INDIAN WELLS, March 16, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
Often in tennis, in the toughest of moments, champions rise to the occasion. On Friday night in the California palm desert, Bianca Andreescu did just that.
In a tournament run that’s been amazing for the 18-year-old Canadian born to Romanian parents, the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells has been simply incredible.
Andreescu defeated No. 6 seed Elina Svitolina, 6-3, 2-6, 6-4, in a two hour and 12 minute thriller, to reach the finals of the year’s first WTA Premier Mandatory. Not bad for someone who started 2019 ranked No. 152. Now, by reaching the biggest final of her promising career, she’s skyrocketed to No. 33 with an impressive 27-3 win-loss record in all competitions.
“I’m actually shaking right now,” said Andreescu, during her opening remarks of her post-match press conference. “It’s just so incredible. I’m honestly speechless, speechless.”
— WTA (@WTA) 16. März 2019
On Sunday, the 60th-ranked Andreescu, the first wild card to reach the Indian Wells final, will face three-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber, currently ranked No. 8 in the world. The 31-year-old German advanced to her first final of the season with a 6-4, 6-2 win over No. 23 seed Belinda Bencic that lasted just 67 minutes. It ended an inspiring run of quality tennis by a resurgent Bencic and broke the Swiss’ 12-match winning streak that featured six Top-10 victories, including a rout of World No. 1 Naomi Osaka earlier in the tournament.
“It’s always tough to play against Belinda,” said Kerber during an on-court interview afterward. “She played so great in the past few weeks.”
Kerber converted seven of nine break-point opportunities while Bencic struggled at times, committing 27 unforced errors that offset 14 winners.
.@AngeliqueKerber moves into her first Premier Mandatory final!
— WTA (@WTA) 16. März 2019
“I was only trying to focus on my side of the court,” Kerber said. “I was trying to play concentrated, and going for it when I had the chance. I really enjoy the semifinals here – it was already twice here, and I’m really happy to be in the final for the first time now.”
Meanwhile, by defeating the in-form, sixth-ranked Svitolina in the most important match of her young professional career, Andreescu showed what New York Times tennis columnist Christopher Clarey described as “a flashy, resourceful display of all-court tennis.” In a later tweet, he suggested that one of the most exciting things about Andreescu is this: “She uses the whole canvas.”
Indeed, this genuinely big-time talent showed poise under pressure, something Andreescu has displayed throughout her run to the final. During her string of six victories in the California palm desert over the past week, she has dropped just two sets, one against first-round opponent Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania and the other against Svitolina. She’s comfortable hitting from either forehand or backhand sides, loves to move the ball around the entire court, and shows a great court awareness. She can change pace and knows how to hit her spots.
In closing out Svitolina on her fourth match-point opportunity, Andrescu crafted a nifty back-handed slice return during the ninth shot of an intense rally. The Ukranian could only muster a weak forehand return that hit the net. End of match. As Andreescu began to celebrate, wiping away the tears that welled in her eyes, there weren’t many dry eyes among the appreciative sellout crowd in Stadium 1. They were applauding a new star, born for the second straight year, following the breakout that Osaka enjoyed in winning Indian Wells last year.
“This match had a little bit of up and downs,” said Andreescu, in describing her battle with Svitolina. “I started a bit slow and then I picked it up after 3-0, thank God. Svitolina took control of the second set. I started missing more. Then, in the third set, I kept my composure, at least tried to. I pumped myself up.”
Andreescu had to – and pumped up she was. She saved nine of 10 break points she faced in the third set (13 of 19 overall) and broke Svitolina twice in three chances.
“I went for it,” Andreescu said. “Like I always say, I went for my shots. It was a crazy match. It was a roller coaster. I’m really happy I pulled through.”
Andreescu, who has compiled a remarkable 9-1 win-loss record in her last 10 hard-court matches, is 2-0 against Top-10 players. Pretty impressive when you consider that she competed on the ITF circuit for the majority of 2018.
Meanwhile, Kerber is close behind with an 8-2 mark in her last 10 matches on hard courts. She can move up to No. 2 with a win over Andreescu in their first career head-to-head. If she is successful, it would be her first Premier Mandatory title in her 29th WTA final overall.
“I’m really looking forward to a really tough battle,” said Kerber, who earlier crafted victories over Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus and Venus Williams of the United States before beating Bencic. “She’s here as a wild card, and she beat a lot of good players. She has nothing to lose, she enjoys her tennis and she’s a great player.”
Looking at the big picture, the current level of depth in women’s professional tennis is pretty amazing. If the last nine days at Indian Wells is an indication – Muguruza beats Bertens, Andreescu beats Muguruza, Bencic beats Osaka, Kerber beats Bencic, just to name a few of many memorable matches – Sunday’s final is going to be special.