TORONTO, Canada - Bianca Andreescu visualized herself playing her best tennis and hoisting the Rogers Cup trophy in front of an adoring home crowd in Toronto. 

An avid practitioner of ‘creative visualization meditation', Andreescu also had an image of herself staying calm and collected in the final against 23-time Grand Slam winner Serena, a player she greatly admires. 

Read more: Hometown hero Andreescu claims Toronto title after Serena retires: You just have to listen to your body

In the end, she achieved those goals, becoming the first Canadian woman in the Open Era to win a Rogers Cup title - an amazing feat considering it’s Andreescu’s first tournament back in action after a lingering shoulder injury forced her out of Roland Garros - but it unfolded in a way that no one could have anticipated, with Serena being forced to pull the plug early due to a back spasm, retiring at 3-1 in the first set. 

Compared to her electrifying run at Indian Wells, where she battled past Angelique Kerber in a dramatic three-set final, such an abrupt end to her Toronto campaign might have seemed like a letdown - after all, no player wants to win via retirement.

Bianca Andreescu is Canada's first Rogers Cup champion in the Open Era. (Peter Power/Tennis Canada)

But for Andreescu, who was born in nearby Mississauga and grew up attending this tournament as a girl, it’s an experience that she wouldn’t trade for anything. 

“The win in Indian Wells was -- I mean, it was a hard-fought battle,” Andreescu told a packed Rogers Cup press room after her historic win. “So I felt like it was a sweeter victory at the time. 

“But this tournament is at home. I've dedicated so much hard work and sweat on that tennis court and in this gym, so this tournament is definitely ten times more special.”

In an exclusive interview with’s Stephanie Livaudais, newly-crowned Toronto champion opens up on the highs and lows of her incredibly rapid rise - and on why an appearance at the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen is her ultimate goal for 2019. A year ago, you weren't even ranked inside the WTA’s Top 200 - what has this rapid rise been like from the inside?
Andreescu: Girl... (Laughs) This is definitely not an overnight thing. 

Ever since I was 12, I've been putting in so much work, because I knew exactly what I wanted to do. And what I wanted to accomplish. It wasn't easy. There's always ups and downs. 

But those downs have really taught me so much. I try to take all of that and try not to make the same mistakes twice. And I also try to look at the ups as motivation, and just take it as a blessing. 

I never take it for granted, because you never know what tomorrow will bring. Coming into this tournament after such a long injury layoff, had you set any goals for yourself here?
Andreescu: As far as expectations go, I had absolutely zero expectations. My only goal was just to be healthy again. And to be back on court. 

But every tournament I go into, I want to win it - I just never thought it would be this tournament. So I'm super happy.

Andreescu celebrates with her parents and dog Coco after her Rogers Cup win. (Peter Power/Tennis Canada) You talked about the ups and downs that you’ve gone through with injuries. What did you tell yourself during those tough moments?
Andreescu: I'm a pretty optimistic person, and I really did believe that everything happens for a reason. So I tried not to look at it as a setback, but more as a challenge. And how I can become better as a person if I push myself through these tough moments. 

I know it's so easy to say, but it hasn't come easy. Obviously, I get upset really easily sometimes, and just knowing that I can get injured any second sucks. But I've learned through that. 

And it's just, when I do have these experiences, I do handle it better now because I've been through a lot. Was there an upside to the time off? Anything that you got to enjoy while away from the tennis grind?
Andreescu: Yeah, I actually did. I went to a couple of concerts, and to a couple of sports games, like the Raptors. I went to a Toronto FC game. 

And just, I got to hang out with my friends? Just be a regular person? (Laughs) It was nice, I guess, that I was injured during the summer because all my friends are in college right now - so I guess that was kind of good timing? Out of all the bad, at least the timing was good!

Andreescu hoists the Rogers Cup trophy. (Peter Power/Tennis Canada) This week you showed a lot of mental toughness in your matches - especially playing at home. How did you deal with all those expectations?
Andreescu: I would say it's been... pretty good? Because these are the moments I live for. I've been wanting to play this tournament for the longest time, and to do well in it. So I just went on the court and I gave everything I had. 

I tried not to focus on the other distractions, like all of the expectations and the pressure. 

But there's always going to be pressure, right? So I just tried to take that pressure and channel it inwards, and then just leave it all on the court. And then send it across the net?
Andreescu: Exactly! (Laughs) Just smack those forehands. From all the more than 12 hours of tennis that you’ve played this week, what moment stands out to you that you’re most proud of? 
Andreescu: Well, the match with Genie [Bouchard] really stood out, because it was nice to share the court with another Canadian and knowing that they're also at the top with you. It's awesome for tennis in Canada. 

But I'd say the win yesterday [against Sofia Kenin] was extra special. I mean, I showed all that emotion on the court afterwards. Why was that so emotional for you?
Andreescu: The reason why I was really emotional was because of all the emotions I had during that tiebreaker [in the third set]. I think my body just wanted to let it all out

And also because it's just so incredible that I'm in the finals right now of Rogers Cup. I had zero expectations coming into this tournament. And just with all that I've been through. The past couple of months have been so, so, so, so tough. So just being able to be here right now is truly incredible. You said earlier in the week that one of your biggest goals is to compete in the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen. Why is that so important to you, and what would it mean if you do qualify? 
Andreescu: It will be awesome. Just being part of that elite group, would mean the world to me. 

I mean, I'm going to be playing against the best players in the world. So having my name beside theirs would mean a lot. It doesn’t hurt that you’re now 6-0 against Top 10 players. What switches on in your mind when you're playing against the best?
Andreescu: I always put on my best performances when I play against them. I don't know, it just comes out naturally, I guess. Because I know if I don't then... I'm going to get crushed. (Laughs) Can I say that? Yeah, I would get crushed.

Yeah, so I make sure to be on it right from the start. That's what I've been doing against these players.

Andreescu after her Rogers Cup victory. (Peter Power/Tennis Canada) Before your matches, you practice creative visualization meditation.  What did you visualize today, and how's reality lived up?
Andreescu: Well... I just pictured myself playing my best tennis. And trying to calm down my nerves, because I'm literally playing against a True Champion. Literally the GOAT. And obviously, at the end I pictured myself holding the trophy. 

In reality? Well, it’s not the way I wanted to win the final, obviously. But this is definitely... this has exceeded my expectations. So I'm truly blessed right now.