NEW YORK — Suddenly vaulted into the spotlight of great expectations, Canadian Bianca Andreescu began her U.S. Open quest Tuesday with an overabundance of nerves.
But the 19-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., conquered those opening jitters, prevailing 6-2, 6-4 against 17-year-old American wild card Katie Volynets to advance to a second-round encounter with Belgian veteran Kirsten Flipkens.
“It’s my first round, first match of the tournament. Maybe I was a little bit rusty at the beginning. I’m also playing someone younger than me, so that’s not the best scenario. I’m usually the ‘young one.’ But it’s nice to see these up-and-coming players play on big stages like this,” Andreescu said.
The Canadian had some tape under her left knee, as she had for her last few days in practice but not when she first arrived in New York to prepare.
“I was feeling it a little bit during my practices, but it’s nothing serious,” Andreescu said.
She also had nearly a dozen square patches all over her legs, saying: “They’re, like, these little bites I got from I don’t know where. So I’m just covering them up, because they don’t look too nice,” she said.
“Yeah, kind of,” she added.
Meanwhile in a highly-anticipated evening match, 20-year-old Denis Shapovalov easily downed 19-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-1, 6-1, 6-4 in the first-round.
Shapovalov, from Richmond Hill, Ont., broke the Montreal native six times on his way to victory.
It was the second year in a row the two met for an all-Canadian match at Flushing Meadows.
Last year however, Auger-Aliassime retired in tears, unable to stop his heart from racing because a combination of heat and humidity, and the stress of playing his first Grand Slam main draw match against a close friend.
Auger-Aliassime has since had a minor procedure to resolve the situation. And so far this year, he has dealt with hot, humid conditions on several occasions and passed every test with flying colours.
Also Tuesday, Vancouver’s Vasek Pospisil upset No. 9 seed Karen Khachanov in a match that nearly went four hours.
The 29-year-old Pospisil, who is on the comeback trail from back surgery, fired 15 aces to take the match 4-6, 7-5, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 in three hours, 50 minutes.
Volynets, a Walnut Creek, Calif., native ranked No. 413 on the WTA Tour who earned the wild card by winning the U.S. Girls 18s championship earlier this month, stood toe-to-toe with world No. 15 Andreescu from the baseline.
Volynets has good wheels and is a superb retriever with textbook groundstrokes. The exertion sometimes had Andreescu doubled over. Her body language wasn’t the most positive, and she gave her younger opponent credit for “not showing any negative emotion.”
“Well, there were long rallies. I was a little bit nervous coming into the match, too. So I think maybe that kind of showed. But I’m usually pretty emotional when I’m on the court. That’s just who I am,” Andreescu said.
“I don’t think I was changing the rhythm as much as I usually do, because she gets to so many balls and I wanted to make sure I hit the right ball at the right time so I didn’t want to complicate myself,” she added.
Andreescu had huge support on a jam-packed Court No. 10.
“I loved it. These Canadians are wilding. They’re coming everywhere. It’s really nice to see all of the Canadians cheering me on in different cities,” she said.
Andreescu’s next opponent will pose a completely different challenge.
Flipkens is a change-of-pace artist in her own right, using the slice backhand more often than the two-handed version, even serve-volleying at times.
Ranked as high as No. 13 back in 2013, the Belgian found herself just below the cut line for direct entry into this U.S. Open. She lost in third and final round of qualifying, but got in as a lucky loser when Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko withdrew with an ongoing elbow injury.
“I think that’s going to be a fun match. She likes to change the rhythm like I do. I don’t think it’s going to be easy,” Andreescu said. “She’s very strong mentally, too. I’m looking forward to that.”
But before that, a day off as the second-round match won’t take place until Thursday.
“I love it. I had that experience at Indian Wells. I had a lot of tough matches, so I think that the day in between really helps with recovery,” Andreescu said.
Meanwhile, Brayden Schnur of Pickering, Ont., who earned direct entry into this Grand Slam for the first time in his career (he played Wimbledon as a lucky loser), fell 2-6, 4-6, 4-6 against No. 29 seed Benoit Paire of France.