MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — Some fans showed up to Celebration Square in downtown Mississauga, Ont., as early as 10 a.m. to see their hometown hero.
Canadian tennis star Bianca Andreescu was honoured in an event dubbed as the ‘She The North’ rally on Sunday afternoon to celebrate her U.S. Open singles title. Hundreds of fans arrived hours in advance and by the time Andreescu hit the stage the crowd was into the thousands.
“I enrolled my kids into tennis this past year, and they really wanted to see her today,” said Ajay, a father of two girls ages six and nine from nearby Caledon, Ont.
The 19-year-old Andreescu was presented a key to the city by Mississauga mayor Bonnie Crombie, who also unveiled an ‘Andreescu Way’ street sign. The permanent location of the street has yet to be determined.
“Your graceful and most modest approach to embracing your success has embodied both Mississauga, Ontario and Canada,” Crombie said. “And your family is like so many others in Mississauga, a true immigrant success story.”
Among the estimated 10,000 people on hand to celebrate Andreescu’s unprecedented run to the U.S. Open women’s singles championship was a group of fans waving Romanian flags.
Born in Mississauga, Andreescu learned to play tennis at the age of seven after her family had moved back to Romania. She returned to Mississauga a few years later and joined the Ontario Racquet Club.
“I’m a proud Canadian and proud to represent this country all around the world and very humbled to celebrate this moment with you,” Andreescu said. “If I can do it, if Serena (Williams) can do it, if Roger (Federer) can do it, if the Raptors can do it, so can you.”
Diversity and youth were defined themes of the rally. Many on hand were tennis fans, and others were casual sports fans who also packed the Square back in June when the Toronto Raptors won the NBA Championship.
“I think what she’s done for the country is great,” said Cindy, a 16-year-old sports fan who wore a custom-made ‘She The North’ hat.
Dignitaries from across Canada were present for the hour-long event including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Toronto mayor John Tory.
“She’s an inspiration to all Canadians old and young,” Trudeau said. “But to be honest, especially an inspiration to young Canadians because she showed that young people can do anything.”
Andreescu became the first Canadian to ever with a major singles tennis event last week when she defeated Serena Williams in straight sets at Flushing Meadows.
The victory has made her an international star, appearing on U.S. television shows as a Canadian representative.
“It’s one thing to win a major sports championship, this may be the single biggest sports achievement in Canadian history, it’s another thing how you do it,” Tory said. “It’s about how she handled the win. She did us so proud as Canadians.”
A sport that was already growing in popularity, Andreescu’s victory has only pushed the interest of youths wanting to take up tennis.
“Since Bianca’s win, we’ve been inundated with inquiries from all across the country from all ages and diverse backgrounds,” Tennis Canada chair Jennifer Bishop said. “From large cities and small communities, all wanting to know how and where they can start playing tennis.”
Tennis Canada is hoping the boost from Andreescu’s win will help attract more funding for indoor tennis courts to be built around the country.
The future of tennis in Canada is bright. What started back in 2011 when Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., began his ascent up the ATP tennis rankings, Canada is now blessed with other young tennis stars like Felix Auger-Alliasime and Denis Shapovalov.
Andreescu’s parents, Nicu and Maria, are from Romania. Raonic was born in Montenegro. Auger-Alliasime’s father, Sam, was born in Togo and Shapovalov was born in Israel.
In addition to celebrating Andreescu’s accomplishment, the city was celebrating diversity.
“Nicu, Maria, thank you for all those years ago choosing Canada to start and launch your family,” Trudeau said. “Because in this country, anything is possible and you and many Mississaugans have proven it.”
David Alter, The Canadian Press