Andreescu looks to cap 'crazy' year with the ultimate scalp
Serena Williams will take a fourth shot at equaling Margaret Court's all-time record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles in Saturday's US Open final - but it is far from a formality against fast-rising Canadian teenager Bianca Andreescu, writes Ben Grounds.
It was 20 years ago when Serena Williams reached her first ever Grand Slam final.
- Serena dismantles Svitolina to reach US Open final
- Andreescu KOs Bencic to set up blockbuster final with Serena
Nineteen years and 364 days on, the same woman will compete in Saturday's final in New York.
The American, who turns 38 in three weeks, will seek to win a first Grand Slam since giving birth in September 2017 against an opponent who wasn't even born when she vanquished Martina Hingis in straight sets.
It's quite extraordinary.
Serena Williams could capture a record seventh US Open titleGetty Images
Andreescu has more than earned her place alongside Williams. Trailing 5-2 in the second set of her semi-final against Belinda Bencic, the 15th seed broke the Swiss three times to win the final five games.
Williams has honed a champion mentality over many years, saving three break points in the very first game during her 6-3 6-1 win over Elina Svitolina, but Andreescu has the ability to hold her nerve like no other player currently in the women's game.
It has been a fairytale year for the Canadian, who may in time get found out when she embarks on replicating her 2019 form, but the element of surprise remains for now.
Her competitive skills and willpower cannot be disputed, and the momentum she has generated in dropping just two sets so far this tournament is reminiscent of Naomi Osaka's route to glory 12 months ago.
Belinda Bencic congratulates Bianca Andreescu during their Women's Singles semi-final matchGetty Images
Bencic had six break points in the second set, but there was a refusal to be beaten and a relentlessness in stepping up a gear when it really mattered that will be at the forefront of Serena's mind.
Andreescu is a precocious talent and hit 15 forehand winners in the first set, the last of which down the line saved set point at 5-4 down.
Can Serena live with the rush of adrenaline?
Williams can become only the fourth mother in the Open era to win a Slam after Aussies Court and Evonne Goolagong Cawley and Belgium's Kim Clijsters.
This is uncharted territory for Andreescu having never before been past the second round of a major tournament.
When seemingly out on her feet, the world No 14 has regrouped to bowl over Katie Volynets, Kirsten Flipkens, Caroline Wozniacki, Taylor Townsend, Elise Mertens and Bencic en route to the final.
Bianca Andreescu is attracting attention from all corners of CanadaGetty Images
Andreescu had vowed to make a big noise in New York, and she has fond memories of idolising Williams during her younger years.
“I remember watching her when I was about 10,” she said.
" I don't remember specifically a moment. I watched her win most of her Grand Slam titles. I think she's fighting for her 24th on Saturday. I'm sure she's going to bring her A game."
“I’m going to try to bring my A game, too. Hopefully I guess may the best player win.”
Not even 12 months ago, Andreescu was ranked world No 264, but her stock has sky-rocketed. She lost against world No 108 against Olga Danilovic in the first round of qualifying for this very tournament then. Few in the sport had even heard of Bianca Andreescu.
Williams and Andreescu will now stage a rematch of last month's Rogers Cup finalGetty Images
Williams, meanwhile, has claimed she thought she would have retired a decade ago when she was a youngster.
“At 17 I thought for sure I'd be retired at 28, 29, living my life. I would have thought it was a sick joke (smiling)
The home favourite can equal Margaret Court’s all-time Grand Slam record of 24 titles - but Williams insists she is not just playing to reach the feat.
"I definitely would still be playing if I had already passed it,” she added.
Serena Williams yells at chair umpire Carlos Ramos in the women's final against Naomi Osaka last yearEurosport
“I’ve had so many chances to pass it and to have a lot more, but it's cool because I'm playing in an era with so many - five eras with so many amazing players (smiling).
“If you look at the span of the career, the players I've played, it's amazing that I was able to get this many.”
Serena vs Andreescu in stats:
- 23: Grand Slam titles for Serena, who would tie Margaret Court at 24 with a win.
- 0: Grand Slam titles for Andreescu, who is playing in her maiden Slam final and lost in the first round of U.S. Open qualifying in 2018.
- 6: U.S. Open titles for Williams. A win would give Serena seven and break a tie with Chrissie Evert.
- 101: U.S. Open match wins for Serena.
After being runner-up at Wimbledon the past two years either side of an infamous meltdown against Osaka in the 2018 final at Flushing Meadows, Williams will hope it is fourth time lucky.
"Is this the best opportunity? I don't know. I literally haven't thought about it this tournament. I've been way more chill.
"There's so many different emotions in finals. It just brings out so many highs and lows, nerves and expectations. It's a lot.
Victory over Andreescu would also move Williams past Chris Evert with a 102nd US Open match winGetty Images
"I felt more prepared this tournament. I mean, Wimbledon I probably had a week to prepare, so that was amazing. Australia, I was super prepared. I did great, then rolled my ankle.
" I shouldn't have even played the French Open. That was just a bonus just to compete in another Grand Slam. I just feel like I actually had time to train. I just had a really tough year with injuries, mostly bad luck. I just needed to get injury-free."
The 18-year age gap between the players represents the largest between women's finalists at any major in the Open era.
The pair met in last month's final at Toronto, but it was a brief encounter, with back spasms forcing Williams to retire while trailing 3-1 in the first set.
Bianca Andreescu is in uncharted territory in New YorkGetty Images
As a 15-year-old, Andreescu wrote herself a cheque filled with the amount of prize money on offer to the US Open winner.
Now, every corner of Canada knows who she is, and despite her 5' 7" frame, she stands shoulder to shoulder with NBA champions Toronto Raptors, the country's biggest current sporting stars.
When she takes to the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium, she will be visualising that cheque, knowing she is just two sets away from having it in her grasp for real.