Roles are re­versed as Wil­liams faces teenage chal­lenger

Vet­eran must over­come fe­roc­ity of An­dreescu, writes Si­mon Briggs at Flush­ing Mead­ows

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Tennis -

There is a nice sym­me­try in the way Ser­ena Wil­liams has re­turned to the US Open fi­nal at the age of 37, ex­actly 20 years af­ter she tri­umphed over Martina Hingis in her first ma­jor show­piece on Arthur Ashe Sta­dium.

Be­cause, just as Wil­liams’s emer­gence her­alded a new era of mighty serv­ing and all-court ath­leti­cism, so her chal­lenger tonight – 19-year-old Cana­dian Bianca An­dreescu – feels like a game-changer in her own right. This new gen­er­a­tion has al­ready thrown up some su­perb sto­ries, in­clud­ing Naomi Osaka’s cap­ture of the past two hard-court slams, Ash­leigh Barty’s trans­for­ma­tion from wall­flower to ma­jor cham­pion and Coco Gauff ’s sud­den es­ca­la­tion into the big­gest draw card in the game.

But An­dreescu is a dif­fer­ent an­i­mal. In a year when the first

three slams have been won by in­tro­verts (Osaka, Barty and Si­mona Halep), she has a fe­roc­ity, both in her com­pet­i­tive zeal and her var­ied and mus­cu­lar game style. We would be talk­ing more about her pre­co­cious­ness were it not for the ex­tra­or­di­nary Gauff – who is still just 15 and al­ready threat­en­ing to reach the se­cond week of slams. But even so, An­dreescu turned 19 only in June, and thus must have been con­ceived at around the time Wil­liams was bundling the un­der­pow­ered Hingis out of her path in that first US Open fi­nal.

Just as Wil­liams rep­re­sented a dif­fer­ent style of ten­nis, bring­ing the cur­tain down on a time of slice back­hands and del­i­cate net-play, so An­dreescu has the feel of a rev­o­lu­tion­ary in the way she shapes her ground­strokes.

Ten­nis play­ers usu­ally strike a balance be­tween hit­ting the ball quickly and im­part­ing it with heavy top­spin. Most lean one way or the other, but An­dreescu man­ages to do both. And her willpower is equally star­tling.

Ad­mit­tedly, there was an anom­aly in Mi­ami in March, when An­dreescu was forced to pull out mid­way through her fourth-round match with a shoul­der in­jury (this Gen­er­a­tion game: Canada’s Bianca An­dreescu on her way to the fi­nal ruled her out of both the French Open and Wim­ble­don). But the last per­son to con­vert a match point against her was Sofia Kenin, of the United States, on March 1. Wil­liams and An­dreescu also con­tested the fi­nal of the Rogers Cup in Toronto three weeks ago. Wil­liams re­tired with a back in­jury at 3-1 down in the first set, and sat weep­ing on her chair, where­upon An­dreescu showed her out­go­ing personalit­y by rush­ing round the net to of­fer con­so­la­tion.

“She re­ally knows how to mix up the game and play dif­fer­ent shots in dif­fer­ent ways,” said Wil­liams of An­dreescu. “Above all, I just like her as a per­son. She’s amaz­ing.”

For the fourth time in the past 14 months, Wil­liams stands within a sin­gle vic­tory of a 24th ma­jor ti­tle – which could carry her level with Mar­garet Court’s record and end any real de­bate about her sta­tus as the great­est cham­pion of all.

As An­dreescu ac­knowl­edged: “The crowd’s go­ing to be for Ser­ena. I just have to deal with that.” An­dreescu has played seven top-10 play­ers – the first one be­ing Ser­ena’s sis­ter Venus in Auck­land in Jan­uary – and beaten the lot.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.