It was a glorious achievement on several levels: Canada’s first major winner, the first teen to claim a grand slam event in 13 years and the first player in the Open era to go all the way at Flushing Meadows in their first outing.
Andreescu was playing just her fourth major main draw, too: reason enough for supreme optimism about the next 12 months. But instead of more tournament wins and a possible challenge to the No.1 ranking spot, Andreecu’s 2020 was entirely wiped out.
Cruelly enough, Andreescu was due to return at Indian Wells 11 months ago when the Californian event became a sudden casualty of the growing pandemic.
In a hard decision, a US Open defence was also ruled out. “There were a lot of factors that went into it, especially the pandemic,” she said. “We thought it was better to play it safe and train at home. It wasn’t an easy decision.”
Now, on the eve of a delayed Australian Open and after pulling out of one of the WTA lead-in events this week, yes, Andreescu is “back”. The time away amounts to “the longest pre-season of my life,” Andreescu said.
In a perverse quirk, her time out has been tail-ended by, wait for it, a period of hotel quarantine – hard quarantine in fact after her coach Sylvain Bruneau tested positive to COVID-19. It was a stark reminder for all that the tennis circuit is operating during a pandemic.
“For it to happen to someone very close to me was a bit shocking,” said Andreescu, once cleared from hotel confinement. “We had to deal with it the best way we could. We couldn’t really control that situation.”
True, there were blessings from the enforced time in a reduced space. But time restricted to Zoom meetings, playing X-Box, “shadow tennis” training and solitude would wear anyone down.
So, upon her release, Andreescu “could not stop smiling”, the simple sight of her entourage in front of her becoming one to behold.
“My eyes had to adjust cause I could not see anything like 10-feet in front of me. My eyes were a bit off in a way,” said Andreescu.
“And to see my team in 4D rather than [on] Zoom, it was so weird. I could not stop touching them.
“It was definitely a great feeling. I think it’s safe to say that it will make for good memories in a way I can say that I actually did that, experienced that.”
Naturally, it was hardly smooth-sailing the whole time.
“Just being by yourself for 14 days – it’s not good for the human nature in general. We’re built to communicate with others, see others, feel other people’s energies and all that,” she said.
Not being able to open a window in her Grand Hyatt hotel room made it challenging.
“Not having fresh air, I think that for me was toughest,” she said. “Not being able to even open a window was tough, but I made it through like everyone else.
“I had a decent view, it was okay. But at one point like I didn’t even open the curtains, it was dark all day. Those were all my bad days. I had good days, bad days.”
Pundits are pondering Andreescu’s standing and sheer potential in the game but she is clear on intentions.
”I always have my end goal in mind, which is to become No.1 in the world and win as many grand slams as possible, as I can,” Andreescu said. “Yeah, that’s always in the back of my head.”
Andreescu, the daughter of Romanian immigrants to Canada, openly sets her hopes and ambitions.
“My main goal is to be healthy and to be happy out there and to not have too many expectations, especially the first couple of tournaments I play since I haven’t played in so long,” said Andreescu.
“Yeah, I want to win, but at the same time, I want to just feel so grateful that I have this opportunity … after being off for so long.
“I’ve really reflected on that, and how sometimes not just me but a lot of people I’m sure take these things for granted. When it’s taken away from us, we really realise how much we truly love it.”
At the start of February uncertainty lingers over exactly how the WTA season will pan out. Perhaps, just perhaps, Andreescu will be front and centre at the season-ending WTA Championships.
“I haven’t really looked that far yet. I’ll let you know about that. I’ll see how this first tournament goes. We’ll go from there,” she said.
Scott Spits is a sports reporter for The Age