Forehand missiles down the line. Angled backhand winners. Net-rushing drive volleys. And, of course, drop shots.
Yes, there were some errors struck in between, but for the most part, Bianca Andreescu’s complete artillery of shots was on full display in her first match back to competitive tennis: a 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 victory over Mihaela Buzarnescu in the first round of the Australian Open.
Though it ultimately wasn’t the clean stat sheet the World No. 8 might have hoped for, an impressive 27 winners offset 34 unforced errors, a count that, while high, is forgivably given the time since her last competitive match.
Nerves were apparent early on – yet who could blame Andreescu after 467 (yes, we checked that number) days since her last competitive match, a retirement loss to Karolina Pliskova at the WTA Finals in 2019. A few groundstrokes long seemed to be all the data points she would need to recalibrate her game, however, as the No. 8 seed quickly earned herself an early break over Buzarnescu.
Although a few unforced errors occasionally crept into Andreescu’s game, she was able to shake off the rust frequently enough to remind us just how her watchable her all-court tennis really is. With 7 winners to 9 unforced errors – a relatively tidy stat sheet for her first set back – the No. 8 seed stormed her way to 6-2, one-set lead.
Andreescu wasn’t the only player on court making a rebound from an extended injury layoff. Buzarnescu, for her part, had recently been out of the game for a year herself following a string of injuries. Rust certainly played a part in her game as well, as she was unable to sustain a consistent enough level to trouble the Canadian in the first set.
But the second set would be a different story.
Raising her level after going down break points in the fourth game of the second set, Buzarnescu was able to make inroads on the Andreescu serve for the first time in the following game. The former World No. 20 belted a return at Andreescu’s feet to secure her first break of the match, providing the Canadian with her first real taste of adversity in the match.
Though she’d be able to steady herself on her own service delivery, Andreescu was unable to make enough of an impact on the Romanian’s serve to reel the set back in. The 2019 US Open champion managed to save a first set point after a brilliant rally, but couldn’t save the second after a clinical southpaw serve out wide set up the winning point for Buzarnescu and with it, the set.
The third set was played at similarly tight margins, with both players serving effectively and exchanging moments of pressure with each game held. Who would blink first?
Initially, it looked like it would Andreescu in the critical seventh game of the set. Falling behind 0-40 after a string of unforced errors, it looked like her first match back would be a learning moment rather than a victory. Yet there’s a reason why, at age 19, she became Canada’s first Grand Slam singles champion by defeating Serena Williams at the US Open. Showing her champion’s quality, she reeled off five consecutive points with immaculate precision, erasing the game deficit and holding for 4-3.
Momentum firmly in her favour, she capitalized in a hitherto rare lapse in Buzarnescu’s quality, breaking for the first time since late in the first set to position herself for the win. There would be no hesitation serving the match out, as Andreescu hit her spots in the service box as she had been doing for most of the match, sealing victory after just under two hours of play.
“Today’s match wasn’t easy at all. I’m super happy with how I fought it out in the end,” said Andreescu addressing the crowd after the match. “I don’t want to be too hard on myself, it’s my first match back. Hopefully next match I can raise my level even more.”
Her next match will be on Wednesday (Tuesday night in Canada) against Hsieh Su-Wei, another crafty veteran with an array of shots in her arsenal perhaps even more varied than Bianca herself.