By Steve Keating
(Reuters) – When Bianca Andreescu became the first homegrown winner of the Canadian Open in 50 years, the tennis world declared the teenager as the sport’s next big thing.
Even the fact that Andreescu was gifted the Rogers Cup title when a tearful Serena Williams was forced to retire with back spasm just 19 minutes into the final could not keep the hype machine from spinning into overdrive.
The 19-year-old Canadian is suddenly one of the hot tips to win the U.S. Open; never mind that Andreescu has never been beyond the second round of any slam.
In the search for a successor to Serena Williams, fans of women’s tennis have witnessed more changing of the guard moments than a tourist at Buckingham Palace but all have proven to be false dawns.
Five years ago, the same glowing predictions were being made about Eugenie Bouchard, another young Canadian who was turning tennis heads.
Bouchard came to the Rogers Cup that year having reached at least the semi-finals of all three slams, finishing runner-up at Wimbledon.
The then WTA chief Stacey Allaster and Williams both tipped Bouchard to be a future grand slam champion.
“I think Genie is a great player,” gushed Williams, who was ranked number one at the time. “I think she for sure is the future face of tennis.”
After her mercurial run up the rankings, Bouchard arrived at the 2014 U.S. Open as the seventh seed but her star had already begun to dim.
Since 2015, when she reached the Australian Open quarter-finals and the last 16 in Flushing Meadows, Bouchard has never again made it past third round of a slam as her upward arc turned into a dizzying downward spiral.
Although one of tennis’s most recognisable players, thanks mostly to social media and Sports Illustrated swimsuit spreads, Bouchard owns only one WTA title.
“Well, I think she’s doing a good job so far, so I don’t know if she needs my advice,” Bouchard said after losing to Andreescu in the first round of the Rogers Cup.
In a sign that maybe this time things are different, Andreescu has already won two of the WTA’s flagship events.
She announced her arrival in spectacular style by winning the Indian Wells title in March and then followed it up with her triumph at the Rogers Cup.
“The future and what is quickly becoming the past were colliding in the present,” wrote Cathal Kelly, sport columnist for Canada’s national newspaper the Globe and Mail about the Andreescu’s victory over 37-year-old Williams, winner of 23 Grand Slam titles.
Williams has proven no better at identifying her potential successor than anyone else and while she stopped short of anointing Andreescu, she had nothing but praise for the Canadian.
“I’m officially a fan,” declared Williams.
A big hitter with all the weapons and a fearless mentality, Andreescu appears to have the necessary skills and qualities to become the dominant figure in the women’s game.
But there are red warning lights flashing.
Not yet out of her teens, Andreescu has already spent a good chunk of her young career battling back, leg and shoulder issues.
Following her win at Indian Wells, Andreescu advanced to the last 16 in Miami before retiring with a shoulder injury.
She did not play again until the French Open, where she withdrew ahead of her second round match when her shoulder problems flared.
That was followed by another lengthy layoff that caused her to miss the entire grass court season, including Wimbledon.
She returned to action at the Rogers Cup but finished the tournament wrapped in tape holding together a groin injury.
In the end Andreescu’s groin held up longer than Williams’s back.
“In the quarters, it was pretty bad. I felt it quite a lot,” said Andreescu. “I wasn’t going to pull out in the quarter-final match at the Rogers Cup because I could walk totally fine.”
Andreescu will head to Flushing Meadows sitting 15th in the world rankings where another second round exit will not be an acceptable result.
The learning curve gets steeper at a slam as players work their way through the grind of a two-week tournament, managing nagging injuries and the weight of expectations.
“I think it’s really important to work your mind just as hard as you work physically,” said Andreescu.
“A lot of people just work physically and forget about the mental part, but in reality your brain is controlling your body.”
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)