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Bianca Andreescu returns home for National Bank Open after taking a break from tennis for mental health

Bianca Andreescu pictured before a press conference in Toronto on Thursday, July 14, 2022, ahead of the National Bank Open tennis tournament.Chris Young/Getty Images

For a while, Bianca Andreescu hated tennis.

Years after she became Canada’s first Grand Slam singles champion in 2019, that feeling started to sour. Dealing with injuries, contracting COVID-19, and spending time in hotel quarantine all undermined her quest to become the best in the world. The tennis star began to cling to her social media haters and their scathing messages: All the fun leaked out of the sport, and young players measured their worth by results and rankings. Her chest pains became frequent.

Andreescu’s “haha” moment came just as she was supposed to be enjoying the luxury of success. It was in the fall of 2021, during her BNP Parabus Open in Indian Wells, California, where she was staying in a stunning rental home. She won the event in her 2019 as a daring 18-year-old.

“I was staying in the most beautiful house. I was the defending champion, so I had everything under my feet,” Andreescu told The Globe and Mail in a recent video interview from San Jose, Calif. rice field. I was walking around that house, getting all these gifts and thinking, “I don’t deserve this, what am I doing?” ”

Even that glamorous setting couldn’t brighten her up. For months, Andreescu felt the weight of the world on his shoulders. Although she feared people would be discouraged, she decided to take an indefinite break from tennis. She spoke privately to her own circle. Most people supported her idea, but some disagreed with her. Andreescu later announced publicly in a tweet on December 6th.

“I hated myself. I hated sports,” recalls Andreescu. “I didn’t know when or if I would come back. I just did.

Andreescu took six months out of competition to focus on her mental health. It’s her WTA Tour eternity where the woman plays for millions in prize money and jockeys in the world rankings every week. New stars appear regularly. Such breaks by professional athletes were once seen as flippant or weak, but are becoming more acceptable as superstar athletes such as Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka share their mental health struggles. Andreescu has used the time to indulge in a range of passions, including traveling without a tennis racket and attending a life-changing retreat in Costa Rica.

Now refreshed and with a revived love of tennis, the Mississauga native is back on tour for a few months. She is set to play near her home this week at the National Her Bank Her Open (formerly known as the Rogers Cup) for the first time in three years. Due to the pandemic, the WTA has not toured her once in her two years in Toronto in 2019 since her 2019. In 2019, Andreescu became Canadian champion for the first time since her 1969. Just weeks before that, she won the US Open title in back-to-back finals against the legendary Serena Williams. She started her 2019 rankings at No. 152 and quickly climbed to a career-high No. It was widely praised for being fun to watch.

A lot has happened in Andreescu’s life since then.

Her timeout last year wasn’t the first time the Canadian has suspended the WTA Tour. She did not compete in the tournament in her 2020. First, she withdrew from her first slam of the season, the Australian Open, but she is still recovering from her knee injury she suffered at her 2019 WTA Finals in October. was doing. Then, when her tools returned from her pandemic hiatus in August 2020, Andreescu spent the rest of that season focusing on recovery and fitness.

It was 15 months between competitions when she reappeared for the 2021 Australian Open. She played in her 13 tournaments in her 2021 season, with a record of 17-13 in matches and 4-4 in Slams. Her best records included reaching the final in Miami (despite her retirement from the match with a leg injury) and round 16 at the US Open. She also had a low point. She was eliminated in the first round at Wimbledon and Laurent in the Garros, and in Montreal she had only one win as the face of Canada.

Last April, she tested positive for COVID-19. In June, she parted ways with coach Sylvain Bruneau, with whom she had worked for four years. She was also affected by her grandmother’s few weeks in the ICU battling COVID. Her stress drove her onto the court. She didn’t surprise her opponents as much as before and lost more often. She couldn’t stop scrolling through the negative posts directed at her on her social media. She has criticized her play and even reprimanded her for posting some fun pictures of her, suggesting she lacks her diligence or enough concentration. was doing.

When she stepped away from tennis in late 2021, she also stopped looking at social media for a while.

She got to a point where she felt so bad, “my brain seems to be craving something negative,” Andreescu said. “I was looking at every comment and every message and it was just awful. Now I think I know how to stop myself. Hopefully I never get to that point again.” I hope that.”

During this recent vacation, she focused on various pursuits, including martial arts, hip-hop, and yoga. She returned to her childhood love of acrobatics.

“I didn’t turn to psychologists, psychiatrists or anything like that. I just wanted to work on myself, no outside advice, thoughts, pressure,” Andreescu said. “I just wanted to do what I wanted to do and heal the way I wanted to.”

She traveled all over Europe, visiting family and friends. She attended Mindfulness Her Retreat, which focused on yoga and traditional African dance, on a white sandy beach overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Nosara, Costa Rica. Even though she went there alone, she was soon mingled with other guests. They were members of a community that lived, shared stories, rode horses, and spotted monkeys in the trees around the jungle.

Andreescu, who has practiced meditation since childhood, says:

Andreescu has done some charity work in Toronto. At the Humane Society he worked with animals, at the domestic violence shelter he worked with women and children at the Yellow Brick House.

“It showed me a lot of humility,” Andreescu said. “It made me feel more appreciative of my life.”

Andreescu returned to tour play in April and was ranked 121st at the time, starting in Stuttgart, Germany.

In 2022, she played 20 matches in 8 tournaments, won 12 and moved up to 54th in the rankings. She beat out several top 20 ranked players including Emara Dukanu, Daniel Collins and Dalia Kasatkina. She reached her first grass-court final of her career in late June in Bad Homburg, Germany.

Sharon Fickman, also Canadian and a tennis television analyst, said seeing players openly discussing their mental and emotional health was once denounced as a weakness on today’s WTA Tour. said to be more supportive.

“Even if you take a temporary financial loss, if you put the time and energy into being the best version of yourself, you will get ten times the return,” says Fichmann of Andreesk’s mental health leave. “She was listening to herself, and I think that’s really rewarding. Even more so when there are people who want to come back and play.”

She calls Andreescu a “dark horse” to win in Toronto and says her best tennis may be yet to come.

The average age of the WTA top 10 women is 25.2 years. Andeescu, who has earned around US$8 million in prize money in her career, turned 22 in June.

“Many players with high burnout rates and so much potential quit before they had a chance to prove themselves,” says Fichman. “That’s because the sport is really mentally demanding, especially in this age of social he media. It’s no different than it was 10 or 20 years ago.”

But Andreescu’s latest match of the week was a worrisome one. Suffering from back pain, she used her medical timeout in the first round of the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic in San Jose on Tuesday in a 6-4, 6-2 loss to world No. 45 Shelby Rogers of the United States. Did. Her agent confirmed Friday that she is rested and ready to play in Toronto.

It will be a tough field with 41 of the tour’s top 43 players, including Canada’s world number 14 Layla Fernandez, as well as legends Serena and Venus Williams. York University’s Soby’s stadium is packed. Tournaments in Montreal and Toronto have been canceled for his 2020 and will be held in 2021 with limited numbers. Andreescu has fond memories of the Toronto courts where he trained on the courts of Toronto as a child and where he took six wins in an incredible run to the title in 2019.

Andreescu is a published author of picture books for children, Bibiz Got Game, and is an ambassador for Tennis Canada’s new wellness project called Mental Timeout. The initiative includes his new Mental Health His resource for players on site at this year’s WTA event in Toronto and the ATP tournament in Montreal. This includes her one-on-one access to meditation and yoga experts, as well as relaxation spaces.

“I know I’m not alone. I’ve had the opportunity to speak with legends like Billie Jean King and Kim Clijsters who gave me great advice,” said Andreescu. “I try not to take life too seriously.

“I just need to take a deep breath. I don’t want to be so stressed. I want to win, I want to do well, but at the same time I want to have fun. It’s a tennis match, right?”