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Scott Stinson: ‘Is this real life?’ Bianca Andreescu asks as she rolls into U.S. Open semi-finals

NEW YORK The runaway train that is Bianca Andreescu’s rookie season continues to roll.

The 19-year-old Canadian, playing in her first Grand Slam quarter-final, advanced to the semis of the U.S. Open on Wednesday in a comeback three-set (3-6, 6-2, 6-3) victory over Belgium’s Elise Mertens.

The result puts another notch on Andreescu’s remarkable streak of 22 straight victories in completed matches, a run that dates to late February.

“This is, honestly, so crazy,” she said on court after the match. “Is this real life?”

It is, actually. It is also the first time a Canadian has gone this far in the U.S Open since Carling Bassett in 1984.

“If you had told me a year ago that I would be in the semi-final of the U.S. Open, I would have said you were crazy,” Andreescu said in her post-match press conference.

Through 10 days in New York, Andreescu had flashed a powerful all-court game that had much of the tennis world swooning over her ability to make all kinds of shots. She had also shown a tendency to make key shots in high-leverage points.

It took some time for those tendencies to show themselves on Wednesday, but once they did Andreescu was her normal ferocious self.

Mertens, a 23-year-old who has been ranked inside the top 20 for several years, took the first set with surprising ease, taking advantage of Andreescu mistakes and serving powerfully and accurately herself.

Andreescu, though, turned things around halfway through the second set, breaking A Mertens service game with a rocket of a forehand and then holding serve herself. It was not a surprise that she would not go down without taking some big swings. She won three straight games to clinch the second set, winning 17 of 22 points in that stretch. This was the power game for which she had quickly become known.

“I just told myself to keep fighting and hope that I can switch things around basically,” she said. “I tried to stay more aggressive than the first set, and I felt like I was missing a lot in the first set, as well.”


Bianca Andreescu of Canada hits a return against Elise Mertens of Belgium in their quarterfinal match at the 2019 U.S. Open, Sept. 4, 2019.

Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images

That momentum did not carry over to the deciding set, and Andreescu was noticeably frustrated. Her usual shouts of “come ON” after good shots sounded more plaintive after poor ones. Through six games of the third set, she had failed to deliver the killshot on four break-point opportunities.

The killshot eventually came. On her seventh break chance of the set, Andreescu smoked a backhand return deep that Mertens couldn’t handle. 5-3, and the Canadian would serve for the match.

It would end with an anti-climactic finish. A routine hold, and the kid from the Toronto suburbs would spend at least one more sleep in New York. She put both hands on her head, stunned. When she sat down to gather her equipment, she held her head in both hands again.

“I’m going to be honest. I don’t think I played my best tennis,” she said “I just fought really well with what I had every single day. I think that’s the most important thing for me, and I’m sure for every athlete, you’re not going to have good days every day.

So I just try my best to figure out what’s going well and what’s not and just go from there.”

I just told myself to keep fighting

Mertens gave a succinct assessment of the opponent that had beaten her: “She never gives up.”

Andreescu’s year had already been one with very few comparables in Canadian tennis. She ended last season well outside the top 150 in the WTA rankings, but in January she came out firing, winning three qualifiers in Auckland, New Zealand, and then reeling off four straight wins, including over players such as Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams, before falling in the final to Julia Georges.

A few weeks later Andreescu notched her first WTA victory at the Indian Wells tournament in California, an event one notch below a Grand Slam. Her run included five match wins over seeded players. That has been the defining feature of her year: victories over players who are much higher than her in the WTA rankings. The vast majority of newcomers on the WTA Tour pick up wins in the early rounds of tournaments, but lose when they run into seeded opponents. Tennis is very much tilted toward the haves rather than the have-nots, as the highest-ranked players get to cruise through the early rounds against players seeded well below them.

Andreescu has flipped that normal pattern on its head in her rookie season, beating seeded players and former Grand Slam champions with shocking regularity. Of all the impressive stats she has piled up, the 7-0 record against players ranked in the top-10 of their match is at the top of the list.


Elise Mertens of Belgium grimaces during her quarterfinal match against Canada’s Bianca Andreescu at the 2019 U.S. Open on Sept. 4, 2019.

Elsa/Getty Images

This U.S. Open, though, hadn’t even required that kind of heavy lifting. She beat Katie Volynets, a teenaged American wild-card entry in the first round, before defeating Kirsten Flipkens, a veteran Belgian doubles specialist, in the second round.

Then things became more daunting. A rematch with Wozniacki, on the grand stage of Ashe, did not prove to be much of a hurdle, despite the Danish star’s long resume, and then in the fourth round it was unseeded American Taylor Townsend, and her funky game, that stood in her way. Andreescu dropped a set for the first time in the tournament, but she fought back, saying later that she was particularly pleased to have kept her cool in front of a lively, hostile and, if we’re honest, probably quite drunk, U.S. Open late-night crowd.

Then came Mertens, the 25th seed who had yet to lose a set through four rounds, but one who had faced a much easier path than her Canadian opponent. Top seeds have fallen all over the place at this tournament.

Next up is Belinda Bencic, the 13th seed from Switzerland who beat defending champ Naomi Osaka in the third round.

It is a winnable match. But with Bianca Andreescu, it feels like they all are.

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