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Bianca Andreescu of Canada poses with her trophy at the Top of the Rock in Rockefeller Center on September 8, 2019 in New York City.
Bianca Andreescu of Canada poses with the championship trophy after winning the Women’s Singles final match against against Serena Williams of the United States on day thirteen of the 2019 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 07, 2019 in the Queens borough of New York City.
Bianca Andreescu of Canada returns a shot during her Women’s Singles final match against against Serena Williams of the United States on day thirteen of the 2019 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 07, 2019 in the Queens borough of New York City.
NEW YORK • The main interview room for the working press at Billie Jean King National Tennis Center is an auditorium under the stands at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
On Saturday night, Canada’s newest superstar sat at the front of it, the silver trophy of the U.S. Open positioned next to her. On the video board behind her: “Bianca Andreescu. 2019 U.S. Open women’s champion.” She still wore the same slight smile on her face that she has for much of the past two weeks. As she has passed signpost after milestone after landmark accomplishment, culminating in her defeat of the greatest women’s tennis player ever to become her country’s first Grand Slam singles champion, and the first athlete in its 139-year history to win the U.S. Open in their main-draw debut, Andreescu has often been decidedly casual. She has known all along that this was possible, which probably comes from the fact that all season, all she has done is beat almost everyone who took the court against her.
She was asked what she remembers doing a year ago, during the last U.S. Open finals. The 19-year-old, born in Mississauga and raised mostly in Thornhill, gave a very teenage answer: “I was at home,” she said. “I was sitting on my butt.” Then the smile again.
Later, with the interview room packed and cameras clicking away, someone asked Andreescu if she was ready for the fame that comes with being a major champ. She has often said she dreamt of winning that match, visualized beating Serena Williams in a Slam final, but was fame part of that dream, too?
Andreescu scrunched up her face as she thought about it. There was a pause. “I guess it is, yeah,” she said, emphasis on the guess. “I never really thought about being famous. My goals have been to just win as many Grand Slams as possible, become No. 1 in the world. But the idea of fame never really crossed my mind.”
Then she added: “I’m not complaining, though.” The smile was bigger now. “It’s been a crazy ride this year. I can definitely get used to this feeling.”
One of the fun things about watching Andreescu’s two-week ride to sporting history has been the way in which she has turned some of the stereotypes of Canadian behaviour on their ear. She is confident, and a little brash, and she plays an aggressive style that is punctuated with a lot of loud shouts and fist pumps. A New York Times tennis writer described Andreescu as carrying herself “like an alpha” more than any WTA newcomer in recent memory, and that seems just about right. She’s not demure, or just happy to be there; she shows up, smashes winners, and unleashes a yell that tells her opponent she is not screwing around. Even when she offered a post-match apology to the 24,000 fans in Ashe stadium, there was hint of moxie to it. She said sorry, but it kind of sounded like, “Sorry I kicked your ass.”
But there is another, completely unrelated, way in which the idea of Andreescu, and Canadian identity, was examined over the course of her historic run. Near the end of her press conference, one of the many foreign journalists asked her about being the daughter of two Romanians. Was it more difficult to grow up in Canada as the child of immigrants?
Andreescu did not hesitate. “Definitely not,” she said. “No, Canada is such an amazing country. It’s so multi-cultural. I had no trouble growing up having Romanian parents whatsoever. That’s why I love my country so, so much.”
I mentioned the first part of her answer to this question on social media on Saturday night, and it received a lot of responses. Twitter being what it is, some of them are angry responses, people annoyed that she could be asked such a thing.
It didn’t strike me as absurd. First, journalists are supposed to ask questions, even if they think they might know the answer. That’s the whole idea of the enterprise. And more than that, it’s a question with an increased significance at this time.
I had thought about immigration a bit during two weeks in New York; there’s a lot of time for idle thoughts over the course of a Grand Slam. The U.S. Open is a remarkably multi-cultural event, with athletes from all the (populated) continents. At any given time in the press centre, you can hear people speaking in variety of languages and accents. One of my lasting memories of this U.S. Open will be the hilarious running commentary from the British journalists who were simultaneously covering a tennis tournament and watching their Parliament’s paroxysms. The stands were perpetually dotted with fans who were proud of their countries, from the Australians singing Waltzing Matilda to the dude who kept shouting “O, Canada” to the big, burly guy with a face like a balled-up fist who kept standing up, in a garish green, white and red jacket, to cheer on his Bulgarian countryman Grigor Dimitrov. When Dimitrov lost in the semi-finals, I do believe the big fella was in tears.
That all this is happening in a borough of New York seems appropriate. It’s a wildly multi-cultural city, noticeably so even to someone from Toronto. There are tourists from everywhere, and it is just a sea of colours, from the commuters cramming into Grand Central Station to the people selling tour tickets to those selling fresh fruit, in little plastic bags, on the street corners of Manhattan. “Mango,” they say. “Mangomangomango.”
One evening, in a bar off Madison Avenue, I asked the Irish bartender what part of the country he was from. He answered, and then explained that a lot of people mistakenly believe that all the Irish in New York are from Cork, because when the waves of immigrants arrived in the 1800s, the receiving authorities used Cork to describe a wide swath of Ireland. (Maybe because it was a nice, short word.) He asked if I had family from there, and I said, sort of. My grandfather was born in Canada, but he’s of Irish decent. His last name was Curran. “So is mine,” the bartender said. He pulled out his wallet: Joseph Curran. We are all children of immigrants, at some point.
I have no idea if the journalist who asked Andreescu about growing up in Canada was asking the question in the context of attitudes about immigration today. It is no secret that the current U.S. President, a New Yorker himself, has made anti-immigrant rhetoric part of his schtick, and he’s far from the only Western politician to do it. And before everyone is too smug about Andreescu’s quick and certain response about her experience in Canada, she of course isn’t speaking for everyone who has tried to make a new life in her country.
But she was consistent in her answers. Earlier in the tournament, she had been asked about the experience of her parents, Nicu and Maria, in leaving Romania for Canada. She said they had left in the mid-’90s. Romania was having problems, she said. “So they wanted to just have a better life, so they came into Canada,” Andreescu said. “I think they made the right decision,” she said.
At a couple points during the U.S. Open, Andreescu made sure to note the support that she has received in her career from Tennis Canada. She said the developmental program, the training and the coaching, has been a huge part of her success. Not for nothing did she climb into the stands at Ashe on Saturday night to clasp Sylvain Bruneau, her Tennis Canada coach, in a teary embrace after her historic win.
It is the ideal of the immigrant success story, one repeated the world over: The parents leave in search of a better life, and they find it in a new country. In this case, they have a child, and she has opportunities to grow and nurture her talent in a way she otherwise might not have had. And in return, Canada has a wonderful star, a crusher of tennis balls who is now the country’s first Slam singles champion, with designs on many more.
That decision Bianca Andreescu’s parents made, 25 years ago? It was, quite evidently, the right decision for everyone.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019