Bianca v Serena

The greatest of all time and maybe the best of right now | Frank Gunn/Canadian Press

On Saturday at 4 p.m. ET, Bianca Andreescu and Serena Williams will take the court at 23,000-seat Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York City for the U.S. Open women’s final. One way or the other, history will be made. Either Andreescu will become the first Canadian tennis player to win a Grand Slam singles tournament, or Williams will match the all-time record for major titles.

Here’s what else you should know about one of the biggest matches in Canadian tennis history:

1. It’s unbelievable that Andreescu made it here

Start with the fact that she’s 19 years old. Younger players have reached Grand Slam finals, but no one could have predicted Andreescu was capable of this a year ago — or even more recently than that. She was ranked outside the top 200 when she lost in the first round of qualifying for the 2018 U.S. Open. She finished the calendar year ranked 178th in the world. At that time, she had exactly one Grand Slam match under her belt — a first-round loss at Wimbledon in 2017. Her career earnings were less than $216K US. Injuries were an issue going back to her junior days.

A realistic goal for 2019 seemed like qualifying for a Slam or two and making enough money to be a viable touring pro. Bianca said it herself after last night’s semifinal win over Belinda Bencic: “If someone told me a year ago I’d be in the U.S. Open final, I’d say you’re crazy.”

2. It makes complete sense that Andreescu made it here

Crazy as it seems, Andreescu’s run to the U.S. Open final is no fluke. She’s been a completely different player since the start of this year.

In her first tournament of 2019, Andreescu upset two big names — world No. 3 Caroline Wozniacki and future hall-of-famer Venus Williams — en route to reaching the final in Auckland, New Zealand. Then she breezed through qualifying for the Australian Open and earned her first Grand Slam win before losing in the second round to the world’s 12th-ranked player. Then she won a low-level tournament in Newport Beach, Calif., and reached the semifinals of another in Mexico. Then came her big breakthrough.

Andreescu’s stunning victory at Indian Wells in March gave her the biggest singles title ever won by a Canadian tennis player. Outside of the four Grand Slams and the season-ending WTA Finals, Indian Wells is the most prestigious tournament on the tour. No other player representing Canada — woman or man — has won an event in its tier or higher.

A shoulder injury forced Andreescu to quit during her next two tournaments — the Miami Open and the French Open — and she skipped Wimbledon altogether. But when she finally returned for the Rogers Cup in Toronto, she won her second high-end title of the year after a back injury forced Serena to quit early in the final.

And now, at the U.S. Open, Andreescu has made it past the second round (way past) for the first time in a Grand Slam. No matter what happens on Saturday, she’ll leave New York with a cheque for at least $1.9 million — nine times her career winnings before this year. If she wins, she gets $3.85 million. When the new world rankings come out on Monday, she’ll be no lower than No. 9 — 169 spots higher than at the end of last year. And she could be as high as No. 5.

That’s plenty of evidence to show that, when healthy, Andreescu is one of the very best players in the world at the moment. Here’s more: her record this year is 38-4. Throw out those two “losses” at the Miami and French Opens that were the result of an injury forcing her to retire, and Andreescu hasn’t been defeated between the lines since March 1. That’s more than six months. 23 matches. Which brings us to Saturday’s U.S. Open final against an all-time great.

3. Bianca and Serena are very different

This is Bianca’s first Grand Slam final. It’s Serena’s 33rd (she’s won 23 of them — including a 6-3 record in U.S. Open finals). Bianca is a single teenager. Serena is a married, 37-year-old mom. Bianca has taken home about $2.4 million in her career. Serena has made more than $90 million on the court alone — and a lot more off of it in endorsements and other business ventures. Serena is an iconic, global celebrity. Bianca is famous in Canada now, but the crowd was pretty sparse for her semifinal last night. A lot of New Yorkers bolted after the Serena match held right before.

4. Bianca and Serena have a lot in common

They’re two of the fiercest, most competitive players in the game. They both have very athletic, very strong (you might say thicc, in the parlance of our times) physiques that produce jaw-dropping power. No surprise then that they both like to slug the ball from the baseline. But they also have the smarts to mix things up and catch their opponents off guard. So expect to see some big forehands, cheeky drop shots and plenty of emotion on both sides of the net. For the “tale of the tape,” watch this video.

5. There’s no bad blood

The Rogers Cup final on Aug. 11 is the only time Bianca and Serena have faced each other. It lasted only four games (Andreescu won three of them) before a back injury caused Williams to retire, handing the title to Andreescu. Bianca was extremely gracious and even went over to console her foe — a heartwarming show of sportsmanship that seemed to really impress Serena.

So there’s no revenge factor for the U.S. Open final. More like mutual respect. Plus, getting her feet wet in a big match against Serena might help Bianca calm her nerves — though we’ve seen zero indication that she has any at this tournament. Andreescu has come through her pressure moments with flying colours so far.

6. If Serena wins, she destroys the last shred of an argument against her being the greatest women’s tennis player of all time

She’s one Grand Slam title shy of Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24. Matching that would be enough to put Serena over the top, though, because she plays in a much more competitive time. More than half of Court’s titles came before what’s known as the Open era, which began in 1968. That’s when professionals were first allowed to compete with amateurs. Pretty much everyone already considers Serena the best ever, but a win in Saturday’s final basically makes it official.

7. If Bianca wins, she might be the player of the year

Her No. 5 ranking in that case wouldn’t do her justice. The rankings take into account the last 52 weeks, and remember that Andreescu wasn’t even a top-200 player at this time last year. The other Slam winners this year are world No. 1 Naomi Osaka, No. 2 Ash Barty and No. 4 Simona Halep. Neither Osaka nor Halep has won another tournament this year. Barty has two other wins. They’re both quality, but not quite as good as Andreescu’s. One is on the same tier as Indian Wells, the other just a cut below the Rogers Cup. It might come down to who wins the last big-ticket event of the year: the WTA Finals in late October in China. That tournament is reserved for the top eight players, and the winner gets the biggest prize in tennis history: $4.75 million.

8. Even if she loses, you could argue no Canadian tennis player has ever reached the heights Bianca has this year

Only two Canadians have reached a Grand Slam singles final before: Genie Bouchard and Milos Raonic (at Wimbledon in 2014 and ’16, respectively). They both lost, and neither has won a tournament as big as the Rogers Cup — much less Indian Wells. Daniel Nestor won eight Grand Slam titles and an Olympic gold medal in doubles but — all due respect — it’s doubles. Also, Bianca is the Canadian athlete of the year. Go ahead and cancel the Lou Marsh voting right now.

9. Serena is the betting favourite — by a lot

If you’re wagering via the online bookie Pinnacle, you have to lay down $266 to win $100 profit on her. On the flip side, a $100 bet on Bianca makes you $236 in profit if she wins. These odds imply Serena has a 71 per cent chance of winning the match.

10. But Bianca can absolutely win this

First off, 29 per cent isn’t bad. That’s about the chance most bookies gave Cleveland to upset Golden State in the 2016 NBA Finals, and Donald Trump to beat Hillary Clinton in that year’s U.S. presidential election. And we know how those turned out.

Also, Serena’s price is probably inflated because of her stature and track record. Everyone knows her and has seen her win tons of major tournaments. Outside of Canada, Bianca is still just a relatively unknown upstart. We’ve seen Serena dispatch dozens of players like this before. But we’ve also seen her lose to some of them. That’s what happened in last year’s U.S. Open final, where 20-year-old (and 20th-seeded) Naomi Osaka crushed Serena in straight sets in her first appearance in a Grand Slam final.

It’s not hard to imagine a similar scenario playing out again. Just like last year, Serena has the much better resumé but is facing an opponent who might just be straight-up better than her at tennis at this exact moment.

The fact that Serena is the GOAT doesn’t really matter once the balls start flying on Saturday. Bianca Andreescu is the hottest player in the world right now, and she has the game and the guts to pull this off.

Jesse Campigotto, The Buzzer, CBC Sports

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