On the greatest occasion of her tennis life, Bianca Andreescu’s mind flew back a year to remember experiencing one of the most painful moments of her career on these grounds.
Her U.S. Open hopes last year crashed before they could take flight when she suffered a back injury and lost in the first round of the qualifying tournament. On Wednesday, after she defeated Elise Mertens 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 at Arthur Ashe Stadium to advance to the semifinals, Andreescu was struck by the happy absurdity of what has happened to her in the past 12 months.
“This, honestly, is so crazy,” she said after her power-infused, full-court game carried her past Mertens and to a matchup against Belinda Bencic on Thursday. “Is this real life?”
It’s as real as her 40 winners against Mertens — who had lost only 16 games in the first four rounds — and as real as Andreescu’s success in each of her last 12 matches that have gone three sets. The 19-year-old from the Toronto suburb of Thornhill gave notice of her potential when she won the championship at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells this year. After recovering from a shoulder injury, she won a hard-court title in Toronto when Serena Williams retired because of injury. Now, Andreescu has made her deepest foray into a Grand Slam event.
Still, she insisted her best here is still to come. “I just fought really well with what I had every single day,” she said. “I think that’s the most important thing for me, and I’m sure for every athlete you’re not going to have good days every day. So I just try my best to figure out what’s going well and what’s not and just go from there.”
Andreescu started slowly on Wednesday, returning badly and committing an array of unforced errors as Mertens closed out the first set with an ace. The second set stayed on serve until Andreescu, surging as she created more chances with her forehand, broke for a 4-2 lead and gained another break to end the set. She got the first break of the final set and took a 5-3 lead on a backhand winner. She converted her first match point by walloping a backhand down the line.
“I think anyone would be shocked to be in the semifinals of a Grand Slam because all of us dream of this moment ever since we’re kids, ever since we picked up a racket,” said Andreescu, whose match against Bencic will follow the semifinal between No. 8 Williams and No. 5 Elina Svitolina.
Bencic pulled away from Donna Vekic for a 7-6 (5), 6-3 victory Wednesday and kept alive the dream she had clung to while injuries disrupted her career. Touted for stardom when she cracked the top 100 at age 17 and got to the quarterfinals here in 2014, she was detoured by problems with her back, wrist, and foot. She played in low-tier tournaments to rebuild her game, drudgery that has carried her to her first Grand Slam event semifinal.
“I was dreaming, of course, about this day coming, but you never know what’s going to happen,” the Switzerland native said. “It’s there like a dream, always. Even when you are playing bad, you want to come back to this feeling. You want to eventually get the big wins and have these nice feelings. I think that’s motivation enough to keep going.”
Against Vekic, a friend and practice partner, Bencic began to think the game better and took control in the second set. “I think it was small points that changed the whole match,” said Bencic, who will be ranked among the top 10 next week. “It was, of course, very tight even in the second set. I tried to put a little bit more variation in the game. I tried to play a little bit smarter.”
Bencic said she has been impressed by the variation in Andreescu’s game; Andreescu praised Bencic’s serve and movement. “I’m going to do my best to just focus on myself mainly and just keep doing what I’m doing,” she said, “because I think my game is throwing off a lot of players.”