In a year that saw her taste the joys of victory on the heels of overcoming the lows of injury and defeat, Bianca Vanessa Andreescu’s 2016 season was definitely one to remember for all the right reasons for the 16-year-old from Mississauga, Ontario.
A former junior world number three, the Canadian teenager started the year as the number one seed at the Australian Open before a minor pain in her left foot resulted in a series of stress fractures, which unexpectedly kept her out of competition for nearly five months. After making a full recovery, Andreescu made a dazzling return on home soil, winning a round of qualifying at the Coupe Rogers présentée par Banque Nationale in Montréal, before sweeping the $25,000 event in Gatineau to claim her first professional singles and doubles titles—victories made all the more sweeter after all her struggles with injury earlier in the year.
As Andreescu and her mother recalled, it was a stressful and frustrating time for everyone involved, with their family being forced to adjust to a totally new lifestyle to accommodate the 16-year-old’s recovery time. “We were crazy busy,” recalled Andreescu’s mother, Maria. “Normally, when Bianca is healthy, she is traveling a lot, so our lives are very routine. When Bianca was injured and at home for over four months, everything changed.”
“We were trying to get her the best medical care available, so it was doctor after doctor, specialist after specialist, trying to assess what was wrong with Bianca’s foot. I was making appointments, getting up very early to drive Bianca to her appointments and then getting home just in time to get ready for work. It was a frustrating time as well because we were not always getting the answers we were hoping for, which was hard on us and Bianca.”
In order to compensate for her lack of physical activity, Andreescu was forced to adjust to a new, carefully modified health and wellness plan to have a better shot at long-term success, explained her mother. This sudden change unexpectedly seemed to be one of the big positives from the 16-year-old’s time away from the game, as it was able to shed new light on her nutrition for not only herself but also her incredibly supportive parents.
During this time, as one can probably imagine, Andreescu struggled mightily with the transition from “being super active to being told to stay off her foot,” using gym and schoolwork as a distraction during her extensive injury layoff, and understandably so. However, with the mentality of a champion instilled in her from an early age, the rising star was able to find the silver lining and make light of an undeniably frustrating situation.
“I tried to stay positive and work on the things that I was physically capable of working on,” she explained. “In a strange way, I felt that the time off was good for me mentally, as the break away from the daily grind [on] the courts gave me time to reflect on my game in terms of what was working well for me and what I wanted to improve.”
But when she did return to the court, it’s there where she put her thoughts into action, and the results really do speak for themselves. Within a month of her return to international competition, an inspired Andreescu put together a stunning performance to outlast big-hitting 16th-seeded American Samantha Crawford, 7-6, 7-5, in front of her home crowd at the qualifying stages of the Coupe Rogers présentée par Banque Nationale. Though she would meet her match in Kateryna Bondarenko a round later, Andreescu had plenty of positives to take out of what would be the first of a number of breakthroughs in 2016 for the 16-year-old Mississauga, Ontario native.
“The victory against Samantha was huge because it gave me the confidence that I belonged on the WTA stage,” she explained. “I really wasn’t thinking about the injury time. I was just very happy to be playing competitively again, in front of my home crowd in Montréal. I love to play in Québec because the fans here are very knowledgeable tennis fans and have been supportive of me throughout my career.”
A couple weeks later, the Canadian would continue her fine form in her return to Gatineau, the city where she made her first final in her professional début just 12 months prior, losing out to seasoned American veteran Alexa Glatch in the showpiece. However, Andreescu’s considerable growth over the short span of a year was only validated further as she returned more determined than ever, going one better this time around to claim her first title at the professional level. For the former junior world number three, this victory meant so much more than just a title; it proved to be instrumental in the continuous development of her game while giving her confidence and even more reason to start competing regularly at this level going forward.
“I will always have a sweet spot in my heart for Gatineau because of my first professional tournament victory,” explained the 16-year-old Ontarian. “I was competing against women, much more experienced than me, which is great because the matches are tough and I learn so much about my game when playing such amazing competition.”
But that’s not all she did in Gatineau. Just hours after her scintillating performance in the singles final, Andreescu continued her fine form to complete the sweep, taking home the doubles title with compatriot Charlotte Robillard-Millette, a remarkable feat for two teenage best friends both looking to make their mark on the professional tour in the forthcoming years.
In a sport that requires such a high standard of singular focus and personal determination to succeed, it comes as no surprise that most players aren’t keen on befriending their competition, which makes Andreescu appreciate her friendship with Robillard-Millette even more. “We have also been a very successful doubles team, which I think is the result of being friends that communicate well on the court,” the former noted.
But like any other junior, singles remains the priority for Andreescu, who was “very satisfied” and felt she was “finally coming into form” with her monumental rise up the rankings in the second half of 2016 alone. For Andreescu, it was a case of building her confidence back up rather than just her ranking, which she said meant “getting as much playing time as possible” in the first three months of her comeback. Once she was able to rediscover the form that propelled her to a career-high of number three in the world after claiming the prestigious Metropolia Junior Orange Bowl title in 2015, Andreescu has looked nothing short of impressive.
After claiming her first professional title in Gatineau, the Canadian went on a tear at Flushing Meadows, where she reached the last four, her best-ever finish at a Junior Grand Slam. In her return back to North of the American border, the 16-year-old proved age was just a number in a series of stunning displays on home soil, going 7-2 at the $50,000 events in Saguenay and Toronto, making the final at the former and the last eight in The Six.
With wins over compatriots Gabriela Dabrowski and Françoise Abanda to boast and two wins in the span of a month over future Australian Open fourth-rounder Jennifer Brady, Andreescu never actually intended to get such big wins over quality players to begin with, saying they were “just icing on the cake” of a stellar last quarter of 2016.
“The last three months have been about taking my game to the next level,” she explained. “The fact that I have accomplished so much in just six months [of competition] is very satisfying. I am winning matches with some regularity against players in the 100 to 200 ranking level so I feel that I can reach that level in 2017.”
With her sights set on accomplishing even more starting in the New Year, Andreescu—as always—has made her goals very clear. With a first-ever junior Grand Slam doubles title already to her credit to start the year at the Australian Open, Andreescu has her sights set on duplicating that same success on the singles court, having fallen in the semifinal stage of that competition for the second consecutive major Down Under. Planning to play a mix of ITF Junior and Pro Circuit events in 2017, the latter of which forces her to compete under the strict Age Eligibility Rule for the next 16 months, the 16-year-old will also be looking to build on her successful end to 2016, with the goal to enter—and ultimately stay within—the top 100 to 200 range.
In years past, Andreescu has been a staple of the Canadian Junior Fed Cup team, often proving to be the team’s most valuable player. This week, the world number 294 will travel to the Mexican city of Metepec to compete on the Canadian Fed Cup team in the Group I division in an attempt to avoid relegation for the second year in succession. Despite being the youngest of the three players on the team, the 16-year-old will be considered the team leader due to her recent success, and will undoubtedly play a huge role in the success of the team. So what does it mean to Andreescu to make her big début at one of the most unique events on the calendar as the team leader?
“First and foremost, this is a team event, so I am very proud to be playing with this group of talented tennis players representing Canada,” she said. “No matter where I play I always see the Canadian flag and it makes me proud to be representing my country. This event is extra special for me because it is my first time representing Canada professionally and I am definitely excited about playing a lead role for our team this week.”
With her potential and undeniable natural talent, the lead role could be a title Andreescu could get used to taking over at some point in the forthcoming years after the whole host of current Canadian talent is replaced by the new generation. After a year with her fair share of ups and downs, how far will Andreescu go in 2017, and perhaps in the years to come? Only time will tell to see if a small town Ontarian girl of Romanian descent will live up to her full potential and establish a legacy as not the first anybody, but the first Bianca Vanessa Andreescu.