Canadian tennis fans are jumping over nets with excitement over Ontario’s Bianca Andreescu and her success on the WTA tour. The tennis world can’t stop talking about the 18-year old Canadian. Andreescu has moved from a ranking of 152nd in January, to 24th as of March 17, now boasting a 31-3 (win-loss) record for the 2019 season. The popular Canadian men’s duo of Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime (ages 19 and 18) now have a female counterpart who is just as inspiring.
Andreescu’s tournament win as a wildcard at the prestigious Indian Wells tournament on March 17 against Angelique Kerber made tennis history not only in the world, but also in Canada. She is the first Canadian woman to win a WTA Premier Mandatory Tournament. This amazing accomplishment garnished a congratulatory tweet from Prime Minister Trudeau. And, she was the first wildcard to ever win the Indian Wells tournament. To quote Rod Laver, “A Tennis Star Is Born.”
Her star continues to rise as she proves that her success on the courts since January has been no accident. At the time of writing, she had just conquered Kerber again at the Miami Open, for the second time in one week no less, moving on to the Round of 16. This fairy tale story in Canadian women’s tennis now has a well-established plot line, leading lady, and captive audience.
Behind the scenes of the Bianca story is an Alberta connection. This connection goes back in time to when Bianca was age 12 to the age of 14. She was selected at the age of 11 to train at the National Training Centre in Toronto as part of the Junior National Training Program. There she met her coach, Lan Yao-Gallop. Lan was from Edmonton, Alberta, on a two-year secondment to Tennis Canada.
Coach Lan Yao-Gallop has been an Alberta tennis coach since 2005, except for the two years when she lived in Toronto working as a Tennis Canada National Coach. In Lan’s group of girls, known as the “2000-borns”, or those born in the year 2000, was the young Bianca Andreescu.
(Photo above: Bianca Andreescu and Coach Lan Yao-Gallop in 2017 when Bianca visited the U12 National Camp in Toronto)
Lan led the small group of aspiring tennis players through group lessons three or four days a week, supplemented by early morning private lessons. They travelled to tournaments in Canada, the U.S., and Europe over the two years. So Lan knows Bianca well, and is thrilled to have been what she views as a small part of Bianca’s success.
Lan and I talked recently at the Saville Tennis Centre, Edmonton, Alberta:
“I feel very privileged to have been involved in Bianca’s growth. As coaches we are fortunate to be able to work with players when they are young and watch them develop into young adults and athletes. It is special to see a player at the age of 12, then to see them at 18 at Bianca’s level. You see the full cycle.”
Photo above: Lan Yao-Gallop (middle) and her four 2000-born girls. 2013 Tennis Canada summer tour in Austria. (Brindtha, Maria, Anca, Bianca)
Lan describes Bianca as a “good kid” who was fun to coach, down to earth, and easy going. When they meet now from time-to-time in Toronto, Lan enjoys catching up with Bianca after spending so much time together during those formative years.
Lan describes both Bianca and Felix Auger-Aliassime, who was also part of the 2000-born cohort, as excellent young role models for Canada’s young tennis players. They were very coachable, respectful, open to advice, and hard working. They were independent, mature, always prepared, and organized with their time.
While Felix stood out even at a very young age, it took Bianca longer to rise to the top. Lan notes that Bianca always played “brave”, going for her shots, committing to the bigger game, but the more consistent players would win. Her breakthrough came at the age of 14 when she won the Les Petits As tournament in France.
Picture above: The young Canadian juniors had great success after a month-long tour in Europe. (Felix, 3rd left and Bianca 3rd right)
Bianca is well aware of her journey from a young athlete to a professional, and of her new role as an inspiration for other young players. In her words at Indian Wells after her victory:
“Hopefully this moment can be a great inspiration for many young athletes because like I always say if you believe in yourself anything is possible,” Andreescu said afterwards in her on-court interview. “And like my mom always told me through the years, if you work hard, you dream big to get big then you can accomplish so many things. That’s what I’ve been doing throughout many years and now this moment has become a reality so it’s really, really crazy.”
Coach Lan notes that Tennis Canada has played a huge role in the success of its young tennis players on the international stage over the past few years. Bianca acknowledged this support in her acceptance speech at Indian Wells. As a former National Coach, Lan hopes that Bianca’s story will encourage other young players to dream big, to never give up, to work hard, and to believe in the possibilities that the sport of tennis offers. “Bianca was just one of the girls in the group, an ordinary player, a typical 12-year-old. Now she is a star. If you have the heart and never give up, anything is possible.”
As for tennis in Alberta, Coach Lan describes it as strong and getting stronger. Young players like Mia Kupres, Martyna Ostrzygalo and Josh Oboniye are highly ranked nationally. The new national tennis centre in Calgary (http://albertatenniscentre.ca) will strengthen an already strong junior program in Alberta.
As for Bianca, Coach Lan notes:
“Being a professional tennis player is a tough job, with many sacrifices to be made. But Bianca has a strong team around her including her parents. That strong base and core values will serve her well.”
We are fortunate in Alberta to have Coach Lan Yao-Gallop as one of the leaders in our tennis community. Congratulations Coach Lan, and all of the other Canadian coaches who have worked with Bianca, on the tremendous success of one of your junior athletes, Bianca Andreescu.
Photos supplied by Lan Yao-Gallop.