Mississauga (Canada): Red and yellow leaves don't drift down onto Celebration Square. It's a little early before fall hits the city of Mississauga, also a suburb of Toronto. Celebration Square is circled on three sides by tall, shiny condominiums and on one side by a shopping mall, Square One. It drizzles off and on, the asphalt shiny, wet, the clouds low, but not menacing. The fans are gathering for Canada's latest sporting icon, Bianca Andreescu. The 19-year-old Mississauga kid is returning to her city which is awarding her a golden key and naming a city street sign " Andreescu Way " that will come up in a new development.
It's drizzling at 3 pm. The fans are trickling in, umbrellas opening up. Most are sitting on the red table and benches that are scattered around the Square. An hour later, the rains stop and within half an hour, the Square sees a couple of more thousand people come in. All shapes and sizes and almost all nationalities. Mississauga is a perfect example of diversity. A group of Romanians edge towards the stage, covered in Romanian and Canadian flags. Bianca's parents are Romanian immigrants who chose Mississauga to settle down.
Thousands throng the Celebration Square to welcome home US Open champion Bianca Andreescu. Image: Sundeep Misra
Right next to Mississauga is Port Credit " a small town which has Greek, Irish, Italian, Indian, Mexican, Spanish, Jamaican, Chinese people living together. Different restaurants are all over Mississauga and Port Credit. Go to the city of Brampton and you have arrived in Punjab. A shopping centre even has 'Moga's Pizza's'. Moga, for the uninitiated, is a town in Punjab.
Wang Min came to Mississauga from Beijing 10 years back, studied law and now works in a law firm in Downtown Toronto. He is here to cheer Andreescu, clad in black Nike running gear with Nike white shoes. The only thing missing is a tennis racquet. "But I play regularly on the weekend," he says. Min watched Andreescu win the US Open and celebrated her victory with friends in office.
"It was tremendous to watch a Canadian win a major," says Min. "Victories like this, coming from a family that left their own country and settled here is a big boost to all of us. We can dream too."
It's 4:30 pm. No one is restless. They press closer to the stage. And then, Pitbull's 'Let's do it tonight' floods the arena. Some sing, others shimmy. Pitbull has everyone in a good mood. The weather is forgotten. A light drizzle follows but the fries are flowing from the little food trucks inside the arena. And then Panjabi MC's 'Mudian Tu Bach Ke Rahin' takes over.
On stage, there is someone playing the dhol too. Just behind the TV cameras is Gaurav Singh, a young banker who came to Mississauga five years back. He is doing the bhangra with a couple of friends. Many join in, even a couple of Chinese girls. Gaurav hasn't watched Andreescu on TV. But he did read that a Canadian had won the US Open.
Bianca Andreescu's stunning rise has made her a sporting icon in Canada. Image: Sundeep Misra
"It's cool to win a tournament and pick up a couple of million dollars ($3.85 million to be exact)," he says with a smile. "But I know it's a huge achievement for a 19-year-old. I came here to be a part of what I believe is a changing environment in Canadian sports. More and more immigrant families will do well, and I hope someone from India also wins big in the future."
It's close to 5 pm now. Bianca is running late. No one is complaining yet. It's Sunday, a holiday and not many will get an opportunity to meet and cheer a 19-year-old Canadian woman win a US Open. For many Canadians, winning the 'US' Open, the neighbour's biggest tennis tournament is sweet; the cherry on the cake. About 30 minutes later, a big cheer goes up around Celebration Square. The Champion has arrived.
Andreescu comes in from the side entrance, through the hordes of fans and waves the Canadian flag. Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie asks Bianca to unveil the 'Andreescu Way' street sign. "Your graceful and most modest approach to embracing your success has embodied both Mississauga, Ontario, and Canada," Crombie says. "And your family is like so many others in Mississauga, a true immigrant success story."
It's the theme for the evening, diversity, youth and immigrant success.
With elections around the corner, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau decides it would be good to say a few words and welcome the young champion. "Bianca, how extraordinary: her skill, her determination, her perseverance," Trudeau says. "But mostly that incredible grace and composure under extraordinary pressure. She's the embodiment of the fact that young people are not the leaders of tomorrow, they are leaders today." The crowd cheers even those who are not liberal supporters.
Min-Jun is a South Korean and runs a restaurant in Oakville. He has driven almost 45 minutes to make it to the rally. He came into Canada 15 years back and has brought his both sons who play tennis to see Andreescu. "They watched bits of the US Open and now they want to meet her," says Min-Jun. "I know it's difficult to meet her now. But they can see her and be inspired that they can do it too." As an afterthought, he adds, "but they will have to work really hard."
Not to be left behind, Toronto's Mayor, John Tory, said for those who don't know where Toronto is, "it's a suburb of Mississauga." Tory wore a round neck shirt emblazoned on the front 'Toronto Loves Bianca'. "She (Andreescu) is a national champion, she's Canada's champion, she's the GTA's champion," Tory said. "And Toronto is very pleased and proud to be part of paying tribute to her great win."
Finally, Andreescu was asked to say a few words. Slightly overwhelmed, she thanked the fans. "What's happening in Canadian sport this year has been so beautiful to watch and was so inspiring," she said. "I am truly, truly blessed. I love you!"
The dhol on the stage kept going.
In the latest ATP rankings, Canada has three players in the top 35 " Felix Auger-Aliassime is ranked 21. His father Sam is from Togo. Three spots down (24) is Milos Raonic who reached the 2016 Wimbledon final and was once ranked No 3. Raonic is of Serb heritage. Denis Shapovalov, born is Israel, is ranked 33rd; all immigrant success stories. Bianca Andreescu is currently ranked No 5.
After winning the US Open, Andreescu said, "I was not expecting any of this, but I could get used to it." Polite Canadians, who wait in lines and hold open the door for you are also getting used to a bit of swagger in the tennis world.