'Ready to go': Bianca Andreescu primed for return to tennis at Australian Open

It’s been nearly 500 days since Bianca Andreescu played a competitive tennis match. Now, with the Australian Open on the horizon, the 20-year-old Canadian says she’s ready to go.

Canadian star hasn't played competitive match since injury at 2019 WTA Finals

Bianca Andreescu, seen above at the 2019 WTA Finals, said Thursday she's physically and emotionally ready to compete ahead of the Australian Open. (Andy Wong/The Associated Press)

It's been nearly 500 days since Bianca Andreescu played a competitive tennis match.

That was in October 2019, when the budding Canadian star retired from a WTA Finals match with a torn meniscus in her left knee.

Now, with the Australian Open on the horizon, Andreescu says she's ready to go.

"I'm working really, really hard to prevent as much as possible. But sometimes you really can't. Things just happen,'' Andreescu said in a press conference on Friday from Melbourne.

"But right now, I had a long period where I can focus on those things and train to the best of my capabilities, which I've been doing.

"And yeah, I'm healthy. Like I said, I don't always want to focus on the past. I want to focus on the future now."

Since 2019, there have been multiple false starts for Andreescu. She was on Canada's roster for a Fed Cup tie last February, but didn't suit up. Then the pandemic hit, forcing tennis to pause. When WTA play returned in the summer, Andreescu opted out. By September, she officially announced she was done for the season.

It looked as if the 20-year-old Mississauga, Ont., native would return to the court earlier this week as the top seed in the Grampians Trophy, but she once again bowed out, citing further Australian Open prep.

"It was mainly because I had two weeks of not training and I didn't want to take the risk of having just a couple of days preparation before the tournament. So that was the main reason. I'm healthy though. I'm ready to go," Andreescu said.

Drawing from 2019

It was a sudden plateau for Andreescu, who won the 2019 Lou Marsh Trophy as Canada's top athlete.

That was the year she emerged as the surprise winner at Indian Wells, following it up by taking the Rogers Cup on home soil and capping the calendar with a U.S. Open title over Serena Williams, making her the first Canadian to win a singles tennis major.

She began that season ranked 152nd. Now, she's No. 8.

Perhaps only such an immensely successful season could have convinced Andreescu to break her rule and peer into the past just a bit.

Known for her visualization techniques before matches, Andreescu says she's drawn from some of her biggest 2019 moments.

"I was watching myself play back in 2019 and I really got into the mood, into the mindset. I felt the same things like I did in 2019, which I think really helps me just get in character," she said. 

"And it really inspired me just watching myself play again because I don't normally like to do that, but I think it was good for me since I haven't played for so long."

Riding the ensuing injury and pandemic roller-coaster wasn't easy.

"Obviously, I have bad days where I think to myself and ask myself, 'why me?' Like, 'why is this happening?' Blah, blah, blah. But I really do believe that everything happens for a reason, as cliché as that might sound."

Before even stepping foot on the Aussie Open court, Andreescu faced more turbulence when her coach, Sylvain Bruneau, tested positive for the coronavirus when he arrived in  Australia three weeks ago.

She says Bruneau is feeling good now, calling him "the missing piece of the puzzle" as she finally makes her return to the court.

'I love to win'

Andreescu arrived along with Bruneau in the middle of January. Under Australian rules, players were required to quarantine for two weeks, but were permitted to leave their rooms for some training time outside. However, because Andreescu had been in contact with her coach, she was confined to her room the whole time.

With only so much time one can spend training inside a hotel room, Andreescu says she turned to X-Box and Call of Duty to keep her relaxed and maintain a connection with friends at home.

Like many of us itching to leave our houses nearly 11 months into the pandemic, Andreescu is simmering in the simple joys of her quasi-return to normalcy.

"Travelling to the best places in the world, playing the best tournaments, eating the best food, seeing [the media] of course, and just doing my thing. This is what I love to do. I'm super passionate and I love to win," she said. 

On the other side of the coin, Andreescu is aware of the physical toll that playing a Grand Slam tournament will exact, saying "I'm going to be sore as hell after my first match." 

"But I don't feel like I have too much pressure on my shoulders. Yes, I'm seeded, but I haven't played in so long. So I just want to go out there and have the mindset where I'm just like, so goddamn grateful to be on the court."

The Australian Open draw was revealed Friday, with Andreescu set to face Romania's Mihaela Buzarnescu (No. 138) in the first round. A quarter-final match could pit the Canadian against American star Naomi Osaka, with Serena Williams and Simona Halep looming in a potential semifinal showdown.

Also competing for Canada on the women's side are world No. 89 Leylah Annie Fernandez, who was eliminated in the Grampians round of 16 Thursday, and No. 316 Rebecca Marino.

Canadians No. 12 Denis Shapovalov, No. 15 Milos Raonic, No. 21 Felix Auger-Aliassime and No. 61 Vasek Pospisil await their matchups in the men's draw.

Play begins Feb. 8 and runs through Feb. 21.

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