July 11, 2024

Open Court

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In a split-second, Bianca Andreescu’s Miami goes from exultation to devastation (Updated)

MIAMI, Fla. – In a mere whisper of hint of a moment, an athlete’s life can completely turn.

From hope and inner peace and glowing happiness, to abject, heart-wrenching devastation.

The cries of agony from Bianca Andreescu bounced around the mostly empty seats of the Miami Open’s Grandstand Court Monday night, after one false step, an injury retirement and, in the short term, an uncertain future.

Those blood-curdling wails may still be echoing on that court hours after Andreescu was taken off in a wheelchair with a left ankle injury, the extent and seriousness of which remains unknown at this late hour.

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UPDATE: Open Court was hearing Tuesday night that the diagnosis is an ankle sprain, but hadn’t nailed down what grade of sprain it is – which of course is a big difference-maker.

On Wednesday evening, Andreescu herself confirmed that she had two torn ligaments and that rehab had already begun. She didn’t specify if it was a Grade 2 sprain (partially torn ligaments) or a Grade 3 (fully torn). Neither, generally speaking, means surgery).

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There was pain, of the kind Andreescu said on court she had never experienced in her life. There was the shock of the moment. There was the instant realization that once again, the fates had conspired against her and knocked her down, just as she was getting back up and soaring again.

That realization was summed up in two words that will echo through the hearts of the few who were on hand to witness it, the many more who were at home watching it live, and the many Canadians and sports fans who will wake up Tuesday morning and see it relived, again and again.

“Not again”.

(Not for the faint of heart; just a head’s’ up)

For that has been the journey of the 22-year-old Canadian, who four years ago was on top of the tennis world with even more impressive exploits to come over that summer of 2019. Since then, it’s been one setback after another.

Until this week, when she was playing vintage Andreescu tennis, glowing with good health and good vibes, with no reason to think everything was only going to get better from here.

Until that whisper of a damnable moment, when it all went south again.

The moment was eerily similar to one just two years ago, not far away from the Grandstand on the Miami Open stadium court. Andreescu was forced to retire against Ashleigh Barty after a renaissance run to the Miami Open final.

She twisted her right foot, which was already taped before the match began.

A “freak accident”, she said at the time.

And now, almost two years to the day, another freak accident turns a glorious week into a heartbreaking one.

Just 24 hours ago, Andreescu was on top of the world. Then … THIS.

Devastating scenes

Opponent Ekaterina Alexandrova stood by, trying to offer what help she could. She went to chase down some ice, and stood by Andreescu as the medical team both looked at her ankle and tried to calm her. But the tears kept coming, along with the pain.

The small crowd yelled out words of encouragement. They applauded. They showed her all the love they could. You can hear it on the video above; it’s the only part of it that warms, rather than chills, the heart.

Andreescu’s father Nicu hovered behind the advertising boards at that end of the court, wanting to get on court and offer some fatherly love.

Mother Maria was in tears over on the other side of the court, where the family and Bianca’s team were sitting.

A wheelchair was brought out from the locker room located inside the Grandstand court.

Finally, with some help, Andreescu stood up. As she was about to lower herself down into the wheelchair she and Alexandrova embraced. It was a long hug; they held onto each other tightly as the Russian whispered what words of comfort she could conjure up into Andreescu’s ear.

The Russian looked pretty devastated herself. And that’s the thing about those whispers of moments; they remind all of the other athletes that they, too, are just that moment away from devastation.

When your occupation depends on a healthy body, and you spend most of your waking hours pushing that body to the limit, it’s the kind of thing that can happen to anyone. Even as young as most of these athletes are – an age when we all thought we were immortal – they’re aware of it.

But they push it to the back of their minds, until they’re reminded of the abject fragility of the house of cards they’ve spent a lifetime building.

A glorious, happy week for Andreescu – until …

There had been signs in 2023 that Andreescu was on her way to regaining the level that made her 2019 season such a landmark one. She was just 18 then; she will turn 23 in June.

It’s it’s taken all this time to get the body right, to get the mind right, to get the inner peace where she needs it to be.

And all week long, both on court and in her post-match interviews, it was clear that the work Andreescu has done on herself might finally be paying dividends.

Her tennis was near-vintage. She posted victories over 2021 US Open champion Emma Raducanu, over No. 7 seed Maria Sakkari, and over 2020 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin.

She looked so happy; seriously, she was glowing. The winning will do that, but it felt like so much more than that.

Until that one split second when everything changed, late in the evening Monday after a long mid-match rain delay.

Two years ago, almost to the day, Andreescu twisted her right foot and had to retire in the Miami Open final.

What’s next?

The first order of business will be to tend to the physical.

It’s impossible to know from the outside how much of the obvious agony was physical, how much was shock and how much was disbelief that once again, she’d fallen off the mountaintop again and faced a long climb back up.

Hopefully the ankle will turn out to not be as bad as it looked as it was happening; that would be the best-case scenario.

Andreescu went to the hospital for an MRI late Monday night; as of Tuesday afternoon, they were waiting for the doctor to meet them to discuss the results.

Andreescu was in the middle of a fine battle with No. 18 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova in Miami, when disaster struck – again.

The second order of business is to make sure that all the positive steps, all the gloriousness of this week in Miami are not for naught.

That while Andreescu has been knocked down yet again, she now knows something she might not have fully believed until this week.

She still has the magic on the court. And, once she gets healthy again, there is still much left to accomplish.

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