Andreescu feeling empowered after break from tennis

 - Chris Oddo

A soul-searching journey helped the Canadian deepen her connection with the sport

Bianca Andreescu, Rome 2022© Ray Giubilo/FFT

There’s a long history of tennis players stepping away from the sport for periods to recharge their batteries, but Bianca Andreescu, who will face Belgian qualifier Ysaline Bonaventure in the first round in Paris, is a decidedly different case. 

The 2019 US Open champion recently took five months off the court to engage with the world and find herself. 

Andreescu volunteered at multiple charities, including one dedicated to helping victims of domestic violence. She also expanded her creative horizons, picked up martial arts, played tons of basketball and got reacquainted with friends and family.

Now the world No.72 is back on tour with a renewed sense of purpose.

“I think I really used my time wisely,” the Canadian said after her return to the tour, earlier this month in Madrid. “I can't say that I regret that decision. I think it was one of the best ever.”

Tennis as a vehicle 

Andreescu says her time of reflection gave her a deep sense of appreciation for the platform she has developed as one of the world’s top athletes. 

“I did some charity work which kind of brings me back to my main goal, which is to help others,” said the. “I kind of want to just use my platform, which is tennis, to widen that variety. So being in that position really reminded me why I actually play the sport.”

Andreescu’s time as a volunteer at a domestic violence shelter was particularly eye-opening. 

“If I go into detail I'm going to cry, because it's like the saddest thing ever,” she said. “There is this one lady who was basically running away from her husband that wanted to kill her, that kind of stuff. It's just absurd things. I can't believe any human being has to go through that.” 

With a bolstered perspective, the 21-year-old returns to the tour equipped with a wider lens. She believes it will help her stay grounded in the months and years to come.

Bianca Andreescu, Roland Garros 2021© Julien Crosnier/FFT

Finding form just in time for RG 

Andreescu has put her best foot forward since returning to the tour in Stuttgart this spring, going 6-3 win-loss with a quarter-final appearance in Rome. She believes the best is yet to come in terms of her performance on clay. 

“I feel like I have been playing really well on clay, and I have been playing against some high-level athletes so I know kind of where my level is at, which is great,” she told reporters on Saturday in Paris.

Andreescu believes she has the tools to be competitive on this surface and is looking forward to flaunting her skills in a tricky section of the draw that includes Madrid champion Ons Jabeur, last year's Roland-Garros semi-finalist Maria Sakkari, Olympic champion Belinda Bencic, in-form No.27 seed Amanda Anisimova and former world No.1 Naomi Osaka.

"My change of rhythm I think works well because of the bounces on the clay. My kick serve I think is very effective," explained Andreescu, who also highlighted her movement as an asset on the red dirt.

Comfortable being uncomfortable 

Fitness trainer Abdul Sillah, a Sierra Leone native who also trained Naomi Osaka, has been a key figure in Andreescu’s development since the two paired up in March of 2021. 

“Abdul, he's very motivating and inspirational,” Andreescu says. “He's been through a lot in his life and has a lot of experiences as well, so he's kind of like a mentor for me, like a second father, in a way.” 

The Canadian says that Sillah, who moved to the United States when he was nine, pushes her to push herself. 

“He's really tough on me but in the good way,” she said. “I feel like now I'm becoming more comfortable being uncomfortable, which I think is super, super important in life. He really brings that out of me. He's just an amazing, happy human being. We have very similar beliefs and values, so I'm very grateful for him.”

Variety the slice of life 

Still in the first year of her relationship with coach Sven Groeneveld, the former coach of Maria Sharapova and many others, Andreescu says that the pair are committed to using the clay as a canvas. 

“I still feel that there can always be an improvement in my game regarding shot selection, and I have been working a lot with Sven on that. And also, all other parts of my game. He tests me a lot, and he says that I have more tools in my toolbox than I actually think. 

“I have been really showing that on court, and he's helping me bring that out of me. And that could be little things, like maybe even a short-slice crosscourt which I don't normally use. We are continuously working on stuff like that, or maybe serving and volleying, like little things like that that can for sure make a difference at the end of the day."

The reality check 

Though she’s only 21, Andreescu is already feeling like a more senior member of the tour. She was asked about how she views herself in that regard on Saturday. 

“I still feel that I'm young, but at the same time when I do see players like Coco Gauff, Emma Raducanu, Iga (Swiatek), she's younger than me, I feel like I'm getting older,” she said with a smile. “So it's a good reality check to put me in my place, like, ‘Come on, your time is slowly running out’ which is good in a way."

Process before expectations 

What’s in the future for Andreescu? The former world No.4 hopes to be climbing back into the top-10 and winning more Grand Slam titles, but realises that the only path to higher ground is by staying grounded.

“I'm still focusing on the process to get to where I want to get," she revealed. "I obviously have goals to crack the top 10 again and win other Grand Slams, more tournaments, I really want to focus on the process to get towards that, and it's been working really well.

“I know I can go above and beyond when I need to, which gives me a lot of confidence.”