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Andreescu shows next generation may have already ended Serena's reign - and chance of record

Andreescu shows next generation may have already ended Serena's reign - and chance of record

07/09/2019 at 22:58Updated 08/09/2019 at 16:19

Twenty-four is just a number - and that record of Margaret Court's may never be broken. Focus, however, on the brilliance of a rising star, writes Carrie Dunn.

"I know you guys wanted Serena to win – I’m so sorry!"

Two years running, a young champion has lifted her maiden US Open crown – and promptly apologised to the Arthur Ashe crowd for beating their idol.

Nineteen-year-old Canadian Bianca Andreescu wowed the world with a straight-sets win over Serena Williams; but two decades on from her own first US Open title, at the age of seventeen, Williams can hardly believe she is even still playing.

“At 17 I thought for sure I'd be retired at 28, 29, living my life,” she told reporters after her semi-final win against Elina Svitolina.

For more than two years now, she has been chasing her 24th Grand Slam singles title. She has now lost four major finals in a row – the first female player to do so since Kim Clijsters – and has not won a set in any of those showpiece occasions.

Twenty-four, of course, is a synthetic record. Billie-Jean King has spoken before of the players of the 1970s and 1980s opting not to play at Grand Slams, focusing on building the tour, or conserving their travel money rather than criss-crossing the world. Nevertheless, it has begun to gather new meaning as Williams’s longevity and resilience have both become ever more notable (although for some the wish for a record-breaker has been borne from straightforward desire for Margaret Court to no longer hold such a distinction because of some of her public comments).

Yet the constant harping on one arbitrary figure is unhelpful. Williams is already the greatest athlete of her generation. Whether she breaks the record at some point in the future – or not – is irrelevant.

And just like this time last year, the wonderful achievement of a young talent, and the brilliance of her potential future, must not be overshadowed. At least this time there were no authority figures publicly bemoaning the victory of an up-and-coming star rather than their living legend, as Naomi Osaka had to contend with during the post-match speeches in 2018.

“I’m so proud and happy for you,” Williams told her young rival during the trophy presentation. The pair met in the final of the Rogers Cup last month, when the older player was forced to retire through injury. She evidently respects the rising star, both as a person and as a competitor, and her gracious speech – after last year’s debacle – went some way to mollifying the passionate Arthur Ashe crowd, who had been cheering errors from the Canadian during the match.

Andreescu has had a meteoric 2019. Even with injury to overcome, the teenager has soared into the top 10 of the WTA rankings, grabbed the support of two nations (Canada and Romania, whence her ancestors lived), defeated seven of the biggest stars on tour, and won a bagful of titles.

Angelique Kerber might not have been overly impressed with some of Andreescu’s behaviour, describing her as a “drama queen”, but the 19-year-old does not need to act; with a racquet in her hand, she is pure box office. Winning the US Open has always been her dream – and she revealed after her semi-final win over Elise Mertens that three years ago, she wrote herself a cheque for the champions’ prize money.

“When I was 16, after I won the Orange Bowl title, I remember I wrote myself a cheque of this tournament, winning the tournament obviously,” she said. “Ever since that moment, I just kept visualising that.”

The record Williams has chased for so long is still intact. It may never be broken – because the next generation are well and truly here.