Wimbledon 2022: How Bibi got her groove back

 - Reem Abulleil

Canadian rediscovers love for tennis as she eyes progress on grass

Bianca Andreescu / Wimbledon 2021©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Five years after making her Wimbledon main draw debut, Bianca Andreescu finally claimed her first victory at the All England Club on Tuesday to set up a second round against No.17 seed Elena Rybakina.

“I was actually talking to my trainer about my first time at Wimbledon, and it was great,” recalled Andreescu on Tuesday after defeating qualifier Emina Bektas om straight sets.

“Like my first three qualies matches I was killing it, like at the other site (in Roehampton). I go to the main site, and I completely froze, like I remember I could not put a forehand on the court.

“So looking back at that, and finally getting a win here in the main draw means a lot to me. That was like five years ago.

“It was my first Grand Slam too. I didn't really think I would really do anything, but now I have bigger dreams.”

It’s nice to see the 22-year-old Canadian back on court and dreaming big again. There was a time not too long ago where she was contemplating her future in the sport.

A much-needed break

The 2019 US Open champion has so far had a roller coaster career, plagued by injuries that repeatedly interrupted her progress.

Her sudden breakthrough as a teenager winning Indian Wells, Toronto and a maiden Grand Slam in New York, all in one year, was a lot to digest; and her physical struggles made it difficult to gain any sense of continuity on tour.

She admittedly put too much pressure on herself and by the end of last season, she realised she had to take an extended break to address some mental health concerns.

During her five months away from the tour (she returned in April 2022), Andreescu went on a soul-searching journey to figure out why she was playing tennis to begin with.

She went on a wellness retreat in Costa Rica, hung out with family and friends, played video games and basketball, started making music again, did some charity work and volunteered at a SickKids hospital and a women’s shelter for victims of domestic violence.

“Just being in that environment really, first of all, makes me appreciate my life,” Andreescu told reporters in Madrid last month.  

“For me, tennis is just a platform that I love – now I love it again – to basically help and contribute to a better world in a way. That's kind of how I'm viewing tennis.

“I'm not identifying myself with the sport anymore, because I felt like last year, if I lost, I hated myself. If I won, it was like the best thing ever.

“Now I'm viewing tennis as just another opportunity to get better as a person and it's something I'm passionate about, so I want to enjoy myself out there.”

Bianca Andreescu / Roland-Garros 2022©Philippe Montigny / FFT

Passion for learning

Since her return to action in Stuttgart two months ago, Andreescu has risen from 121 in the world to her current position of 54.

She made the quarter-finals on clay in Rome and the final last week on grass in Bad Homburg before heading to Wimbledon, where she hopes to reach the third round of a Slam for just the second time since her US Open title run in 2019.

“I think I'm in a really good area of my life right now, like all around,” Andreescu said at SW19.

“I'm just trying to have a growth mindset every day, just get better, continue to learn. I try to leave an hour a day for myself, like to do things that I love. That includes learning, because I love learning about different things.

“And keeping like the same routines, same habits that I found work for me is super important.”

Loving the process

Andreescu has ambitious goals that include making a return to the top-10 and adding more titles to her resume.

But she admits it’s more important for her to appreciate the journey rather than just the destination.

“I really want to focus on the process to get towards that, and it's been working really well,” she says.

“Obviously when I'm on court I'm super hungry and always looking at the finish line, at the bigger picture, but I do want to continue to do like those every-moment things or every-single-day things, like those daily routines.

“And even during the points as well I want to continue to build that, and then I know that one day all the other things will come in place.”

Reality check

Andreescu feels she now has the tools to take care of herself and avoid another setback or burnout.

She also knows she can always walk away for another break if needed.

The Canadian is only 22 but has already been through many challenging experiences that have helped her mature. She’s also no longer the up-and-coming teenager like she was when she broke through a few years ago.

When she got back to the tour this spring, she came back to a scene where the world No.1 is 21, the reigning US Open champion Emma Raducanu is 19, and the Roland-Garros runner-up Coco Gauff is 18.

“I still feel that I'm young, but at the same time when I do see players like Coco Gauff, Emma Raducanu, Iga, she's younger than me, I feel like I'm getting older,” says Andreescu.

“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. And it's really nice to see that, because I was also doing very well at their age. So to see young athletes do well is always really nice to see.”