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Rosie DiManno: It has been a Cinderella year for Bianca Andreescu, whose biggest challenge will be to keep midnight from striking

Rosie DiManno: It has been a Cinderella year for Bianca Andreescu, whose biggest challenge will be to keep midnight from striking
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Athlete of the year in the 19th year of her life. Now there’s a silver bullet for Bianca Andreescu to slip into the cartridge belt of her rocketing career.

Wonder what her 20s in the ’20s hold in store.

Anything Bianca wants, frankly. Because wanting has exploded into achieving for the teenager.

But not before Andreescu enthralled a gym full of students at Runnymede Collegiate as an ambassador for Right to Play, a newly embraced gig at the tail end of a spectacularly sizzling season. With Coco, the diva poodle, in the crook of her arm. And, for some reason, snarling from the bleachers later (Coco, not Bianca.) Bianca doesn’t snarl, not even when dissed by a surly dispatched opponent during the traditional post-match handshake at the net.

A typically nice Canadian, if ferocious competitor.

She took the trademark topknot out of her hair for this media booty call, her long dark hair cascading about her shoulders. Stylish chic in stretchy black leather pants, scarlet blazer, and itty-bitty tank-T, cut high to reveal abs of steel. Apple-cheeked and still daffy in a teen kind of way — real-time Instagramming her way through the press conference to her millions of followers. Deft with social media as a bred-in-the-bone millennial.

“I had a feeling that I could get a chance to hold this trophy but I didn’t think it was actually going to happen,” Andreescu grinned, upon presentation of the award by Torstar chair John Honderich. (The take-home version, not the 240-pound original kept at the Canadian Olympic Centre in Calgary.)

“I’m super grateful to everyone that voted for me because this year has been incredible, honestly. Truly a dream come true”

To wit: A pair of prestigious titles on the women’s tour, Indian Wells and the Rogers Cup. The gobsmacking triumph over her idol, Serena Williams, at the U.S. Open — the first Grand Slam championship by a Canadian. A 48-7 match record. A 17-match win streak, the longest of the year for any tennis player, and 8-3 against top-10 opponents. Whopping $6.5 million (U.S.) in prize money for 2019.

And the No. 4 world ranking, with a bead on No. 1. Because she’s always aimed high.

“I don’t know how 2020 can be better than 2019 — 2019 was a Cinderella story. But if I could choose something, it would have to be accomplish my ultimate goal, which is to become No. 1 in the world. And hopefully win another Grand Slam. And stay healthy as much as possible.”

Amidst all the hype and the accolades, the drooling sponsors, the endless media demands, she’s still just Bianca, really. It hasn’t gone to her head, she insists.

“I have to be careful with the people I let into my life,” she admits. “I have to make sure that they’re coming into my life for my own good, not only theirs. That’s definitely been a challenge. But I’m not complaining. I love doing what I’m doing, so I’m super-happy about everything going on right now.”

On the night she bested Serena for the second time — the first was the walkover Rogers title when Williams withdrew from the final with back spasms (and Andreescu leading) — Andreescu enjoyed a quiet dinner with her parents and “team,” then tripped the light fandango in the Big Apple on her stiletto heels, polishing off pizza slices with gal-pals in the middle of the night.

That’s Bianca, doing her best to stay grounded while simultaneously walking on air.

“Having amazing parents, they definitely help me stay grounded,” says Andreescu, the only child of a Romanian immigrant mom and dad. “I always talk about having good people in your corner, that’s very important. And don’t treat me like I’m Bianca Andreescu. To them, I’m just Bianca, which helps a lot. Because I could definitely see how fame changes people.”

She elaborates: “I’ve always dreamt about being No. 1 in the world. I’ve always dreamt of winning Grand Slams. But I never realized all the things that go along with it, like the media attention. Ever since I was little, I’ve always been a low-key kind of person. This really isn’t my area. It helps for me not to get caught up in it.

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“I like to be as private as I can. I can definitely see how it changes people. By change, I mean you can easily shift your priorities into maybe doing more media things than your actual career. But I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.’’

While solid friendships are built on the women’s tour, these players, who compete against each other week after week, are also intense rivals. That doesn’t necessarily make for warm relations in the locker room. The aforementioned disser, former No. 1 Angelique Kerber, hissed at Andreescu, after the Indian Wells final: “Biggest drama queen ever.” A week later, Andreescu eliminated her again in Miami.

Genie Bouchard, once Canada’s tennis goddess, famously said she didn’t want to make friends on tour, thank you very much. Andreescu claims she has only one BFF on the circuit, American Taylor Townsend. “I’m a pretty friendly person. I like to talk to other athletes because it’s a way that I can relate with someone. But I can see where Genie was coming from. Because we all have one goal, we all want to do well. I can see some of them will look at me as the new kid on the block. I really don’t have any friends.”

Glamour aside, it’s a tough, grinding lifestyle, especially for a raw teenager not often accompanied by parents. And of course now Andreescu will have a target on her back as an elite contender at every stop.

“I guess there can be a bit more pressure on my shoulders since I’m top five. I’m a favourite to win at Grand Slams now. But I think that motivates me. Pressure really raises my game to the next level. That’s why I’ve done so well in bigger matches, like (against) Serena. I try to use it as a challenge.”

She knows herself better these days, the ripening of her talent, the formidable focus required — elements so vividly apparent in her all-court game, the dig-in-deep dimension that has allowed her to scramble out of tight corners, to reply from a set down, to persevere. Top-drawer skill only goes so far; the rest is indefatigable will. It’s why she was able to knock off so many established marquee seeds. Of course, now they see her coming. A year ago, she was ranked No. 152.

“I didn’t have much pressure on my shoulders when I went up against them. Before the Rogers Cup, there were so many things going through my mind because it’s my hometown, I played at that tennis court ever since I was 10 years old, and I was facing Serena Williams, the person I looked up to my whole life. I remember talking to my coach about the game plan and I just started bawling because so many emotions were going through my head.”

She’s also trying to learn patience. “When I’m on the court, I want everything right away. So if I miss a shot or if I lose a game, I get pretty down on myself. I just have to bounce back and realize that it’s not always going to go my way, try to stay in the present moment as much as possible.”

Try to stay healthy too, which is Job One for her entourage. For all that Andreescu accomplished in 2019, she did it bracketed around worrisome injuries that cost her two months. She’s actually rehabbing right now, from the left knee suffered in the WTA Finals in China last month. “My team and I are trying really, really hard to find things that are contributing to my injuries.”

Shortly, the Bianca Express will be shunting to California, in preparation for the Australian Open next month. Christmas and New Year’s are just fleeting distractions on Andreescu’s calendar. She’s all about the tennis, baby.
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