Patricia Hy-Boulais knows better than most how teenage tennis phenom Bianca Andreescu is feeling after punching her ticket through to the quarterfinals of this year’s U.S. Open.
After all, Hy-Boulais was the last Canadian woman to accomplish the feat in 1992, and like Andreescu had to overcome an American fan favourite to get there.
Hy-Boulais was drawn against sixth seed Jennifer Capriati in the third round, and the odds were not in the Canadian’s favour.
“Coming in, Capriati was the darling,” the three-time Olympian told The Canadian Press on Tuesday. “She had come in, won every tournament, won the Olympics. So she was expected to win the U.S. Open.”
But Hy-Boulais, then 27 years old, powered through for a 7-5, 6-4 victory.
When Andreescu battled Taylor Townsend on Monday night, the crowd was cheering for the American qualifier, not the 19-year-old from Mississauga, Ont.
After winning the match 6-1, 4-6, 6-2, Andreescu admitted that tuning out the crowd’s support for her opponent wasn’t easy.
Hy-Boulais knows the feeling. She experienced a similar boisterous New York crowd cheering for an American star when she faced Capriati.
“You basically feel like you’re playing against the world,” she said. “You just feel like you’re the only person with your parents or your coach, like they’re the only ones there for you. So the pressure is there. And it can serve as a motivator or it can just freeze you.”
The pressure motivated Hy-Boulais, who said she’d been having a “pretty rough” season prior to the tournament. Her highest rank that year was No. 31.
“Somehow it all came together by the (U.S.) Open,” she said.
After beating Capriati, she took down Czechoslovakia’s Helena Sukova 6-1, 7-6 (2), earning a berth in the quarterfinals against American Monica Seles.
Then disaster struck.
Hy-Boulais got food poisoning that kept her up sick the night before the match and left her weak when she hit the court.
Seles handily took the match 6-1, 6-2, and later won the tournament.
The experience held a simple lesson for Hy-Boulais.
“I learned not to eat seafood the night before. Not that that’s an excuse but it definitely did not help,” she said.
“It was very difficult to enjoy the moment. I was more concerned with not throwing up. … I didn’t quite have the experience I was looking for.”
Hy-Boulais hopes Andreescu has a markedly different journey when she faces Belgium’s Elise Mertens in the quarterfinals on Wednesday.
She’s known Andreescu for about five years and said the young athlete’s game has already gotten a lot smarter through the tournament.
“She can go from defence to offence and come in when she needs to. Just making really smart decisions,” said Hy-Boulais, who now works as a tennis analyst, a mental performance coach and a consultant for parents with kids progressing up the competitive tennis ladder.
The former pro is also a mom to two up-and-coming Canadian tennis players, Justin and Isabelle Boulais, who both currently play at Ohio State University.
It’s been a stunning year for Andreescu, who went into the U.S. Open ranked No. 15 in the world. Last month she won the Rogers Cup in Toronto and earlier this year she claimed victory in Indian Wells, Calif.
The teen said after a match in New York this week that she feels as if she could beat anyone right now — and Hy-Boulais agrees.
“The momentum is on her side,” she said.
After winning Indian Wells, Andreescu was forced to take some time off to rehabilitate a shoulder injury. That time gave the teen a perspective lacking in some young athletes, Hy-Boulais said.
“When you win that many matches, when you start winning big tournaments, the pressure is on. I think you have to really like what you’re doing,” she said. “And Bianca, I’ve watched her a lot the last few years, from juniors to the pros, she truly, truly is a learner. And that’s very important.”
Heading into the quarterfinals, Hy-Boulais’ only advice to Andreescu is to keep enjoying the ride because the rising star has already proven that she can handle the pressure and manage her emotions while in the spotlight.
“She’s already doing it so just keep doing what she’s doing,” she said.