief history suggests good things will happen.

Some context: Not only is Andreescu, at 20, easily the youngest player in the WTA top 10, but outside of Williams, she has the best career winning percentage. The Canadian already has produced a record of 141-52 (.731.) Barty (.730) and Halep (.704) are right behind, followed by Petra Kvitova (.696), Elina Svitolina (.659), Aryna Sabalenka (.657), Osaka (.646), Karolina Pliskova (.642) and Kenin (.640).

All of them, with the exception of Williams – who withdrew following oral surgery – are playing Miami.

Andreescu laughed when informed of her status among the game’s elite.

“No, I didn’t know that,” she said. “That’s really, really cool. My results prove that I deserve to be there, and that makes me very confident. I’ll keep trying to show people – and myself – that I’m not just a one-hit wonder.”

Pam Shriver, winner of 21 WTA singles and 22 Grand Slam doubles titles, agrees.

“I think she’s proven to us that she can play, the way she’s won the last Indian Wells, the way she won the Rogers Cup, the US Open,” Shriver said. “She can definitely be the best in the world, but – and this is one of the biggest question marks in tennis – can she stay healthy over any period of time?”

Asked about Andreescu’s strengths, Shriver, currently an ESPN analyst, added, “It’s a bit of everything. In my opinion, the physicality of her movement. Think [Kim] Clijsters. I actually think she presents stronger than Clijsters in her movement. The violent nature of her movement.”

That violence, a rare combination of power and speed, has sometimes been too much for Andreescu’s body to bear.

When asked in a few words, how she would describe her style of play …

“Oh, good question,” Andreescu said after a long pause. “I would say … variety. Physical.”

Fearless, perhaps?

“I was trying to come up with a word that goes with the mental aspect,’ she continued. “I was going to go with determined, but I like fearless better.”

Going back to juniors, Andreescu has been repeatedly troubled by injuries – a torn adductor, a tweaked ankle, a stress fracture of the foot and a chronically ailing back. In many ways, the 2019 season was a microcosm of her on-court brilliance and her inability to stay healthy.

Andreescu, who had played almost exclusively ITF events coming into 2019, began that year ranked No. 152. After winning four of five matches in Melbourne, including qualifying, she (then just 18) took the title at the Oracle Challenger Series in Newport Beach, won a pair of Fed Cup matches, then reached the semifinals at Acapulco. In all, she won 14 of 16 matches and received a wildcard for Indian Wells.

She more than justified that faith, winning all seven of her matches in stunning fashion. The last three came against Muguruza, Svitolina and Angelique Kerber, all top 20 players. An unseeded teenager had won her first full-fledged WTA title, and a huge one. She was the youngest winner at Indian Wells in two decades. Where, the tennis world wondered, did that come from?

But then she missed two months with shoulder and foot injuries before emerging triumphant again in Toronto, beating three more top 10 players. She won the Rogers Cup when Serena retired in the final after four games.

“I want to be a human being first. Instead of feeling like a robot, go, go, go.”

A month later, Andreescu beat Serena properly, 6-3, 7-5, in the US Open final for her first Grand Slam title.

Just weeks after her greatest triumph, her season ended at the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen with a torn meniscus. She had her bad days, she acknowledged, when she would just sit on her bed and cry because she couldn’t do anything.

That left knee never required surgery, but the injury lingered. She’s now played only those six Australian matches in the past 16 months.

In recent years, some young players have struggled in the wake of a major breakthrough. For Andreescu, it served more as a reset. Quarantining in Canada after Australia, she played a lot of Xbox, made music, played with her toy poodle, Coco, and read a ton of books.

“Just getting out of my head, really,” Andreescu said. “I think we all need that sometimes. I want to be a human being first. Instead of feeling like a robot, go, go, go.”

In retrospect, maybe the sabbatical was a good thing.

“Having the success so quickly, it was kind of like a punch to the stomach because no one was expecting it,” she said. “It’s a completely different ballgame, going from the ITF to the WTA. Now I know what to expect.

“I know my body a lot better, that’s the most important thing. Out here, we put our bodies through a lot. Hopefully, now, with experience I’ll have fewer injuries.”

And return to her searing, sensational 2019 self.