Bianca Andreescu quietly preparing for 2021 return in Australia

When we last heard from Bianca Andreescu on the tennis court, a left knee injury forced her to withdraw from the WTA Finals.

That capped a breakthrough but injury-plagued 2019 season that saw her make Canadian tennis history by winning a U.S. Open singles title. It also marked the beginning of a strangely quiet and somewhat mysterious year-long absence from the WTA Tour.

Now based in Monte Carlo, Andreescu is planning to return for the Australian swing in early 2021.

“She’s going to be totally happy and excited to go back on the court and compete and is extremely motivated,” said coach Sylvain Bruneau. “But the other side is you get used to pressure by being put into it a little bit. When you’re not facing that music for a little while, there’s going to be a little bit of an adaptation.

“But Bianca, just by her nature, has always been someone who has thrived on competition.”

Andreescu has kept a relatively low profile since the season-ending event in China over a year ago. Appearances have been infrequent, social media posts sporadic and media interviews rare.

One of the few consistencies in 2020 were the waves of optimism that her return was near, inevitably followed by word the comeback would have to wait.

Specifics on her knee injury – suffered when she stretched to return a serve in Shenzhen – have been difficult to ascertain.

She told Bruneau during an on-court coaching session there that she “heard a crack.” Andreescu later said results from an MRI convinced her to withdraw, without providing specifics on what the exam discovered.

“Well I don’t need surgery so I wouldn’t say it’s very bad,” she said when asked again last December. “I can’t really say much about it. I’m just trying to rehab as much as possible and stay as positive as I can.”

Details remained scant when 2020 arrived. In January, Bruneau would only call it a “knee issue,” noting that Andreescu went to Barcelona to meet with Dr. Angel Ruiz Cotorro, who has helped Spanish star Rafael Nadal with knee issues in recent years.

Andreescu, from Mississauga, Ont., seemed to be making progress last winter. She was named to the Fed Cup roster for a February tie against Switzerland but didn’t play due to the injury.

Tour play was paused a month later due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Tournaments eventually resumed on a limited scale but Andreescu declined to participate, eventually announcing in September that she would take the season off to focus on health and training.

A late October video showing Andreescu practising on outdoor clay – moving without limitation and without injury tape on her joints – was one of her few Twitter posts over the last month.

“I think one of her great strengths is she’s a very focused athlete on what she wants to accomplish,” said tennis broadcaster Robert Bettauer, a former national team coach. “So she doesn’t get distracted too much and probably just didn’t feel a need to get overly involved. In today’s world on social media, I think that’s pretty smart.”

Mike Naraine, an assistant professor with Brock University’s department of sport management, said Andreescu appears to have struck a comfortable balance as she focuses on her on-court activities.

“She’s very professional and she’s very by the book,” Naraine said. “That’s something that we don’t necessarily see with younger athletes, 20-year-old athletes, in this day and age.”

Bruneau said Andreescu is training in Monte Carlo and will spend a few weeks in Dubai next month before going to Australia.

“The positive thing is that she is obviously extremely motivated,” he told The Canadian Press from Montreal. “She’s always motivated so it’s not a change. But when you’re forced (off the court) and that’s your life, you want that back badly.”

Andreescu started last year ranked No. 152 in the world before closing the season at No. 5 despite missing most of the spring with a shoulder injury. She won titles at Indian Wells and Toronto before making history at the Grand Slam in New York.

“She had an almost four-month break between Miami (in March) and then playing Rogers Cup and the U.S. Open and she won both of them,” said Bettauer, the CEO of the Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence. “Certainly one thing that Bianca will have in her back pocket is the experience of having had an extended break before and being able to come back and find her competitive confidence pretty quickly.”

Bruneau is planning to replicate match-like settings for the seventh-ranked Andreescu before the Australian swing.

“There’s another side of her strong mind that is very obvious in a year like this year,” he said. “How she puts her head down, goes to work, and just prepares. Even if she has some tough news here and there, she’s pretty impressive.”

If a tennis player were ever going to take a year-long break from the sport, this was probably the season to do it. Many top players remained off court or had part-time schedules due to the pandemic.

Bruneau said he’s feeling “very positive” about Andreescu’s return.

“We’re going to make sure everything is in place,” he said. “Hopefully it’s going to be a nice story.”

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