Roles are reversed as Williams faces teenage challenger
Veteran must overcome ferocity of Andreescu, writes Simon Briggs at Flushing Meadows
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.