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Mark Masters

SPORTSCENTRE Reporter

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In complicated COVID-19 times, coach Sylvain Bruneau has a simple message for Bianca Andreescu.

"I look at it as a challenge," said Bruneau, who guided Andreescu during last year's incredible breakthrough season. "You got to be ready. You got to be able to adapt. Bianca and I talked about that way before this happened. Being able to adapt to new situations on the court and off the court is going to be key in her development and getting where she wants to be."

Sidelined by a knee injury early this season, Andreescu hasn't played a match since the WTA Finals last fall, so you can imagine the excitement in her camp when news broke this week that the US Open will be held.

"We were really pleased, to be honest," said Bruneau. "She has not played a match since October so she's been missing competing a lot. We were a bit worried there'd be no tennis for the rest of the year, no tournaments."

US Open tournament director Stacey Allaster, a fellow Canadian, reached out to Team Andreescu last week to outline the United States Tennis Association's plan to hold the event. 

"Bianca was thrilled, because we have great memories, all of us, from there last year," Bruneau said.

Despite only turning 20 this week, Andreescu is no stranger to adversity. She missed all but one match during the clay and grass seasons last year due to a nagging shoulder injury. And yet she still won in front of friends and family in Toronto despite coming in cold with no hard court tune-up event. So, Andreescu has already proven she can respond positively to a long layoff.

"It's reassuring to know that when she was put in a similar situation she was able to handle it really well," Bruneau noted. "It's good for her confidence."

In a normal year, the hype surrounding a young defending champion would be huge, with media and fans following her everywhere. And defending a grand slam has proven to be incredibly hard with Serena Williams the last woman to do so (Wimbledon, 2015 and 2016). The last woman not named Serena to go back-to-back was Victoria Azarenka (Australian Open, 2012 and 2013).

With no fans or media on site, Bruneau has considered the possibility that the new pandemic reality may take some of the spotlight away from Andreescu, who is No. 6 in the frozen WTA rankings.

"The energy's going to be totally different," he said. "It's going to be totally different than what we were expecting because it will be very low key. It's not easy for any young player to go back and defend a title for the first time. It's not like she's done this a lot like Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and Serena, so for Bianca, this is new territory. We'll for sure prepare for that. We'll see, but maybe the fact it will be more low key will mean less pressure in a way."

Andreescu's outgoing personality and all-court game won her legions of fans last year. The atmosphere in Toronto was electric and Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York, the largest venue in tennis, was practically shaking at times during her title run. Andreescu seems to thrive off the energy of fans and now she'll need to create her own energy.

"That's going to be a challenge," Bruneau admitted. "One of the reasons she's so good at Fed Cup is she loves the energy so, yes, it will be part of the preparation, how to handle this new way of competing where there's no fans to play for. Last year she played a lot of her matches on the big courts in front of packed, very involved crowds and it's going to be a really, really different dynamic."

Bruneau will remind Andreescu about the millions of fans who will be glued to the proceedings on television or online.

"There's going to be a lot of people watching, but they just won't be there," he noted.

The US Open is creating a hub environment for players and staff, including booking the entire TWA Hotel at JFK Airport, but there is also an option to explore private housing. The players who stay in the hotel will be limited to two rooms, which means they may not be able to bring their entire support group.

"It's possible to have more of a team with you with the private housing and I'd much prefer we go that route," Bruneau said. "With all the new realities, if we could actually keep a team around Bianca, I would much prefer that rather than a situation where it's just Bianca and myself. So, we're definitely leaning that way."

But even with a full support team, this will be unlike anything the players have experienced.

"Everybody's in that situation and everybody's on a level ground and adapting to those new conditions," Bruneau said. "I prefer to not dwell on it. Instead, I say, 'Okay, let's try to see how we can be strong and be creative and positive about it. It's not forever, it's for this year and let's make the most out of it and not use it as an excuse for not doing the right things.' So, that's my approach."