Indian Wells Open: Bianca Andreescu shows her versatility, big-stage temperament in memorable title campaign
Andreescu’s win is a validation of her fresh, multi-faceted game, and also the latest indication that Canada may well be on its way to becoming a tennis superpower.
Canada's Bianca Andreescu beat Germany's Angelique Kerber 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 to win the Indian Wells Open
The 18-year-old has practically shown a different facet of her game every match this week
Andreescu’s win is a validation of her fresh, multi-faceted game, and also the latest indication that Canada may well be on its way to becoming a tennis superpower
When you are a teenager, you believe you can do anything. Becoming a fighter pilot? That’s child’s play. Making millions of dollars? Piece of cake. Changing the world? Surely, that’s just a matter of time.
Does the 18-year-old Bianca Andreescu have the same level of self-belief? She certainly played like it this week in Indian Wells, where she won the first title of her career – and a Premier Mandatory one at that. As she beat one quality opponent after another with a variety of tools and strategies, you got the feeling she was confident enough to attempt even the most insanely ambitious play.
What makes Andreescu different from your regular teenager, of course, is that she can actually pull off her ambitious plays. She can hit a winning drop shot from metres behind the baseline. She can put away swing volleys from the middle of the court, while recoiling backwards. And she can save a seemingly limitless number of break points, bringing her best tennis to the fore when it matters the most.
Andreescu’s run to the title was shocking in more ways than one, but there was a bit of foreshadowing at the start of the year. At the Australian Open tuneup event in Auckland, she came out of nowhere to defeat Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams on her way to her first WTA title, where she lost to Julia Goerges.
“It feels really good, I’m not going to lie,” Andreescu had said about her newfound fame in Auckland. Maybe she got too addicted to that feeling, and so decided to keep winning.
Andreescu has won more matches than any woman in 2019. She came through the qualifying draw at the Australian Open (where she lost in the second round), won two Fed Cup matches, reached the final at a minor event in Newport Beach, and made it as far as the semi-finals in Acapulco. That was commendable progress for someone who was, until recently, playing on the junior tour, but we were all waiting to see whether she could replicate her success on the bigger stages.
As Dominika Cibulkova, Garbine Muguruza, Elina Svitolina, and Angelique Kerber will tell you, she certainly can. Andreescu faced a variety of opponents in Indian Wells and seemingly had the perfect plan for each of them, making us wonder how she could have found the time to gain so much wisdom at such a young age.
Against Muguruza, she cleverly played within herself, because she realised the Spaniard was having one of her ghastly days where she couldn’t keep the ball in the court longer than three shots. The scoreline of 6-0, 6-1 was probably a little flattering to Andreescu, but it couldn’t have been easy for the Canadian to take care of her own game while there was so much turmoil going on at the other end.
Against Svitolina, Andreescu was nearly perfect in all the crunch moments. It’s hard to hit past Svitolina, and even harder to match her for consistency, but Andreescu ensured that she kept at it long enough to reduce the match to a battle of a few crucial points. She faced 10 break points in a nervy third set, but saved nine of them — mostly through risky plays that surprised the Ukrainian.
The win against Svitolina looked like the product of veteran poise and composure, which theoretically, shouldn’t be something that a teenager has.
Once Andreescu got to the final against Kerber, she again changed her approach. Kerber is possibly the best defender in the world on a slow hardcourt, so Andreescu refused to engage her in long rallies. Instead, she showed the world that she has impressive point-ending power too, taking the ball on the rise with her forehand and hitting a flurry of clean winners past the German.
Andreescu has practically shown a different facet of her game every match this week. She has so many varied tools in her arsenal — drop shots, slices, volleys, moonballs — that it is bewildering to imagine how she can make the right decision at the right time.
She managed to do exactly that this week, but there will be days and weeks when she doesn’t. That’s both the gift and the curse of relying on a skill-set that is not based purely on raw muscle strength — sometimes the variations in your repertoire will throw your opponents off-balance, and other times it will make your own game a muddled mess.
What will likely hold Andreescu in good stead during those inevitable periods of struggle is her strong temperament. Even after saving all those break points against Svitolina, Andreescu had plenty more mental hurdles to deal with — and she dealt with them like a champ.
She went down an early break against Kerber in the third set of the final, which threatened to undo all of her good work from the start of the match. Then, when she somehow recovered to break twice and serve for the match, she was broken again — through an astoundingly poor drop shot, no less.
It had started looking like the spotlight had finally proven to be too bright for the teenager. Succumbing to poor decision-making when you are so close to the win can be a debilitating experience even for the best of players. Not for Andreescu though; she calmly hit the reset button and went back to attacking her opponent’s serve, and got over the finish line when a Kerber backhand found the net.
Andreescu’s win is a validation of her fresh, multi-faceted game, and also the latest indication that Canada may well be on its way to becoming a tennis superpower. The 18-year-old is leading her country’s charge along with her fellow teenagers on the men’s side, Dennis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime. And while it seems almost certain that Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime will eventually become regular members of the top 10, it is Andreescu who has stolen a march over them by winning a big title first — despite being considerably less hyped than either.
All three of these uber-talented players have origins outside Canada — Andreescu’s parents are from Romania, Shapovalov’s from Russia, and Auger-Aliassime’s father is from Togo. That’s as good evidence as any of the success of Canada’s immigration program, but you suspect that the three of them aren’t here to make a statement; they just want to play tennis, and play it well.
Along the way, they will also continue believing that nothing is impossible. “A year ago I was playing 25Ks in Japan, and now I’m the — can I say the F word? The F-ing champion of Indian Wells. It’s crazy,” Andreescu said after the final.
Did she really think she could get away with uttering the 'F' word on global television? If she did, it wasn’t the first insanely ambitious play she had made this week.
Ah, to be a teenager again, and to believe that you can do anything.
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