Bianca Andreescu: ‘I literally wanted to quit this sport. But my soul knew differently’ | US Open Tennis 2022

WWhen asked how she’s doing getting back on the pitch, Bianca Andreescu’s voice rings out with the studied precision of someone who knew the question was coming. The 22-year-old Canadian tennis player feels great. She feels ready, focused, fresh. She knows she pulled out of the Cincinnati Western & Southern Open at short notice earlier this month, but it has helped her prepare for the US Open. She’s been able to train and regroup and at the end of the day she’s very happy she made the decision. As for that Miscellaneous Decision, the more complex and painful and consequential to the numbers and rankings that count in the life of a professional tennis player – the decision to take six months off in December 2021 – lets her fly.

“I literally wanted to give up this sport. It was so bad,” Andreescu tells the Guardian on the phone the day before she travels to New York for the US Open. “I didn’t want to hear about tennis or think about tennis or anything remotely like it for the first three months that I was away. And then, after three months, I was like, ‘Oh shit, I really miss that. And I need it in my life.’”

The way she tells it, there weren’t any only one thing this prompted Andreescu to say goodbye. In 2020 she didn’t play at all. Fresh from her 2019 US Open win, her first Grand Slam title at the age of 19, she tore the meniscus in her knee. She withdrew from the 2020 Australian Open to attend to the injury. Two months later, the world shut down and pro tours were suspended. Although she originally planned to play the rescheduled 2020 French Open, she withdrew ahead of the tournament to focus on her training and health. She went into 2021 “very, very hungry and very, very motivated to be back” but in January her coach en route to Melbourne for the Australian Open was one of the unfortunate souls to test positive for Covid after their flight landed were tested from Abu Dhabi. Andreescu was locked in their hotel rooms for 14 days along with 72 other players. No place practice. No outside air. The tournament started and Andreescu lost in the first round.

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Traveling for the coming 2021 season began and with it a kind of existential loneliness.

“I couldn’t see my parents. I couldn’t see my friends. At the tournaments you just go from the hotel to the courts, from the hotel to the courts. you can’t go You can’t help it.”

Along the way, her beloved grandmother contracted the virus and spent a month in intensive care. She stopped working with her former coach. She felt the pain of the everyday injuries of tour life, micro trauma to joints and tendons. And then in April 2021, after withdrawing from a tournament in Miami due to a foot injury, she tested positive for Covid and was forced to withdraw from the Madrid Open.

“I would say that was when I was just starting to go downhill.”

Andreescu continued to test positive for a month and was unable to play during that time. Months passed, and the journey, competition, and isolation continued. Finally, October rolled around and the originally postponed Indian Wells tournament was underway. The 2020 iteration never happened, and since she had won the 2019 event, Andreescu arrived as the defending champion.

“Honestly, at that point, everything was just kind of sad. I was placed in the nicest house for the tournament because I was technically the defending champion, even though it was a year and a half later. And I’m just sitting there, in this beautiful house, looking around this beautiful place, and I keep thinking about how lucky and grateful I should be to be there, like I won the tournament before. And I just hated everything.”

I ask if she ever thought about quitting right away.

“Well, for a split second I think I just don’t want to go on like this. How will it ever get better? It was so great 2019 and now I feel that way. But my soul knew otherwise. It knew this was something meant for me. I’m here to stay.”

Bianca Andreescu
Bianca Andreescu serves up Danielle Collins in the second round of the Madrid Open in May. Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Among things that nursed her back to health — sleep, her loved ones, traveling without a tennis racket, The Bachelorette (“I Love It”), volunteering — Andreescu released a children’s book in June. She and her team had thought about it at the very beginning of the pandemic, but she didn’t want to release it until the time was right.

Bibi’s Got Game: A Story about Tennis, Meditation and a Dog Named Coco tells the story of a young tennis player who learns to manage an injury and take care of herself in her free time. If the story sounds familiar, that’s because it’s meant to.

“I had to really delve deep into my childhood, which felt like a kind of therapy,” she said. “And I could see how my team and I worked on it together and how the illustrations came to life. I’m really, really grateful for how it turned out. And for all the love I get for it.” At book signings, young children have come up to Andreescu to tell her how much they loved it and why they picked up a bat because of it.

Andreescu picked up her own racquet when she was 7 years old. She doesn’t remember having a book like the one she’s written, but, “Maybe they existed and I just didn’t discover them.” She wrote it for a younger audience, but notes that people in their 40s like her have said that they also benefit from it.

“It makes me so happy. I wanted to do something universal. If I can, you know, give someone a little insight into how I went through what I went through at my younger age and it helps them, then that was the whole point.”

Andreescu meets France’s Harmony Tan on Monday in the first round of the US Open, the Grand Slam tournament where she has lost just once in 11 career games.

“Of course I want to win the tournament. But there is something else that comes with it, which is the process of everything. To be able to enjoy myself out there. To prepare myself as best as possible. Not letting any of it define me, not even – especially? – the mistakes.”

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