By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – Injury breaks are not usually welcomed by tennis players but when Bianca Andreescu’s shoulder began troubling her in Miami it offered her the chance to take stock of a stunning breakthrough.
The 18-year-old Canadian became the first wildcard to win the Indian Wells title the week before — a feat that shook the tennis world and had Rod Laver remarking that a star had been born.
Andreescu has only played in two Grand Slams and at the start of the year said just making the French Open main draw was her goal. She will debut as the 22nd seed.
When she takes on 20-year-old Czech Marie Bouzkova it will be her first match on clay this season and her first anywhere since a sore shoulder forced her to retire in her last 16 clash with Anett Kontaveit in Miami.
It ended the incredible 10-match winning streak that has catapulted the Ontario-born Andreescu into the big time.
“I think the injury helped me in the way that I could have the chance to let everything soak in and spend time with my family and friends,” Andreescu, whose exploits have trumped those of compatriots and close friends Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime, told Reuters in a phone interview.
“I have amazing family and friends and they really helped me stay grounded because the media when I got home were all over me. It was certainly a different feeling but I’m getting used to it slowly but surely.”
Andreescu says her shoulder is ready to go in Paris, having opted to skip the warm-up tournaments and head to Mallorca to tune up her claycourt game at the Rafael Nadal Academy.
“I’m completely healed,” she said. “It was a wide decision because if I had continued the tear could have got worse.
“The facilities at Rafa’s academy were amazing, really good physios, really good food, the people were nice and they accommodated me really well.
“On my days off I could just stroll around and get my mind off the game and focus on relaxing which was really helpful. It was a good two-week period and I feel that I needed that.”
Andreescu, who moved back to her parents’ native Romania soon after she was born, says her career has been a “crazy ride” since returning to Canada to become part of the development programme that produced Milos Raonic, Eugenie Bouchard, Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov.
“Happy days for Canadian tennis,” she said. “We are just feeding off each other’s success and energy. I played juniors with Felix and Denis, we grew up together and just seeing them, all of us doing well at the same time, it’s just incredible.
“Tennis Canada is doing a great job. Without them I wouldn’t be here today. I’m so grateful. I can’t begin to repay them.”
Andreescu’s title run in Indian Wells began slowly but she soon got on a roll, beating seeds Dominica Cibulkova and Qiang Wang before obliterating former French Open and Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza 6-0 6-1.
In the final she downed reigning Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber, banked the $1.3 million winner’s cheque and celebrated with a burger.
Her performances were likened to a more powerful version of Martina Hingis — full of variety and not just belting balls.
Naturally curious, Andreescu says finding different ways to win matches is her biggest strength.
“I’ve always been like, even as a junior,” she said. “I think I just get bored easy! I kept improving on that and its paying off. A lot of the players have only got one game style.
“I’m one of few that can give a variety of shots back and I think they don’t like that.”
Andreescu said her rise from ending 2018 ranked 178th to her current 22 is “a dream come true”.
“You get treated a bit differently, for sure,” she said. “And not having to go through qualifying for the French is so much better for body and mind.
“I can now use all my fuel for the first round.”
Unsurprisingly, she names Romanian Simona Halep as one of her inspirations, and said it was a chat with the current French Open champion in 2016 that launched her career.
“We shared a ride at the Rogers Cup in 2016 I asked her if she could give me one piece of advice. She told me I should stop playing juniors and focus on the pros.
“That was a really good decision.”
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond)