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Canadian tennis fans flock to New York to see Andreescu in U.S. Open final

NEW YORK — Canadian tennis fans Gord Szaszi and Shannon McHugh had wanted to go to New York City to celebrate their one-year wedding anniversary. Then Canada's Bianca Andreescu made the U.S.

NEW YORK — Canadian tennis fans Gord Szaszi and Shannon McHugh had wanted to go to New York City to celebrate their one-year wedding anniversary.

Then Canada's Bianca Andreescu made the U.S. Open final, and their trip took on a patriotic objective, too.

"No better way to celebrate our anniversary than watching our national hero win," Szaszi said with a smile.

The couple from St. Catharines, Ont., drove into Poughkeepsie, N.Y., Saturday morning, then took a train to New York City hours before the final between Andreescu and American star Serena Williams.

A long trip, sure. But worth it, they said, to watch a little bit of history.

The 19-year-old Andreescu — the first Canadian to reach a U.S. Open singles final — grabbed the nation's attention when she won the Rogers Cup in Toronto last month, with Williams retiring from the championship match with a back injury in the first set.

Andreescu began the year ranked No. 152 and reached a career-high No. 15 heading into the U.S. Open.

Szaszi, who's been a tennis fan his whole life, is happy to see the attention the young Canadian is getting now.

"It's just determination, she has all the skills, all the shots, she mixes things up really well," he said. "But (what's most impressive) is that never-say-die attitude — just when you think she's out ... she storms back with five games in a row."

"She's exciting to watch," added McHugh, who's new to tennis fandom. "You always love a story of a young, up-and-coming person having an amazing run.

"And I think she says a lot for strong and confident women, and that's what I like backing."

Szaszi and McHugh said they felt the unmistakable energy of the U.S. Open as soon as they walked through the gates at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre — hours before the start of the women's final.

They watched the mixed-doubles championship match at Arthur Ashe Stadium and were amazed at the buzz around the grounds, and how that vibe differed from other tournaments they'd been to.

"It's way different, way different energy than the French Open," said McHugh, who went to Roland Garros with Szaszi in 2016. "I don't know what that's attributed to but for me, it makes being here much more fun."

The cavernous Arthur Ashe Stadium stands on the west side of the grounds, towering over everything else. With a capacity of 23,771, it's the largest tennis stadium in the world.

And it feels just as grand when you're in it.

"Even the crowd for the mixed doubles final was so lively," said Szaszi. "At the French Open, people took it very seriously, they were more subdued. But you can tell here there's an energy.

"I wish we came earlier, to be honest."

Szaszi and McHugh were among many Canadian fans milling about the stadium early Saturday afternoon.

Szaszi had a Canada scarf draped over his neck to show his support for Andreescu while other fans had maple leafs painted on their faces. A couple wore red hats with 'She the North' written on the front panel.

Charles Quesnel from Montreal, among a face-painted foursome, decided to buy tickets to Saturday's final during the Rogers Cup back in August without knowing who would be playing.

"Having Bianca here is a nice surprise for everybody," said Quesnel, who arrived in New York on Friday with his girlfriend and two other friends.

"For the last little while we've been watching her closely. We've seen her on the TV, we've watched her grow her game up to today."

Quesnel predicted Williams to beat Andreescu in the final while Szaszi was "cautiously optimistic" with his choice of Andreescu in three sets.

McHugh, on the other hand, didn't want to give a prediction one way or the other. 

"I'm scared," she said with a laugh. "I don't want to jinx it at all."

Regardless of Saturday's result, Szaszi said it was impressive to see the way Canada had rallied behind Andreescu throughout her impressive run. 

He believes the current sports landscape in the country has attributed to that.

"I think it's the right time," he said. "You look at when the Blue Jays made their playoff runs (in 2015 and 2016), people really got on board across the country, same thing with the (2019 NBA Champion) Raptors, they got people into sports across Canada.

"People are ready to support our national players in whatever sport they're in. There's a consciousness for it. And it's good to see."

Melissa Couto, The Canadian Press