At an unpredictable time in women’s tennis, where nearly anyone can beat anyone else on any given day, there is at least one certainty in the Italian Open draw this year. Iga Swiatek, a player who recently won the US Open as a teenager and is now charged with trying to back up that first great triumph, will advance to the second round in Rome.
The only question is who she will play against. Either Bianca Andreescu or Emma Raducanu – two players with many similarities – await after they were drawn to face each other for the first time in the first round on Tuesday.
While the spotlight has remained on Raducanu in her first full season following her US Open triumph, this has arguably been an even more notable year for Andreescu. Her career so far has been a reflection of the difficulties that tend to come with tasting success at such a young age. First her body could not quite keep up with her talents – she did not compete for 14 months after 2019 because of a torn meniscus and various ailments – then the mental toll of her struggles left a mark.
Andreescu said her results came to dictate her mood and self-worth, with consequences that were hard to take, and she eventually decided to step away from the sport indefinitely in October.
“I’m being really honest here, but I actually wanted to quit the sport,” Andreescu said in an interview with WTA Insider before she returned in Stuttgart last month. “It was really bad. I am privileged in a way for having this opportunity and doing all of this. Now I’m very grateful, more than ever. So I don’t want people to think: ‘Oh you’re a little baby, just suck it up.’ But it was an accumulation of two-and-a-half years. A lot had happened and I just didn’t want to deal with anything any more.”
That desperation gave way to a constructive period of growth. She tried martial arts. She enrolled in dance lessons. She began making music again, an old hobby. She enjoyed the company of family and friends. In short, she lived, something that is not always easy to do during the nomadic grind of the WTA tour.
One of her most profound experiences was volunteering for a domestic violence charity, where the discussions she had with survivors informed her own perspective; she resolved to appreciate her life and to use her success to help others. “I’m not identifying myself with the sport any more, because I felt like last year, if I lost, I hated myself,” she said during the Madrid Open last week. “If I won, it was like the best thing ever.
“Now I’m viewing tennis as just another opportunity to get better as a person and it’s something I’m passionate about, so I want to enjoy myself out there.”
In her short time back on the tour, that new perspective on her sport has yielded positive results. She is still the same relentless streetfighter, roaring between points and getting under opponents’ skin, while picking them apart with brute force and a vast toolbox of shots.
Raducanu said: “I think her physicality is one of her strengths, how good she is moving, how low she stays. I think that’s really cool and probably something I can learn from myself.”
In Madrid, Andreescu dismantled the Australian Open finalist Danielle Collins 6-1, 6-1 before losing against the eventual finalist, Jessica Pegula. Her level will likely only improve with more time on court. It is a formidable challenge for Raducanu, who is still so inexperienced in big matches against fellow grand slam title winners and has faced her own problems with injury and dealing with high expectations. Regardless of how it ends, it will be valuable for both players.