As the tournament nears the finish line at the National Bank Open in Toronto, I can’t help but think back to some of the great “Canadian Open” finals of years past here.
Often the most surprising of finalists can produce the most rewarding of results. Here,l however, are three blockbuster finals from the 21st Century that remain etched in our memory in Canada. Two of them featured great on-court battles while the third had historic meaning for tennis fans in our country.
It was an all-American final in Toronto during the summer of 2001 between Jennifer Capriati and Serena Williams. It was a second Canadian Open final for Serena Williams, who had lost the year prior in Montreal to Martina Hingis.
Although Capriati was only 25 years old at the time, she seemed like quite the veteran having been a professional tennis player since the age of 14. After off-court obstacles derailed her immense talent for a period of time, Capriati was in fine form coming into the tournament in Toronto in 2001 having won both the Australian and French Open’s that year – the first two majors of her career.
For her part, Serena Williams was just getting started in terms of all the incredible accomplishments she would accumulate throughout her career. By that summer she had but a single Slam to her name, at the 1999 US Open, but her talent was undeniable and her power along with big sister Venus, was changing the women’s game. Capriati won their encounter at Wimbledon earlier in the summer in a close three set match.
It was Serena however, who emerged victorious in this hard-hitting Toronto final, with a 6-1, 6-7(7), 6-3 win over Capriati. Serena would go on to lose the US Open final to her big sister Venus in September, but the following year would win all three Majors that she played. She would capture two more National Bank Open titles, also in Toronto, in 2011 and 2013.
It was the emerging rivalry of the early 2000s on the ATP Tour between Roger Federer and Andy Roddick.
Federer was coming into the tournament having won three of the past five Grand Slams to finally fulfill the promise many tennis fans and reporters had been talking about for years. Just weeks earlier Federer had defended his Wimbledon title against Roddick with a 4-6, 7-5, 7-6(3), 6-4 victory and fans in Toronto had their hopes up that the pair would meet each other again here in Canada where Roddick was the defending champion from a year earlier in Montreal.
Roddick had not dropped a set all week in Toronto coming into the finals, while Federer was pushed to three in his semifinal win over Thomas Johansson. In the final, it was Federer who prevailed with a 7-5, 6-3 victory. The win extended Federer’s summer winning streak to 23 matches and shortly thereafter he would add a sixth major title to his haul at the US Open.
Canada’s Bianca Andreescu, prior to being a professional tennis player, watched the 2015 National Bank Open semifinal between Belinda Bencic and Serena Williams in person and told her Mom, “I’m going to do that one day.” The 19-year-old made good on that promise and then went one further by winning her home championship in 2019, albeit under unique and challenging circumstances.
Her opponent, the legendary Serena Williams, had to retire from the match with injury early in the first set with Andreescu leading 3-1. A shoulder injury that had presented itself during her semifinal match a day earlier proved too much to complete with.
Despite the anti-climactic finish, Andreescu became the first Canadian to win the singles title at the event since Faye Urban accomplished the feat in 1969 – fifty years prior! The young Canadian admitted later that she had been so emotional about facing Serena prior to stepping out onto the court that she was holding back tears during the warm-up for the match.
It was Serena who later became emotional while sitting in her chair courtside after her injury retirement, leaving Andreescu to come over and console her in a touching moment between the two that we’ll never forget. Serena called Andreescu, “a great sportswoman” and an “old soul” following the exchange.
Andreescu would build on the win in Toronto the following month in New York where she captured her first Grand Slam title by defeating Serena once again, this time in a complete match that finished 6-3, 7-5, to solidify her presence as a WTA star.