At 5-1 in the second set, Bianca Andreescu had a championship point on serve.
She sent down her serve which had been broken just once before and Serena Williams answered with a forehand winner. Deuce. Two break chances. The young Canadian is broken while serving for the US Open title.
Serena Williams hadn’t held serve in the second set till 5-1, she had barely been able to use the weapon her serve is through the match. She held to 15.
The American won 15 of the 19 points to save a match point, fight from 1-5 down to level the second set at 5-5 after dropping the first.
“Most of the crowd here would give a body part to Serena Williams so she can win her 24th Grand Slam,” is how the commentator had described the raucous crowd at the Arthur Ashe Stadium for the US Open final.
The New York crowd – much-maligned this fortnight – lived up to the billing with bloodthirsty cheering, even making noise when Andreescu missed a first serve prompting repeated requests for silence from the chair.
But even the twin assault of a Williams counterattack and Arthur Ashe Stadium cauldron could not derail the confident 19-year-old. After starting the set with three straight breaks and losing her serve in consecutive games, the teen held. It was Williams, serving to stay in the match for the third time, who lost steam.
After another error-strewn service game, she saved the second championship with an wide ace. She missed her first serve next and the teenager fired a forehand winner to win the US Open title 6-3, 7-5.
There were smiles from the other side of the net – Williams has taken quite the liking to the teenager, perhaps after their lovely exchange at the truncated Rogers Cup final. Andreescu collapsed in delight – no disbelief this time – climbed to her box and hugged it out with her team and family. It was picture perfect.
Before the US Open women’s singles final, the many qualities of the young and unknown quantity Andreescu were discussed by the world: Her fearlessness, her expressiveness on court, her ability to dig deep on serve, her adjustments on return, her blistering winners.
But another virtue that has shone through is her heart. The phrase is usually associated with the loser of a close game, but the manner in which she battled through three sets in the fourth round and quarter-final and then dug in against Belinda Bencic in the semis, you knew that she is a fighter. Any player who has won the first seven matches of her career against Top 10 players would have the fight to match an army.
However, all of that seemed like a teaser compared to the challenge she had to face in the final. Not from her opponent Serena Williams in particular – the American veteran once again suffered performance anxiety in the final – but against the partisan crowd. And she came through the challenge in a manner that impressed even her vanquished opponent.
Serena stumbles again
In true Canadian fashion, Andreescu later apologised to the crowd for winning. But there was no nicety when she started the final with a break of Williams serve. If you have watched her last three Major finals – Wimbledon 2018 and 19 and US Open 2018 – you knew what was coming next.
The player who trounced Maria Sharapova and Elina Svitolina was suddenly spraying errors all over: over hitting her shots, missing the lines, and then going on the defensive.
The story of the final is in the numbers.
Williams stats read 33 winners to 33 unforced errors but the real story was the bungling of her once-almighty serve: 8 double-faults, 44% 1st serves in, 74% 1st serves won, 30% 2nd serves won.
Andreescu’s numbers were much more stable: 19 winners, 17 unforced errors, 66% 1st serves in, 5 of 8 break points saved.
There was a time when you couldn’t get an inch on the Williams serve. Now, a teen broke it six times in a Major final, out of the 13 chances she got.
Five of these break points were saved in the 10-minute long seventh game in the first set. The crowd gave her a standing ovation for it but if thoughts of a fightback emerged, they were quickly quelled when the teen took the set after Williams committed a double fault on set point.
By the second set, her frustration very glaringly visible. Williams appeared to be close to tears, her body language defeated after her errors count mounted on serve. She had just got the first break of the match but somehow, was unable to activate the beast mode.
That she reeled off four straight games after this emotional display was proof that Williams is still the player who has won as much as she has to be called the greatest of her time. Her blistering run through US Open for the second straight year shows that she has the game physically, but it is the mentality that is holding her back.
First of many for Andreescu
Whether she can put the millstone called Major No 24 away remains to be seen but for the second straight US Open, we have a first-time Grand Slam champion in her first attempt.
For the third straight match, it’s time to recount the unbelievable achievements of the Canadian teen this year. From world No 152 at the start of the year the next world No 5. A 35-4 record with two Premier Mandatory titles. Not losing a completed match since March.
There are a lot more impressive accolades to add to the list:
The first Grand Slam champion born in 2000. The first Canadian to win a singles Major title. The first teenager to win a Major title since 2004. The first player to win the US Open in her tournament debut and fifth player in the Open Era to do so at any Major.
After watching the 19-year-old play in 2019, there is another first we can confidently add to the list: this US Open will be the first of many Grand Slam titles for Bianca Vanessa Andreescu.