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Bianca Andreescu’s extended break from tennis has served her well

ROME — Bianca Andreescu’s debut Italian Open had just come to an end in the quarter-final against Iga Swiatek, a steamroller disguised as a tennis star.

But even after failing to prevent top-ranked Swiatek from extending her winning streak to 26 games, Andreescu still took to the Roman sun with a broad smile on her face.

Defeat at this stage does not have the same advantage as defeat had in other phases of his career.

“Honestly, I’m just excited to come back and play her again,” Andreescu said in an interview after losing 7-6(2), 6-0 on Friday. “If I look at myself a year ago, there’s been so much progress in how I deal with coming back to the tour, my wins and my losses. I’m just super motivated. I want to get back on the pitch now and work to be more aggressive or whatever.

Andreescu, a 21-year-old Canadian from the suburbs of Toronto, remains one of tennis’ great talents, which she clearly showed in 2019 when she won the US Open women’s singles title on her first attempt. defeating Serena Williams in straight sets.

Ranked No. 4 at the peak of her career in the month that followed, she will be No. 72 on Monday, but still has that seductive blend of finesse and punch and a rare ability to shift and turn. She also has powerful legs reminiscent of her role model Kim Clijsters that help her cover ground explosively and generate strong pace despite taller players’ lack of leverage (she is 5ft 6in).

“There’s no shot she can’t hit,” said analyst and former top-five player Daniela Hantuchová, who commented on the pitch on Friday as Andreescu and Swiatek played on tour for the first time. .

“In that first set, Bianca was not far from her best at all,” said Hantuchová. “For me, it was the best tennis set in the women’s tournament so far. In a way, it’s almost like a mirror against a mirror. They have a different technique, but they mentally have their routines between the points, and tactically they know exactly what they’re trying to do there. Both are great athletes, and I kept saying during the game that I hope we see this game more often. This would be a wonderful rivalry to have.

But so far Andreescu, unlike 20-year-old Swiatek, has been only a part-time threat. There has been a series of injuries, a concern throughout her career, and most recently the discomfort that caused her to take her final extended break after the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California in October 2021. , before returning for a tournament in Stuttgart last month.

She used her free time doing community service, volunteering at a children’s hospital and a shelter for victims of domestic violence. She went to a wellness retreat in Costa Rica and focused on developing mental tools to complement the visualization and meditation work that she, like Swiatek, began during her junior career and cited as one of the keys to his early, albeit intermittent, success. .

“After Indian Wells, I didn’t really want to play anymore,” she said. “I don’t know if I was being dramatic, but that’s exactly how I felt at the time. But now I’m just super glad I didn’t quit, because having that time off really made me appreciate it more. my time on the court now, because it’s a decision that comes from me. It wasn’t something external like injuries or illness or anything. It was my call, and so I I felt very empowered, and it was a big step in taking more control over my life and not putting pressure on myself and having fun.

“During this break I’ve done pretty much everything I love to do, and I figured if I come back I want to be in the same mindset. Obviously I want to be competitive and upset if I lose. for example, but I also want to feel like I’m having fun on the court and feeling more motivated after a loss instead of just crawling into bed and crying everyone night, which I was doing last year.

Andreescu, like fellow tennis star Naomi Osaka and other prominent athletes of their generation, has been open about the mental health issues she faces. Three tournaments after his last comeback, Andreescu is clearly in a better position and will head to Roland Garros with a red-clay momentum that suits his varied game.

She arrived at Friday’s interview without tape on her body or an ice pack.

“Nothing,” she said. “I’m just super grateful for my body in particular, because it’s been a huge deal. But I see myself being a great player on clay if I keep doing well and working hard in training and believing in myself.

The challenge on tour – a 10-month test of stamina and resilience – is to maintain health and enthusiasm.

Her team, led by veteran coach Sven Groeneveld, is focused on keeping her fresh and, according to Andreescu, calling her a bluff.

“They can call me without me being defensive, and I think that really helps,” she said.

Groeneveld, whose most high-profile student in recent years was now-retired Maria Sharapova, declined to comment on Andreescu because they are “still at the beginning” of their relationship. But he has a systematic approach to his job, sitting pitchside during games and noting down the point-by-point score as well as key playing patterns and other details, including a player’s lapses in concentration.

“He could write about 10 books with all the notes he takes. It’s hilarious,” Andreescu said.

Andreescu, as Canada’s first and only Grand Slam singles champion, has already had a book written about her called “Bianca Andreescu: She the North”, published in 2019, and has written one herself, a book of images released last year titled “Bibi’s Got Game: A Story of Tennis, Meditation and a Dog Named Coco. »

But with the surprise retirement of reigning Wimbledon and Australian Open champion Ashleigh Barty earlier this season, leaders in the women’s game can only hope Andreescu’s tennis story is just beginning. .

She has an incandescent game as was clear to Hantuchová and anyone who watched the first set on Friday before Swiatek kicked things into high gear that Andreescu wasn’t ready to match, at least not yet.

“She definitely gained confidence from that first set,” Andreescu said. “I was trying to be more aggressive, but at least in the second set I was a few inches short. But she’s on a 25 game streak, well make it 26 now, for a reason.

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