Bianca Andreescu’s U.S. Open title is the biggest moment yet for a Canadian tennis star. But players from Canada have been flirting with this kind of success for several years, skyrocketing up the rankings and priming the nation’s excitement for the sport.
You can make a Tennis Canada connection to all of them, from Andreescu to Milos Raonic, Eugenie Bouchard, Denis Shapovalov or Félix Auger-Aliassime.
While becoming a Grand Slam champion and a world No. 1 is a dream shared by many young Canadian players, their development paths are individually designed. Some spend years training full-time at Montreal’s training centre. Others have accepted some financial support from Tennis Canada, but received much of their coaching from family, or from abroad.
When Andreescu was 14 – five years before becoming Canada’s first Grand Slam singles champion – Tennis Canada recognized her unique talents and paired her up with Nathalie Tauziat, a former WTA world No. 3 and Wimbledon finalist who had also coached Bouchard.
Andreescu, who had been in Tennis Canada’s regional programs since she was 10, had just become the third Canadian, behind Gabriela Dabrowski and Edward Nguyen, to win Les Petits As, a premier international tournament for juniors aged 12-14 staged in Tarbes, France. Tennis legends such as Rafael Nadal, Martina Hingis and Kim Clijsters had all won the event.
“When I first saw Bianca, she was already special because she could do so many things with her hands on the court compared to other girls her age,” Tauziat said on Sunday from her home in France, where she had watched Andreescu win the U.S. Open on TV. “I was happy because we could concentrate on many things in her game. I always told her the best way to get better is to do be able to everything.”
Andreescu’s individualized plan over the next few years included sharing her time with coach Andre Labelle in Toronto, and with Tauziat in Montreal, Toronto or France. The Frenchwoman recalls an International Tennis Federation event Andreescu won in La Paz soon after they began working together.
“I was surprised to see someone so young acting so professionally at age 14,” Tauziat recalled.
That same year, Andreescu also followed a string of Canadian girls to win an elite under-16 tournament in Florida called the Orange Bowl. She then returned a year later to win the under-18 Orange Bowl at 15. There, Andreescu upset a higher-seeded American named Kayla Day, who had squashed the Canadian in straight sets just a month earlier in Mexico.
“That was special, because in the Orange Bowl we changed something tactically against Kayla, and then Bianca won the second time,” Tauziat said. “Whenever she lost, she always found a way to quickly resolve the problem. She has always been good at that.”
Andreescu garnered interest from U.S. colleges offering tennis scholarships, but both she and her parents were unwavering in their decision to pursue a pro career. She won doubles titles in 2017 with fellow Canadian Carson Branstine at both the junior Australian and French Opens.
Many Canadian juniors won boys’ or girls’ singles titles at the Grand Slams and that was among Andreescu’s goals, too. In 2012, Filip Peliwo hoisted the boys’ trophy at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Bouchard earned the girls’ title at Wimbledon in 2012, then Shapovalov won there in 2016, before Auger-Aliassime triumphed at the U.S. Open later that summer.
“Bianca never won a Slam in singles when she was in juniors and she was a little bit disappointed,” Tauziat said. “… I said, ‘Bianca, it’s not a big deal if you don’t win it in juniors, the most important is to win it in seniors.’”
She struggled with foot and back injuries over some of those seasons, but found ways to put in work even when she couldn’t play – building her strength and fitness in the gym or hitting balls from a rolling office chair with her feet elevated.
Her potential was obvious back then to player agent Jonathan Dasnières de Veigy, a former French player who would eventually represent her.
“She was capable of doing so much with the ball on the court already at 15, 16. Her game was pretty complete already,” he said in an interview with The Globe and Mail last spring. “Many of the girls on the tour play the same – they hit the ball hard. She was capable of mixing it up, putting some top spin on it, drop shots.
“I was very excited about this kind of game and to see how she would develop in the future. She was already a true warrior, very competitive, and that’s important when you know it will be tough on the pro tour.”
Andreescu needed a coach with her full time on the road as she narrowed in on her pro career. Tennis Canada’s vice-president of high performance and athlete development, Louis Borfiga, decided to make Sylvain Bruneau her full-time coach. They began their partnership in March, 2018, as she hovered around the WTA’s top 200.
Andreescu closed out that year by building up her fitness and her confidence with matches in North American tournaments on the ITF women’s circuit, a development track for the WTA Tour – where she won 18 of her 21 contests and earned two titles.
While that may not have been the course needed for every player, it prepared the talented Andreescu for a breakout 2019.
“She has the game to be the best. Technically she can do everything,” Tauziat said. “Today, I don’t see one girl – if Bianca is 100-per-cent healthy – who can beat her.”
The Globe and Mail, September 8, 2019