Bianca Andreescu: The New Tennis Queen

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Bianca Andreescu is now a princess bride. Almost overnight, Andreescu went from princess to queen, from an unknown to being well know. She went from the bottom of the heap to the top of the hill. Her’s is a rags to riches sports story for the ages. In Andrescu, we see that the little Davids are still conquering the giant Goliaths of sports, and it gives us the hope and the heart to do the same. Here’s what sports writers wrote about her epic performance this year:

“What impresses you most about Andreescu? There are so many choices. Power. Athleticism. Strategy. Toughness. Winner’s mentality? Which one did Andreescu use to win?

I resist choosing one, because there’s interplay between all the things you just mentioned. But I remain dumbfounded by the way the final played out. Truth serum: when Andreescu failed to convert that match point at 6-2, 5-1 and suddenly the score was 6-2, 5-5—with the Mighty Serena Williams awoken; a crowd of 24,000 squarely partial to the veteran player; a transformative moment seeming to have passed—I had existential concerns. My thought process: “Serena is going to win the match now, and tie the record. The crowd will go wild and this will be an incredible, indelible moment, a fitting coda to Serena’s career.”

https://www.si.com/tennis/2019/09/11/tennis-mailbag-us-open-rafa-nadal-bianca-andreescu

But it didn’t happen. Here’s what did happen, according to the New Yorker:

“In her 2019 U.S. Open Victory, Bianca Andreescu showed us the swagger that Serena Williams brought to women’s tennis.

Before 2019, Bianca Andreescu was mostly unknown. She began the year ranked No. 152 in the world. But, ever since, she has defeated some of the best players in the world, demonstrating a stunning array of skills—flat, deep ground strokes topping out at close to ninety miles per hour; moony topspin shots designed to disrupt the rhythm of her opponent; nasty skidding slices and delicate drop shots—and the intelligence, imagination, and audacity to use them effectively. She exposed Kerber’s defense-minded game, which Kerber has used to win three grand slams, as one-dimensional. More than that, though, she showed self-assurance—the kind of competitive intensity and unapologetic swagger usually reserved for a few legends of the game. She carried herself more like Serena Williams than like what she was: a teen-ager with a wild card.

That shoulder problem turned out to be a torn rotator cuff. Andreescu had to retire from her fourth-round match in Miami. After pulling out of her second-round match at the French Open, still struggling with the injury, she missed the entire grass season. Then she returned to tour—and promptly won the Canadian Open. She has not lost a completed match since March 1st. She has never, in her career, lost to a top-ten player. (She is now 8–0.) And, on Saturday, she defeated Williams in dramatic fashion, 6–3, 7–5, to win the U.S. Open.

That was part of the story of the women’s final. There was also the player on the other side of the net. Williams came into the match just having won her hundred and first match at the U.S. Open. She was seeking her twenty-fourth grand-slam title, which would tie her with Margaret Court’s total—a record that, given the number of titles Court won in Australia, against weaker fields, only means anything because it seems to have become a strange sort of stumbling block for Williams. Since coming back last year, after giving birth, she has made four slam finals. The over-all level of the tour had risen in her absence, and yet no one else could claim that kind of consistency. But the finals matches themselves have been another story. She had yet to win a single set in any of those matches.

This time, though, there was an air of inevitability about her. She had played well all tournament, starting with a sharp performance against her favorite honing steel, Maria Sharapova, and including an utter dismantling of Wang Qiang, in forty-four minutes, in the quarter-finals, and an even more impressive win against Elina Svitolina, in the semifinals. It wasn’t solely the show of her usual power, which few players can match. She was also fit in a way that she hadn’t been since recovering from the difficult birth of her daughter, which was followed by a string of injuries.

In this final, her movement—not only forward and back but side to side—was finally there, both steady and explosive. Against Svitolina, who has risen into the top five on the strength of her ability to extend points, Williams was actually the superior mover, and won the majority of their long rallies. She had, too, a calmness about her that had often seemed lacking during her comeback.

As a cultural icon—as an inspirational figure, as a brand—Williams has never been bigger, but during the finals matches her aura had seemed diminished. She has won countless matches in her career by imposing herself before the first serve was even struck, but her past four finals opponents had come out obviously feeling less pressure than her. This was understandable, given what she was up against—not only her opponent but also the expectations, even the assumptions, of millions, most of all herself. But, during this tournament, the confidence seemed back. Her first serve, always the most important weapon, was humming at high speeds; the tuning fork seemed to be struck.

It wasn’t that Andreescu was oblivious to any of this; she knows the legend of Williams as well as anyone. There was never a time, in fact, during Andreescu’s life when Williams wasn’t winning; Williams won her first U.S. Open title before Andreescu was even born. Andreescu admitted to being nervous before the match. But she seemed more concerned with her own inevitability. She really did carry herself like a queen.

Williams began the match with an ace, but Andreescu was unphased. She put pressure on Williams’s serve with heavy, attacking returns. “I think she was intimidated a little bit by it,” she said afterward—not something I can remember anyone saying about Williams, ever. But perhaps she was right: Williams double-faulted twice to give Andreescu the first break. From there, Andreescu seemed only to get stronger. She used big body serves to bail her out of trouble—much the way Williams always has. She used the depth of her ground strokes to set up sharp angles or rockets down the line. She set patterns and broke them, and seemed to unsettle Williams, who put only forty-four per cent of her first serves into play and finished with eight double faults. Williams’s footwork was off. Andreescu’s shouts of “Let’s go!” and “Come on!” echoed strangely in the silent stadium. She reached her first championship point up 5–1 in the second set. It seemed, for a moment, hard to watch.

But Williams, ever the competitor, fought back. She saved championship point with a forehand into the corner, and then started to move. Andreescu was the one then whose racquet looked heavy, her swings slower and her serves starting to miss. Williams levelled the score at 5–5, lifted by and in turn lifting a raucous crowd—which was so loud, and so much in Williams’s favor, that at one point Andreescu covered her ears to try to block it out.

Another young player might have cracked at that point, watching such a lead slip away, playing passively, while knowing what Williams can do when she finds her form. Andreescu, though, settled herself, held serve, and broke to win the match.”

https://www.newyorker.com/sports/sporting-scene/in-her-us-open-victory-bianca-andreescu-shows-the-swagger-that-serena-williams-brought-to-womens-tennis

Rafael Nadal vs. Daniil Medvedev: Survival Of the Fittest

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Rafael Nadal just won his 19th Grand Slam singles title as he was recently crowned the 2019 US Open Tennis Tournament champion. But it wasn’t easy. Nadal won because he outlasted his opponent. That’s it.  Nadal didn’t necessarily play better or serve better or volley better. He just lasted longer. And that’s the life lesson; sometimes you don’t win big by blowing out your opponent. Sometimes you just figure out a way to stay on your feet for five hours and will your way to a win. It takes guts and grit and resolve and a unanimous resolution to win the match we saw Rafael win on Sunday night. And it was one for the ages.

There were so many lessons and so many story lines and so many memories made that time would fail to capture them all in in one blog. But there’s one story line that I love. It’s about the heart of a champion. Here’s how a Washington Post writer described Nadal’s marathon match with Daniil Medvedev:

“In one of those occasional and stupendous sporting events that winds up flattering the runner-up every ounce as much as the winner, Rafael Nadal spent Sunday evening withstanding a championship match donnybrook rich in unbelievable volleys and awe inspiring, gasping points. A U.S. Open final that was an almost peerless, instant classic was built to such heights that the far-fetched story within it seemed to outweigh even the long-term significance it caused.

Daniil Medvedev, the 6-foot-6, 23-year-old Russian who looks as if he has never encountered a fat gram, spent the 4 hours 50 minutes of Nadal’s 7-5, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4 win showing that his beanpole frame houses a humongous heart.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2019/09/08/us-open-mens-final-rafael-nadal-seeks-th-grand-slam-title/?noredirect=on

And so there you have it. Every time we outlast an opposition, we wonder how we made it over. The how is in the heart. And you don’t just need heart; you need a humongous heart, just like the tender, leathery heart of love that our Lord displayed for us on Calvary. The victory of the Cross wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. Rafael Nadal would say the same about his momentous US Open Championship win.  And when we are still standing after the enemy has thrown his best at us, we too can say the same.

Tears of Sports Joy: Why Aren’t You Watching the 2019 US Open?

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Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff at their joint Post Match Press Conference at the 2019 US Open

Talk about drama and theater and a showcase and an awesome show of showmanship in sports! I just started watching the 2019 US Tennis Open and now I can’t stop. Yes, this year’s US Open has it all. Upsets, comebacks and, you guessed it- turnarounds, especially on the women’s side.

Two matches are particularly of note; Taylor Townsend vs. Simona Halep and, of course, Naomi Osaka vs. Coco Gauff.

When I tuned in to the Taylor/Halep match, it looked like Taylor was trying to LOSE her math to Halep and not win. Seriously. She made unforced error after unforced error, and had so many mental miscues that I said there is no way this American is going to win. But she did. Instead of losing, she pulled herself together and won the match that could easily have been lost. Kudos to you Taylor, your upset win made me cry for joy.

The New York Times reported is this way:

“Taylor Townsend stunned the reigning Wimbledon champion Simona Halep on Thursday by rushing to the net 106 times. In her match with Halep on Saturday, Taylor said ‘there was no reason to change what was working.’

And in her previous win, Townsend, ranked 116th, came to the net 75 times in her 7-5, 6-2 victory over Sorana Cirstea in Louis Armstrong Stadium, including 53 times on serve-and-volley points. In her on-court interview after the match, Townsend said she had been surprised to learn how many people had her phone number, based on the congratulations she received on her win over Halep, but had worked to maintain her focus.

‘I just tried to keep my head on straight,” Townsend, 23, said. “My coach and I talked about strategy, and just continuing what I did from the last round, and just trying to get better.’ ” https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/31/sports/tennis/us-open-taylor-townsend.html

Townsend was playing in the third round of a Grand Slam tournament for just the second time in her career, after losing at this stage of the 2013 French Open. She told the crowd this would be only the beginning for her, saying she planned to “ride this thing all the way.”

The Los Angeles times reported this part of the story:

“Unable to recapture the success she had enjoyed at the junior level, Taylor Townsend knew earlier this year she’d have to change something in her tennis life. Being routed by Simona Halep at Miami in March was the catalyst that drove Townsend, 23, to approach Halep for advice. Halep generously obliged. But on Thursday, Halep became a victim of Townsend’s rekindled hunger. In the biggest upset of this year’s U.S. Open, a confident Townsend went to the net early and often and outplayed Halep — the current Wimbledon champion — to earn a 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4) victory in a second-round match at Arthur Ashe Stadium. And so Townsend’s win wasn’t much of a thank-you to Halep. “Next time, I will not say anything,” she said, smiling.

Taylor said “she didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t know, but it was good to hear it from another player, someone I just played, played a couple of times. Especially someone who is at such a high level, has accomplished so much,” Townsend said. “I’m not saying that everything she said I implemented into my training, but it was definitely in the back of my head to remember what she said and also remember why I asked, what drove me to ask that question, kind of that hunger and desire to get better.”

The triumph was a long time coming for Townsend, who became teary-eyed during a post-match interview.” https://www.latimes.com/sports/story/2019-08-29/taylor-townsend-takes-simona-halep-advice-then-beats-her-in-u-s-open-singles.

http://www.espn.com/video/clip?id=27510631

And THEN there was the most anticipated match of the tournament; reigning US Open Champion Naomi Osaka vs. Coco Gauff. If you didn’t watch the match on Saturday night, just watch the post-game interview. It’s a presser that will live in sports infamy.

I just dare you not to cry.

http://www.espn.com/video/clip?id=27510631