OWhen asked how she felt about being back on the pitch, Bianca Andreescu’s voice resonates with the repeated precision of someone who knew that question was coming. The 22-year-old Canadian tennis player feels good. She feels ready, focused, fresh. She knows she pulled out of the Cincinnati Western & Southern Open earlier this month, but it helped prepare her to play the US Open. She was able to train and regroup, and at the end of the day, she is very happy that she made the decision. Regarding the other decision, the most complex and painful, and consecutive to the numbers and rankings that matter in the life of a professional tennis player – the decision to take six months off in December 2021 – she lets it fly.
“I literally wanted to quit this sport. It was so bad,” Andreescu told the Guardian over the phone the day before he left for New York for the US Open. “I didn’t want to hear about tennis, or think about tennis, or anything like that for the first three months I was gone. And then, after three months, I realized, ‘Oh shit, that I really miss it. And I need it in my life.
The way she put it, there was no just one thing this prompted Andreescu to take time off. She hasn’t played at all in 2020. Right after winning the 2019 US Open, her first Grand Slam title at the age of 19, she tore her knee meniscus. She withdrew from the 2020 Australian Open to treat the injury. Two months later, the world shut down and professional tours were suspended. Although she originally planned to play the rescheduled 2020 French Open, she pulled out before the tournament to focus on her training and health. She entered 2021 “very, very hungry and very, very motivated to be back”, but in January, in transit to Melbourne for the Australian Open, her coach was one of the unfortunate souls who were tested. positive for Covid after landing their flight from Abu Dhabi. Andreescu, along with 72 other players, were locked in their hotel rooms for 14 days. No training on the court. No outside air. The tournament started and Andreescu lost in the first round.
The trips for the following 2021 season have begun, and with them a kind of existential loneliness.
“I couldn’t see my parents. I couldn’t see my friends. At tournaments, you just go from the hotel to the courts, from the hotel to the courts. You cannot leave. You can’t do anything else.
Along the way, her beloved grandmother contracted the virus and spent a month in intensive care. She stopped working with her former trainer. She felt the aches of the daily injuries of life on tour, micro-traumas to joints and tendons. And then, in April 2021, after pulling out of a tournament in Miami with a foot injury, she tested positive for Covid and had to pull out of the Madrid Open.
“I would say that’s when I started going downhill.”
Andreescu continued to test positive for a month and was unable to play during that time. Months passed and the drudgery of travel, competition and isolation continued. Finally, October rolled around and the originally postponed Indian Wells tournament was underway. The 2020 iteration never happened, and since winning the event in 2019, Andreescu has come in as the defending champion.
“Honestly, at that point it was all a bit sad. I had been put up in the nicest house in 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 at this beautiful place, and I can’t stop thinking about how I should be so happy and so grateful to be here, how I won the tournament before. And I hated everything.
I ask her if she has ever considered quitting altogether.
“Well, yeah, for a split second, I think, I just don’t want to go on like this. How is it ever going to get better? It was so great in 2019, and now I feel like that. But my soul knew differently. He knew it was something that was meant for me. I’m here to stay.”
Among other things that have nursed her — sleep, loved ones, traveling without a tennis racket, The Bachelorette (“I love it”), volunteer work — Andreescu released a children’s book in June. She and her team had thought of it just as the pandemic was creeping in, but she didn’t want to release it until it was the appropriate time.
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 cope with an injury and take care of herself in her spare time. If the story sounds familiar, that’s because it’s meant to be.
“I was really able to dig deep into my childhood, which felt like some kind of therapy,” she said. “And I got to see how my team and I all worked on it together, and how the artwork came to life. I’m really, really grateful for how it turned out. And for all the love that I At signings, young kids came up to Andreescu to tell him how much they loved him and how they picked up a racquet because of it.
Andreescu picked up her own racket when she was 7 years old. She doesn’t remember ever having a book like the one she wrote, but “Maybe they existed and I just didn’t find them.” She wrote it for a younger audience, but notes that people in their 40s have told her they got something out of it too.
“It makes me so happy. I wanted to do something universal. If I can, you know, just give someone a little insight into how I went through what I went through in my young age , and it helps them, so that was the whole point of it.
Andreescu will face 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 matches.
“Obviously I want to win the tournament. But there’s something else that goes with that too, which is the process of all of this. To be able to have fun there. To prepare as best I can. let none of those things define me, even – especially? – mistakes.”