For me, the ultimate pinnacle for any Canadian athlete is to win their own country's national championship. Whether it is tennis or golf, or any other sport, a win symbolizes not only an athlete at their absolute best, but a demonstration in overcoming adversity. Let's be honest - the pressure to win at home is crushing at best. That's what makes Bianca Andreescu's win at the 2019 Canadian Open so spectacular.
I've watched a steady stream of Canadian professional athletes come to the table for decades with guts, heart, fight and talent to try and win their country's national title. In golf, Mike Weir was within arm's length of the trophy, but it was not to be. Brooke Henderson finally erased a curse in 2018 by winning the LPGA's Canadian Open, after so many talented Canadian golfers tried before her.
In tennis, only Carling Bassett, Helen Kelesi, Patricia Hy, Aleksandra Wozniak, Grant Connell, Andrew Sznajder, Vasek Pospisil and Milos Raonic got to the quarterfinals in my lifetime. I cheered all of them on. They all tried valiantly to go further, but the luck of the draw, opponents and the oppressive pressure to win at home proved to be too much. (Raonic drew Pospisil in the SF and then was defeated by Nadal in the final).
By the time the 2019 Canadian Open rolled around in August, the best Canadian prospects were on the men's side with Felix Auger-Alliassime and Denis Shapovalov. Both were defeated early. I gave Bianca Andreescu little chance of doing much of anything - her first tournament back after almost 3 months; playing with what looked like a severe shoulder injury back in March; the media frenzy; the pressure; playing in her home town... For any other mortal, it was going to be all too much.
But, like she has shown in 2019, Bianca is not the same player we thought she was prior to January. As the week went on, she began to pull strength from I don't know where. She looked down and out on numerous occasions from the first round through to the semifinals. Her first 4 matches were 3 full sets of comebacks, steely determination, mind-blowing mental fortitude and athleticism. Just when you thought she was on the ropes and out of gas, she came storming back and won the match.
It was incredible to watch. The atmosphere of the final was electric. It turned out to be anti-climactic when Bianca won it and the title, becoming the first Canadian in 50 years to win the Canadian Open. Now, as it did then, it doesn't feel real. There was no absolute conclusion to the match and the realization that she had won the title took many hours to sink in. She had made history, yet again in 2019, continuing to stack up wins she shouldn't have won, and just blowing everyone's minds and making them say, 'where did she come from?' and 'this is unbelievable'.
To be able to witness a Canadian win the Canadian Open was a lifelong dream come true. I truly never thought I would live to see it happen. The pressure to do that is just so immense. By the time the tournament ended, a new Canadian sports hero was born. The perseverance through a serious injury, the mental fortitude to focus, and the ability to block out the pressure were the keys to her win.
Bianca Andreescu is not like any Canadian tennis player we have seen before. What she had done so far is only the beginning of the career of a superstar of her sport.
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