Bianca Andreescu started the season as an up-and-coming teenager eager to make her mark on the WTA Tour. She finished the campaign as one of its top stars.
A murderer’s row of tennis talent — Kerber, Venus, Wozniacki, Svitolina, Pliskova, and of course, Serena — all fell to the upstart Canadian who shone in the key moments and on some of the sport’s biggest stages.
Andreescu capped her unforgettable season Thursday by winning the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award as The Canadian Press female athlete of the year.
“When I step on the court, I know it’s very easy to say, but I try not to focus on who’s on the other side,” Andreescu, a 19-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., said. “I think that’s helped me achieve what I’ve achieved.”
Andreescu’s list of accomplishments over the last 12 months is a long one. She kept one-upping herself throughout the year.
One breakthrough came at Indian Wells last March. A Rogers Cup singles title — the first by a Canadian in 50 years — came in August in Toronto, a few weeks ahead of Andreescu’s history-making turn at the U.S. Open.
In a generational Canadian sports moment on par with Mike Weir’s Masters victory and Sidney Crosby’s golden goal, Andreescu beat Serena Williams to become the first Canadian to win a Grand Slam singles title.
“Bianca Andreescu is the only choice for Canada’s female athlete of the year,” said Globe and Mail sports editor Shawna Richer. “Hands down the most dominant performance of any athlete, male or female. This year, a star was born.”
Andreescu nearly swept the year-end poll of broadcasters and editors from across the country.
She picked up 66 of 68 votes (97 per cent) overall, with short-track speedskater Kim Boutin and middle-distance runner Gabriela DeBues-Stafford taking one vote apiece.
Golfer Brooke Henderson won the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award the last two years. The last tennis player to take the honour was Eugenie Bouchard, who won in 2013 and 2014.
The winner of the Lionel Conacher Award as Canada’s male athlete of the year will be named Friday and the team of the year will be named Saturday.
Andreescu rocketed up the rankings on her way to becoming a top-five player. She started the year at No. 152.
With a punishing, grinding style that keeps opponents on their heels, Andreescu has a variety of weapons that can be tough to match. She has the power game to hang with the big hitters and uses different spins and drops to her advantage.
“I think now I’m at a stage where I can choose the right shot at the right time,” she said. “That’s one challenge I think that I’ve faced this year is to choose the right tool in my toolbox at a certain time. But I think that’s improving and I think I can continue to storm the WTA Tour.”
Andreescu had to battle her way through qualification draws a year ago. Main draw appearances and eventual seedings in bigger tournaments soon followed.
Her performance at the ASB Classic in Auckland last January got people’s attention. She beat former world No. 1s Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki before losing in the final.
Andreescu won a lower-level WTA 125K Series event in Newport Beach, Calif., later that month before breaking out at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif.
A second-round win over then-world No. 35 Dominika Cibulkova and quarterfinal rout of then-world No. 20 Garbine Muguruza stood out before a final victory over Angelique Kerber, the world No. 8 at the time.
“When I beat Cibulkova, I think that sparked something in me because then I played Muguruza and it was just the best match I’ve ever played,” Andreescu recalled. “I won that match (love) and one, which is very rare.
“I think after that moment, I really thought that I can actually win a Grand Slam.”
Andreescu earned her first seven-digit paycheque of US$1.35 million and rose 36 spots to No. 24 in the world. She became the first wild-card entry to win the Premier Mandatory-level tournament.
However, injuries were a problem at times. Andreescu’s season ended at the WTA Finals with a knee injury and her mid-season schedule was limited by a shoulder issue that forced her to retire from her fourth-round match at the Miami Open.
After a second-round exit at the French Open, Andreescu returned with a vengeance at the Rogers Cup. Adored by the Toronto crowd in what was essentially a hometown tournament, she earned the crown when Williams had to stop playing after just four games due to injury.
Andreescu picked up where she left off a couple weeks later at the U.S. Open. She dropped only two sets in the entire tournament before dispatching Williams again in the final, this time by a score of 6-3, 7-5.
“In the back of my head, there’s always that thought (where) you know you’re playing someone that’s top five or top 10,” Andreescu said. “But in those circumstances my level just increases, which I think is good because I have to raise my level in order to keep up with them.
“I don’t know how it gets to that. It just does.”
Andreescu closed the season at No. 5 in the world rankings. She posted a 48-7 record on the campaign and totalled $6.5 million in earnings.
Aleksandra Wozniak (2009), Helen Kelesi (1989, 1990) and Carling Bassett (1985) are the other tennis players who have won the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award.
Rosenfeld, an Olympic medallist in track and field and a multi-sport athlete, was named Canada’s best female athlete of the half-century in 1950.
Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press