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Serena Williams’ moving tribute to Bianca Andreescu is a masterclass in accepting defeat

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Christobel Hastings
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The final of the Rogers Cup tennis tournament didn’t quite go to plan for sporting superstar Serena Williams when she took on Bianca Andreescu. But by showering each other with praise in the face of adversity, we learnt a valuable lesson in the art of accepting defeat. 

If there was ever a shred of doubt that Serena Williams is one of the greatest tennis players of all time, one look at her track record would confirm her status as a bona fide legend. There’s 23 Grand Slam victories. 72 WTA titles. A 343-48 Grand Slam record. And four Olympic golds.

But despite her long and illustrious career, even sporting superstars have their down days when things just don’t go their way.

That’s what went happened at the weekend, after Serena Williams retired early in the first set of the Rogers Cup final against Bianca Andreescu with an upper-back injury.

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Williams, who made it to the Wimbledon final last month, made it through four games of the opening set before she was forced to withdraw due to severe back pain, according to the Women’s Tennis Association.

It’s not the ending we would have hoped for, especially when it looked as though 19-year-old Andreescu would be a formidable match for the legendary champion. Before Williams withdrew, Andreescu had broken her serve and and held a 3-1 advantage. Understandably, after retiring from the match, Williams was visibly emotional on the sidelines.

But out of the distressing scenes then came a display of sportsmanship that showed that the beauty of humanity. After Andreescu was called as the champion, she immediately raced over to comfort an emotional Williams, while the crowd cheered in appreciation.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t do it today,” Williams told the crowd after the match. “I tried, but I couldn’t. Bianca, you’re a great sportswoman. It’s been a tough year but I’m going to keep going.”

Andreescu then took the mic on centre court to give her victory speech. But instead of immediately celebrating, she showed a huge amount of poise and grace as she reiterated her admiration for Williams, one of her tennis idols since childhood.

“This isn’t the way I expected to win or for (Serena) to go off the court, but you (Serena) are truly a champion on and off the court,” she said.

“Hopefully this can give inspiration to young Canadians all over the country,” she continued. “If you have a dream and believe in yourself, you can do anything.”

In a post-match conference, the rising tennis star revealed that she’d felt a great degree of empathy with Williams after she was forced to withdraw from the match.

“I started tearing up because she was tearing up,” Andreescu explained. “It’s because I know how she feels. Injuries really, really suck.”

Andreescu, who became the first Canadian woman to reach the final of the tournament since 1969, also described how she gave Williams a pep talk on the sidelines.

“I just said, ‘Girl, you are…a beast. You’re going to bounce back. You’ve dealt with so much in your career. This is just a minor setback for a major comeback,” she continued.

In a video posted by the WTA, Williams told reporters that she was moved by Andreescu’s actions on the court.

“I was really sad and she made me feel a lot better, so that was really nice,” she told reporters. “She’s just a fabulous personality.

“I’m officially a fan,” she added. “She’s an old soul. She’s only 19. She definitely doesn’t seem like a 19-year-old. Her words on the court. Her game. Her attitude. Her actions.”

Granted, the highly-anticipated match didn’t end the way so many fans of Williams had hoped for. But the crowds watching were able to witness something arguably so much greater than a dramatic showdown between a trailblazing champion and a rising tennis star. Long after we’ve forgotten the calls of game, set and match, Williams and Andreescu’s remarkable levels of poise, grace and mutual respect for each other will continue to serve as an enduring example of how to conduct ourselves when the going gets tough.

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