June 12th, 2024

Canada’s Bianca Andreescu prepares for French Open after 10 months off due to injury

By Stephanie Myles, The Canadian Press on May 25, 2024.

Bianca Andreescu hits a return to Camila Giorgi of Italy, during the National Bank Open tennis tournament in Montreal, Tuesday, August 8, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christinne Muschi

PARIS – As Canadian tennis champion Bianca Andreescu returns to the court after nearly 10 months away because of a stress fracture in her back, she’s anxious.

“This is the most nervous I’ve been,” the 23-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., said Saturday as she made final preparations for a comeback at this year’s French Open.

“I know it means that I care a lot. And I really hope that I can take that nervousness and play well with it – “˜leave it all on the court’ type of thing – and not hold back too much.”

Andreescu had the best season of her career in 2019 when she won the Indian Wells Open, the then Rogers Cup (now renamed the National Bank Open), and the U.S. Open.

She had to withdraw from last year’s Cincinnati Open on Aug. 13 before the WTA 1000 tournament began with a small stress fracture in her back and will miss the upcoming WTA 1000 tournament in Cincinnati. She shared on social media at the time that she first experienced the back pain during her first-round loss to Marta Kostyuk at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C., on July 31.

“I don’t remember the last time I felt like this, but I think it’s also because I’ve never felt so much hope in my tennis,” said Andreescu on Saturday. “I’m so grateful that my back held up. I have an opportunity to play again, and that’s everything for me.”

The random women’s singles draw in Paris did Andreescu no favours. She will face Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo, who makes her living winning long, grinding, gruelling matches with rallies that go on forever.

That will be even more true on Paris’s slower red clay.

When Andreescu practised with her friend Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan on Friday Putintseva laughed that she needed to be prepared to be out there for three hours, minimum.

Even as a junior player, Andreescu dealt with back woes and a stress fracture in her foot. In 2019, right after she announced her arrival as an 18-year-old in winning the big tournament at Indian Wells, it was a shoulder injury. At the end of 2019 and through 2020 and into early 2021 it was a knee injury, and the need to take care of her mental health.

In March 2021, in Miami, a foot injury forced her to retire in the final.

Two years later – also in Miami and just as she appeared to be rounding up to her best form again – a gruesome on-court ankle injury set her back. Now, the stress fracture which she said, fortunately, did not require surgery.

Andreescu said she has been pain-free since before she began training again four months ago. She described her tennis, in practice, at least, as “incredible.”

The key has been to build up the muscles in her core and in her glutes, and create a sort of “callus” around the bone in her back where the fracture is located.

She felt it was cutting it too close to return as originally planned, at a smaller tournament in Morocco this week. So she returns at the French Open, one of the biggest tournaments of the season.

A year ago, she reached the third round before the back issues began to appear.

Andreescu is ranked 234th on the WTA Tour because of the long layoff. That would normally have required her to play the qualifying to earn a spot in the main draw. But she was able to use an injury-protection ranking of No. 64 to get straight in and – she hopes – to also squeeze into the Paris Olympics in July.

The rankings deadline for the Summer Games comes right after this French Open. It might be a tight squeeze, depending on what other players do in Paris, but she has a chance.

Andreescu and Sorribes Tormo have met once before, in the quarterfinals of the 2021 Miami Open. Those hard courts are the Canadian’s favourite surface, and the Spaniard’s least favourite.

Andreescu, who was ranked in the top 10 at the time, won that match in three sets on her way to the final.

When the two meet again, it will be the first time Andreescu competed since Montreal last August, where Italy’s Camila Giorgi defeated her 6-3, 6-2 in the first round.

That was nearly 10 months ago.

“I mean, the goal is never to get injured,” said Andreescu. “But I feel like the more I get injured, the more I learn about myself and the more I find tools to help me, I guess, recover faster and get better quicker.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 25, 2024.

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