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Meet Bianca Andreescu, Canada teen titan of tennis

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In yet another 2019 moment that has left Canadian sports fans wondering if they’re dreaming, teenage tennis sensation Bianca Andreescu, of Mississauga, Ont., is within a racket-arm’s reach of clinching the U.S. Open. Now there’s just one little obstacle in the 19-year-old’s way: Serena Williams, who is about twice Andreescu’s age and debatably the best tennis player of all time. But Williams has been plagued by injuries of late, and is possibly past her peak. Andreescu, on the other hand, has rocketed up more than 100 places in the Women’s Tennis Association global rankings, from 152nd at the end of 2018 to 15th going into Saturday’s final match. The National Post’s Genna Buck spells out some of the factors that define Bianca Andreescu and her remarkable ascent.

First things first: How do you say her name?


Bianca Andreescu (Canada) answers questions during a media conference after defeating Serena Williams (USA) in the womens final of the Rogers Cup tennis tournament at Aviva Centre.

Dan Hamilton-USA Today

Announcers and fans alike tend to mangle it, but in a video, Andreescu herself pronounces her surname Ann-dress-coo, with slight emphasis on the last syllable. Her parents, Maria Andreescu, a finance executive, and Nicu Andreescu, an engineer, are originally from Romania. The family lived there for a few years when she was a child, though Bianca was born in Canada.

She’s a hoot on a hot mic

Bianca Andreescu

Bianca Andreescu (left) tries to console Serena Williams (left) after she withdrew from the championship match during the Rogers Cup tennis tournament at Aviva Centre.

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY

At least in the context of the famously buttoned-up, crisply pressed sport of tennis, Andreescu has a tendency towards fresh language. When an ESPN reporter asked how she found her stride between sets, she said she knew she needed to get her “it” together, just barely stopping herself before uttering the preceding “sh.” She went on to say she “didn’t get too pissed” about having to deal with the hot weather. And in an exemplary display of sportsmanship last month, she embraced a tearful Serena Williams when the latter had to withdraw from the final of the Rogers Cup in Toronto, reassuring her, “You’re a f-cking beast.”

While Yves Boulais, tennis director of the Ontario Racquet Club, where Andreescu trains, said the young player could stand to “polish a little bit of her media appearance,” his 19-year-old daughter Isabelle Boulais thinks her honesty is awesome.

“She has a very open personality. Anything that she’s shown to the media is literally her,” said Isabelle, who has been friends with Andreescu for five years and trained alongside her at the club. Sure, she doesn’t conform to the standards of the sport “from, like, the 1800s,” said Isabelle, who now plays tennis for Ohio State University. “She just doesn’t hide anything — anything she’s feeling, anything that is going through her head, she’s showing it on-court, and I love it.”

She loves dogs

Bianca Andreescu

Maria Andreescu, mother of Bianca Andreescu (Canada) holds her daughter’s pet dog Coco, as she watches her daughter win the womens final of the Rogers Cup tennis tournament against Serena Williams (USA) at Aviva Centre.

Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY

Andreescu’s caramel-coloured, curly-haired dog, Coco, is her constant pint-sized companion, and often observes matches from her perch on Maria’s lap. Isabelle believes Coco came from Romania, where the Andreescus have a family member who rescues dogs, she said. She fondly remembers the first time her friend brought the pup to a tournament in Quebec, “showing her off like a proud mom.”

She could more than double her winnings in one day

Andreescu has earned $2.42 million in prize money so far, almost all of it this year, and stands to gain another $3.85 million — for a total of $6.27 million — if she bests Williams on Saturday.

She’s hyper-focused

Bianca Andreescu

Bianca Andreescu (CAN) hits a ball to Serena Williams (not pictured) during the Rogers Cup tennis tournament at Aviva Centre.

John E. Sokolowski-USA Today

Andreescu attended Bill Crothers Secondary School in Markham, Ont., which caters to elite athletes, this past year. As of April, she still had three courses to complete before graduating. She has said she plans to continue her education, to keep her mind engaged and prepare for her career after sport — but she doesn’t talk much about her post-tennis plans, Isabelle said. “She’s been focused on tennis since day one … She was going to be a professional tennis player. That was it,” she said. “If she wasn’t playing tennis, I guarantee she’d be doing sports, because she’s just such a complete athlete.”

She works for her zen

Bianca Andreescu

Bianca Andreescu of Canada reacts after winning against Elise Mertens of Belgium during their Women’s Singles Quarterfinals match at the 2019 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York on September 4, 2019.

Johannes Eisele / AFP

Andreescu told the National Post’s Scott Stinson that she started incorporating meditation and visualization exercises into her training at the age of 12 or 13, at her mom’s suggestion.

“I think if you can control your mind, then you can control a lot of things,” Andreescu said. “When I’m on the court in front of these big stages, I’m really good at just blocking everything and staying in the zone.”

Yves Boulais said Andreescu is “abnormally calm for the stress that our sport brings,” and has drawn inspiration from the works of the life coach and sports-psychology guru Tony Robbins.

He added much of her success stems from her “level head” and the practice of relaxing and centring herself she cultivated from a young age.

“It’s really rare. Bianca seems to have a peace about her that kind of makes her take (her game) stride by stride, not rushing. That’s what really makes her different.”

She plays through pain

Bianca Andreescu

Andreescu sometimes plays with a wrap around her leg, but as is typical for pros, has been tight-lipped about the nature of her injury. She played the Rogers Cup in August on a quadricep that was acting up, but that’s been the least of her physical woes this year. She withdrew in the fourth round of the Miami Open in March with a shoulder injury. Her return in May, at the French Open, lasted only one match before the shoulder pain resumed. She was out of action again, missing Wimbledon in the process, until the Rogers Cup in August. Last year her season was marred by back trouble. The various ailments have led her to grow her support team, which now includes a physical trainer, hitting partner, physiotherapist/osteopath, sports psychologist and doctor.

The injury rates among young tennis players are incredibly high, and Andreescu has had her fair share. But that tends to pass as they reach a higher level of strength and fitness around 23 or 24, Yves Boulais said. This means Canadians might well have years of exciting tennis-watching ahead of us as she reaches her prime.

Some have wondered about the plastic spiral hair tie Andreescu has been wearing around her bicep during games since January, but there’s nothing wrong with her arm: It’s a good-luck charm.

Tennis is her thing — not her family’s

Bianca Andreescu

Andreescu’s parents put her in a number of sports and activities when she was young, and she showed aptitude for tennis. They themselves are “not tennis people,” but do have a positive, calming influence on their daughter’s game, Yves Boulais said. “They’re not over-emotional, like lots of parents are, about the sport.”

might be more harmful than good

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Fajardo leads Riders to game-winning field goal

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REGINA — Cody Fajardo helped lead the Saskatchewan Roughriders to another win in Week 14, with the quarterback orchestrating a seven-play, 54-yard drive in the game’s final minutes to set up Brett Lauther’s game-winning field goal against the Montreal Alouettes.

The 27-year-old completed 19-of-27 passes for 254 yards and a touchdown against the Als, and he also added a key rushing touchdown and a two-point conversion that tied the game in the fourth quarter. Fajardo responded after the Riders’ defence held the Als out of the end zone in the first half.

“I think offensively, we started really slow,” Fajardo said after the win. “Our defence did an incredible job of keeping us in the game because they held them to three straight field goals, and if they punch in three touchdowns there this is a 21-0 game and we’re looking around like ‘what’s going on? Our defence held us in it all game long, and we knew we had to pay them back by going down and scoring and getting a field goal.’”

Shaq Evans was Fajardo’s go-to target once again in the win over Montreal. Fajardo connected with his leading receiver for a big 46-yard gain in the second quarter that led to the Riders’ first score of the game, and their 25-yard connection with two minutes to play helped set up the game-winning kick. Evans is now up to 869 receiving yards and three touchdowns on 72 catches this season.

“The guys really did a great job responding,” Fajardo said. “I mean you look at Shaq making a huge play. A big hit by them and he holds on to the ball, and that’s big for the field goal range.”

Fajardo said that his first big pass to Evans was crucial in getting the quarterback going after the slow start.

“Usually for me it’s my first deep completion,” Fajardo said. “Shaq just went up and made an incredible play, and that’s what he does.”

William Powell provided crucial balance to the offence and continued his strong season with 124 total yards and two touchdowns. Powell has now rushed for 751 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season.

“He’s one of the best backs in this league, and if we can get him going it makes my life easier because it opens up some passing lanes,” Fajardo said.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders get a bye week before looking for their ninth win of the season when they face the Toronto Argonauts on the road in Week 16.

“This bye week is big,” Fajardo said. “I know a lot of guys in that locker room are banged up, including myself.

“We need to keep our mindset focused on football after the break and come in just re-energized like it’s the beginning of the season.”

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Tristan Connelly calls Michel Pereira ‘perfect opponent’

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The stars were aligned for Michel Pereira to follow up on his outstanding Octagon debut this past May.

With a series of flips and tricks and a fantastic knockout of Danny Roberts, “Demolidor” established himself as one to watch in the welterweight division and smart money said that he was going to run through his next foe, late replacement Tristan Connelly.

There were signs of trouble on Friday when Pereira came in a pound heavy, but once fight night rolled around he came out looking to put on a show just as he did against Roberts.

Connelly was having none of it.

The 33-year-old Vancouver native outworked and grounded Pereira for the better part of three rounds, winning a unanimous decision and making an immediate impact in the UFC in front of his home crowd at UFC Vancouver at Rogers Arena. Afterwards, Connelly agreed that the stage was set for something spectacular, only it turned out to be for him, not Pereira.

“He was the perfect opponent,” Connelly said at the evening’s post-fight press conference. “Super-exciting, he likes to throw the rolling thunder, the front flip kick. It’s called rolling thunder, I got to steal his thunder tonight.”

Fighting out of Checkmat Vancouver, Connelly credited the capoeira practitioners he works with for preparing him for Pereira’s flashy approach. Though Pereira broke out much of his signature offense, most of it fell harmlessly short of its target and Connelly never looked rushed or panicked.

Even the size difference didn’t seem to concern Connelly, who typically competes at 155 pounds and as the fight progressed, his confidence only grew.

“You can’t stop against him and you can’t back up against him,” Connelly said. “Those are two things that I knew, like, I’ve been training with capoeira guys for a long time and they’re all like, ‘Man, what he’s trying to do is get you to freeze so he can hit ya.’ I just knew I had to be in his face. I was a little worried about the size initially and his early power, he hit me with a clean punch in the first round. I was like, ‘Eh.’

“When I wrapped my arms around him, it didn’t feel all that much stronger. I was like, ‘Okay, I can do this. He’s going to keep forward,’ and my confidence raised the longer the fight went.”

Asked if he was already feeling better about the matchup when Pereira missed weight, Connelly pointed to that error as showing “weakness.” It was only on Monday that Connelly was officially told he would be needed to step in for Sergey Khandozhko after visa issues forced Khandozhko to withdraw and even with no time to prepare and a bout well outside of his natural weight, Connelly signed on the dotted line.

As it turns out, it was well worth it. In addition to his own show and win money, Connelly took 20 percent of Pereira’s purse because of the weigh-in gaffe and he and Pereira won Saturday’s Fight of the Night award. With Pereira ineligible to collect a bonus because he failed to beat the scale, it was Connelly who was given a total of $100,000 in bonus money.

Pereira was billed as the thrilling A-side in this matchup, but Connelly knew if he stayed the course, the results would speak for themselves.

“I knew I wasn’t gonna do any show like him,” Connelly said. “I’m a fighter, if doing backflips was what was important in fighting, I’d be great at backflips. But I couldn’t do one to save my life. I practice punching people, choking people, and kicking people, because that’s what seems to work in most of the fights I watch.”

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Marner, Matthews, Confusion

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The Mitch Marner negotiations with the Toronto Maple Leafs have frustrated fans and stumped hockey insiders and commentators. Why is the Marner camp so intransigent about its demands? Can the standoff ever be resolved?

Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, Frederik Andersen (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

In this post, I will try to bring fans up to speed with
some of the thoughts about Marner and speculation about how the Marner
negotiations might impact other players on the team – specifically teammate
Auston Matthews.

Item One: Bob McKenzie on Marner’s Contract Offers

TSN’s hockey commentator Bob McKenzie is scratching his head about the continuing Marner negotiations. He’s as confused as the rest of us, and it doesn’t take much to read that in his twitter posts.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Marner Trades, Contract & McDavid Report

For example, in one tweet on Sept. 11, he noted first that the Maple Leafs have made seven- and eight-year offers of about $11 million average annual value (AAV). However, because those offers are lower than the contract Matthews signed for and for a longer term, they haven’t been palatable to Marner’s team.

His second tweet pondered how a solution might be reached, and he noted in the end that he didn’t think it could. He tweeted that the logical solution would be a three-year bridge. However, Marner wants an AAV in the $9-10 million range, with a substantially higher third-year payout that would make the resulting qualifying offer immense.

Toronto Maple Leafs Mitch Marner
Toronto Maple Leafs’ Mitch Marner (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov)

To that, McKenzie noted that Toronto would have no incentive to sign it because it was such a ridiculous (my word, not his) contract. He landed on it was “hard to see the way to a settlement…”

Maple Leafs fans I have spoken to are becoming more and more upset with Marner as his team negotiates this contract. I believe they are beginning to feel his team is needlessly dragging out the negotiations. In fact, a live poll I watched on Sportsnet TV on Wednesday evening showed that fans who voted were largely in favor of the Maple Leafs’ position (30% for Marner, 70% for the Maple Leafs when I watched it). One fan I talked to saw him asking for more money than anyone else on the team and it didn’t seem fair.

For myself, I don’t think the solution is that difficult. As I wrote earlier in another post, I think the Maple Leafs should make a fair final offer and then – if Marner chooses not to sign it – let him play in Switzerland if he wishes. It would certainly be short-term pain, but it might also spell long-term gain for the team’s future negotiations with other players.

Item Two: Proposed Solution to the Marner Dilemma

McKenzie is not the only hockey commentator confused by the Marner negotiations. In his Sept. 11 post, Jeff Williams also explored what a solution might look like.

Related: Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Marleau, Marner & Gardiner

In his post, titled “Here’s a Marner article, but you’re not gonna like it!!,” he pointed out how successfully the Marner camp has made a trade nearly impossible for the Maple Leafs.

The protracted negotiations tell other teams that the Maple Leafs would be dealing from of a place of weakness, and the result would be that the organization would be offered far less than market value. In addition, any team willing to trade wouldn’t know what they would need to pay him. And, that takes “another chunk off his value.”

Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner

As Williams states: “Basically Mitch has
succeeded in making sure the Leafs aren’t able to trade him for anything close
to what he’s worth, while also making it impossible for them to sign him
because he’s butt hurt and demanding more than they can give.”

Williams ended his post by noting, “I have to admit, I didn’t see this coming.” He then suggested that the only real solution would be to give him close to what Matthews is getting – he suggests “5 years at 11.25M.”

My only problem with Williams’ logic is that, from what I read and hear, there’s no indication that Marner’s camp would accept something “close” to Matthews. Marner’s agent Darren Ferris seems intransigent in his demands that his client gets exactly the same contract Matthews signed – same numbers, and same term.

Item Three: Marner a No-Show on the Golf Course

It started with a golf game, but likely won’t end there. Marner will begin to miss other team functions as the negotiations move towards the beginning of the season.

The 22-year-old, unsigned, restricted free agent wasn’t expected to tee it up with his teammates and team sponsors at RattleSnake Point Golf Club, and this time he didn’t disappoint. The team will be starting off its preseason without him.

On Sept. 12, the rest of the team will be in St. John’s, N.L., to open training camp. The golf tournament was only the beginning. How temporary Marner’s absence might be is the question facing both the team and the player.

Item Four: Hesitancy to Name Matthews Captain

Sportsnet insider Chris Johnston suggested on Sept. 9 that the Maple Leafs have been hesitant to name Matthews a captain because they perceive that it might upset Marner.

About the captaincy, “I believe it’s Auston Matthews,” Johnston noted, because he believed Matthews was the team’s centerpiece.

Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews
Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn)

Johnston added: “I think the timing of that is tricky, especially with Marner’s situation unresolved. Do they want to make that announcement before Mitch Marner signs? That might complicate some of the discussions being had on the side. So, I think it’s a little bit of a delicate issue. It’s one that I don’t think Kyle Dubas enjoys too much…but to me this is the right time for the Leafs to have a captain.”

What’s Next?

When and how the contract negotiations might end is the key question facing the Maple Leafs as they begin training camp in earnest on Friday. As an old guy, my experience tells me that people don’t easily switch their feelings on and off. Instead, these feelings are always tied to the circumstances they face. Specifically, I worry that the lingering contract issues will create a lasting enmity between Marner and other players in the locker room – in this case, specifically, Matthews.

We shall see.

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