On a late Saturday afternoon, Bianca Andreescu was on the main course at dinner tables in Toronto, and the talk of the country from coast to coast.
There were organized viewing parties at bars everywhere. Anywhere there was a television, people were tuned in to celebrate Andreescu’s historic U.S. Open win over Serena Williams in straight sets, 6-3, 7-5.
Canada’s TSN reported that Bianca’s run to the final set records for the most-watched U.S. Open broadcast in the network’s history, and ESPN said overnight ratings for Bianca’s win over Williams tied the network’s highest all-time U.S. Open rating from 2015.
Even in funeral homes and senior residences, people stopped what they were doing. Nobody could take their eyes off Canada’s newest superstar, who was born just outside Toronto in the suburb of Mississauga, Ontario.
What a year this has been as both the Toronto Raptors and Andreescu authored two major Canadian sports firsts within a span of only a few months.
In hockey terms, these twin events have been akin to how Americans celebrated Team U.S.A. in the Miracle on Ice in 1980. There should be a Bianca movie about this moment.
Toronto can be forgiven if it now thinks it’s at the center of the sporting universe.
“It’s something in the water,” Matt Vong, an engineer from Vancouver who lives in New York, told The New York Times. “The Raptors and now Bianca. It is kind of similar. They showed zero fear.”
People will remember where they were when the Raptors won the NBA championship in June.
And now people will remember where they were when Andreescu became the first Canadian to win a Grand Slam singles tennis title (Daniel Nestor has won multiple Grand Slam doubles titles).
It’s impossible to answer, but what sporting achievement was more improbable: The Raptors becoming the first team outside the United States to win the NBA championship, or Andreescu, who didn’t even qualify for the main draw of the U.S. Open a year ago, beating the best women’s player in tennis history?
Perhaps the Raptors get the nod here because they’ve struggled for much longer than the 19-year-old Andreescu and the build-up to their success took the nation on a rollercoaster ride for longer than Andreescu did for tennis fans in Canada.
The Raptors had to go through the dynasty of the Golden State Warriors, while Andreescu had to go through Williams, who will go down as the greatest female tennis player ever.
That’s a saw-off.
At the start of the 2018-19 NBA regular season, NBA.com had the Raptors at No. 4 in the power rankings. Coming into the U.S. Open, Andreescu was ranked No. 15 in the world and she was a lowly No. 178 at the end of 2018.
While the Raptors had to go through only four playoff rounds, it can be argued that Andreescu had the tougher road, having to win seven matches to capture the U.S. Open title.
Both stand as improbable achievements. And both were massive underdogs who eventually turned critics and skeptics into believers.
But there is one distinct difference. Without Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors are being given little chance to repeat as champions. Bianca Andreescu is just getting started and many see multiple Grand Slam titles ahead for her.
The table is now set for the Toronto Maple Leafs to win their first Stanley Cup since 1967, but how much magic should one city be entitled to in such a short time span?
What there is no debate about is that Andreescu will add her face to this country’s Mount Rushmore of sporting heroes who put an indelible mark on Canada’s sporting landscape and made this country proud.
When you consider sporting achievements that brought acclaim to Canada, there are many names we can throw out as honorable mentions such as Slam Dunk champion Vince Carter, swimmer Marilyn Bell, Olympic curler Sandra Schmirler, boxer George Chuvalo and Olympic figure skater Barbara Ann Scott.
Here’s a top-10 list:
People Who Became Icons On Canada’s Sporting Landscape
- Kawhi Leonard, Raptors (2019)
- Bianca Andreescu, U.S. Open (2019)
- Penny Oleksiak, Olympic swim champion (2016)
- Sidney Crosby, Golden Goal (2010)
- Mike Weir, Masters (2003)
- Donovan Bailey, Olympic sprint champion (1996)
- Joe Carter, World Series hero (1993)
- Wayne Gretzky-to-Mario Lemieux, Canada Cup (1987)
- Terry Fox, Marathon of Hope (1980)
- Paul Henderson, hero of Canada-Russia hockey series (1972).
And just like what the Raptors did for basketball in this country, Andreescu is expected to inspire a new generation of tennis talent coming out of Canada. Some of it has already arrived in the form of Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime.
Andreescu accomplished what so many had set out to do and came oh, so close. Milos Raonic had Canada’s last best chance. He got to the Wimbledon final in 2016 and lost. And Eugenie Bouchard advanced to the Wimbledon final in 2014 and lost.
And then was Greg Rusedski, who was born in Montreal to an English mother. He disappointed many in Canada when he decided to become a British citizen and play for Britain. In 1997, he got all the way to the U.S. Open final, where he lost to Patrick Rafter.
Prior to that, there was a huge vacuum. Carling Bassett-Seguso was the last great hope when she advanced to the 1984 U.S. Open semifinals, but Chris Evert spoiled this country’s party.
It’s not known how this country will honor Andreescu. There have been whispers of some kind of parade in her hometown of Mississauga, but city council will apparently meet next week to discuss this.
Here’s how people reacted to Andreescu’s victory, both at home and abroad.