It was five years ago this month that various Canadian news organizations suddenly found themselves considering the logistics and cost of sending a sports reporter on a hell-for-leather sprint to Melbourne.
Eugenie Bouchard was in the middle of a deep run at the Australian Open, a tournament that catches a lot of people on this side of the world by surprise because of the matches that take place in the middle of the night in these parts and the fact that it is absolutely not tennis season here. And yet there was Bouchard, still a teenager and yet all of a sudden in the dang semi-final of a Grand Slam. One of the sports networks had arranged a series of overnight flights that would have landed a reporter in Melbourne just in time to make a mad dash to Rod Laver Arena had Bouchard made the final.
She didn’t, it would turn out, and the TV reporter version of The Amazing Race would not come to pass.
This is a (very) long way of saying to Canada’s latest teen tennis phenom, Bianca Andreescu: thanks for the heads-up this time.
Andreescu, the 18-year-old from Mississauga, has had the good sense to make her big splash in one of the Aussie Open tune-up events way over there on the bottom right of the map, the ASB Classic in Auckland, New Zealand. After beating world-number-three Caroline Wozniacki in the second round, Andreescu defeated Venus Williams in the quarterfinals on Friday. That is two wins over women who have been ranked as high as number one in the world in as many days.
Andreescu, who came into the event at 152 in the WTA rankings, even dropped the first set to Williams and the first game in the second set before ripping off a winning streak of 11 straight games to seize the match.
“I believe that anything is possible and tonight I think I did the impossible,” she said a television interview after the match. “I don’t even know what to say.”
But as much as Andreescu’s big January wins are a little reminiscent of Bouchard’s arrival on the scene in 2014, the former’s sudden ascent has more of an out-of-nowhere vibe. Bouchard had been a junior star, where she had taken the Wimbledon singles title in that circuit, and she entered the 2014 season ranked 32nd in the world. A season earlier, she had signalled that she was a serious player with wins over the likes of Ana Ivanovic, Sloane Stephens, Karolina Pliskova and Jelena Jankovic. That she would take a big step forward the following year was not a surprise, even if it ended up being a much bigger step that just about anyone expected.
Andreescu, though, does not have the recent history to suggest she would start knocking off Slam winners on back-to-back days. She won a couple of matches in Washington last summer, lost in the first round at the Rogers Cup and at Wimbledon, and that was pretty much it in terms of top-tier experience last season.
All of which means it could be pumpkin time for her soon. Andreescu will play third-seeded Su-wei Hsieh of Chinese Taipei in the semi-finals of the ASB, another match where she is clearly the underdog on paper. It certainly wouldn’t be a shock if Andreescu loses, makes a quick exit in Australia, and spends the rest of this season establishing a foothold in the top tier of women’s tennis.
But it’s easy enough to imagine the other possibilities, too. Tennis produces bolts from the blue as often as it produces slow and steady climbs through the ranking, and one only has to look at recent Canadian experience for evidence. We were still trying to figure out how to pronounce Denis Shapovalov’s name in the summer of 2017 when he went from promising junior star to guy who beat Juan Martin del Potro and Rafa Nadal in Montreal, then won three matches at the U.S. Open while not yet old enough to legally purchase alcohol in that country. (He still isn’t.) Shapovalov went from 250th in the ATP rankings in January of that season to 50th by the end of the calendar year.
There is also, of course, the precedent of Bouchard, who started beating big names in that January five years ago and kept it up the whole season, following the Australian run with a semi-final loss at the French Open and a loss in the Wimbledon final. She hasn’t reached anywhere near those heights since, but is still 24 years old, or younger than all but three of the women presently in the top-10 of the WTA rankings. She had a chance to join Andreescu in the semis in Auckland, but lost to two-seed Julia Goerges. Bouchard, in what seems like a lifetime since she became a star, is still fighting to get back to the top of her sport.
The question now becomes whether a different Canadian youngster gets there first.