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Rogers Cup: Bianca Andreescu shattering expectations as they come

Bianca Andreescu (CAN) acknowledges the home crowd at Aviva Centre in Toronto, ON. (Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

TORONTO — A week ago, Bianca Andreescu helped host the draw for the Rogers Cup along with soon-to-be World No. 1 Naomi Osaka and was asked about her expectations going into the tournament after a difficult two months of rehabbing from a shoulder injury.

She said that though the injury meant she’s looking to take one match at a time, her intent in every tournament she enters is to win it. Having spent June watching Kawhi Leonard lead the Toronto Raptors to a championship, she may just have taken a page out of his book and said, “F*** that, let’s get them both.”

From battling rust and eight double faults in her first match against Genie Bouchard to toppling two top-five players in Kiki Bertens and Karolina Pliskova in tough three-setters to showing no ill-effects of a groin injury to conquer Sophia Kenin in the semis, Andreescu has overcome the challenges each match has presented and is now one win away from winning the Rogers Cup.

It is nothing short of a breathtaking return for the 19-year-old who hadn’t played a competitive match since late May at the French Open. She is the first Canadian woman to reach the final of a Canadian event in 50 years, is 6-0 against Top 10 players this year, and the semifinal win ties her with Pliskova for the most hardcourt wins (23) on the WTA circuit this year.

While this was her first match of the tournament to not go the distance, this may have been the most difficult she played yet because of the manner in which Kenin attacked her and the overall quality throughout. Take away the aces and Andreescu won 85 points to the American’s 81, it was a nail-biter all the way.

The first set, despite staying on serve through the first nine games, see-sawed one way and the next, a teenager and a 20-year-old both taking turns playing cat and mouse as they dared to be brave at times and waited for the opponent to make a mistake in others. Kenin, while not possessing quite the power of Andreescu, did an excellent job of mixing up her play with slices and drop shots and even threw in Andreescu’s seemingly patented looping forehand changeup on one occasion.

And just when it seemed like she was going to have her way, Andreescu showed the heart that has gotten her this far in the first place. Trailing 15-40 on her serve at 4-4, she came up with two massive forehand winners and a backhand winner before finishing off a thrilling rally with a backhand volley at net. Inspired by the tough hold, the crowd showed the home favourite plenty of love and she responded by winning four of the next five points on Kenin’s serve to take the first set.

“I try not to tell myself anything because there’s already so many thoughts going through my mind,” Andreescu said looking back on that stretch. “I know I can have a lot of anger in me, so, I try to stay as calm as possible and focus on the tactics I want to perform.”

There are moments where Andreescu wants it so bad you can feel it, and that stretch of winning eight of nine points to get out in front was one of them. It’s uncanny for someone so young to not only exhibit that level of poise but to also recognize the moments that decide a match. Yet, day after day, match after match, it seems business as usual and a consistent display of a star in the making — if not already — meeting her own expectations.

The second set went back and forth once again as the pair exchanged breaks before Andreescu looked to have taken a decisive advantage for a 4-2 lead in the second, and had the crowd on its feet when she got set to serve for the match at 5-3.

Not to be forgotten for her terrific effort, though, Kenin dared Andreescu to win it by staying solid, and for once, the Canadian reminded that she is still a teenager.

“It’s hard not to think about what happens next,” Andreescu said about getting broken in a pivotal moment. “I think that threw me off a little bit, and at 6-5, I was really nervous, I’m not gonna lie.”

Adding to the drama was Kenin calling a medical timeout a game away from the tie break for a groin issue, leaving Andreescu alone with her thoughts for even more time than she would have hoped for.

Kenin returned to the court but struggled to find her game right away, double-faulting three times over the course of the game to give Andreescu three cracks at match point, but each time the American came up with some spectacular tennis of her own to push the match to a tie break.

There, Andreescu learned quickly from the hesitation she showed earlier and brought her power in spades. The crowd rose to its feet once again with two match points, and she delivered with the second one on her racquet.

Hands to her head in disbelief, dropping flat onto the court and soaking in all the love the crowd could give her, Andreescu’s moment in the sun after an extended layoff was almost too good to be true.

“The reason why I was really emotional was because of all the emotions I had during that tie-breaker, I think my body just wanted to let it all out,” Andreescu said. And also because it’s so incredible I’m in the finals right now [of] Rogers Cup ... All that I’ve been through the past couple of months have been so so so tough, so, to be here right now is incredible.”

Take it as it comes? Win it all? Sunday, she can do both.