Indian Wells 2019

Indian Wells 2019: Bold and brilliant Bianca Andreescu wins first title over Angelique Kerber

Bianca Andreescu beats Angelique Kerber to win her first title at Indian Wells

The three-time Major champion, Angelique Kerber, had, perhaps surprisingly, never before made it to the final of one of the WTA’s elite tournament, a Premier Mandatory.

Surprising, because the owner of 12 titles had not only won the Australian Open, US Open and Wimbledon, she had reached at least the final at all levels of the sport: Premier 5s, the WTA Finals, the Fed Cup and the Olympics—she was the silver medallist in Rio. She had also topped the ranks for 34 weeks.

Now she had at last made it to a PM final at the age of 31 after 12 years on the pro circuit. She won her first title in 2012, age 24, and also made the semis at Wimbledon and Indian Wells, and the final at the Premier 5 in Cincinnati. Yet her biggest achievements did not come for another four years. It was after winning her first Major in Melbourne in 2016 that all those elite achievements followed.

Her rise to the top, though, was followed by something of an emotional let-down over the next 12 months, and a dip to 22 in the ranks, but back she came, more confident, just as athletic, to win Wimbledon and end 2018 at No2.

But in her opponent for a first Indian Wells title, the left-handed German faced a formidable task in a battle of generations: 18-year-old Canadian Bianca Andreescu. And this young woman had no intention of following a late-career rise to the top.

Less than a year ago, she was ranked outside 200, but her quality was beginning to capture the attention: two ITF titles from four finals last year, and almost making it through qualifying at the French Open and Wimbledon. So she began 2019 ranked 152, and began making her impact on the senior stage immediately.

Andreescu reached the final in Auckland via three rounds of qualifying, beating Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams en route. She won her first Major match in Australia, fitted in a 125K title in Newport, before winning both her rubbers in the Fed Cup against the Netherlands. Back to the main-tour level, and she reached the semis in Acapulco—and a ranking of 60.

More top-flight wins over Indian Wells seeds Garbine Muguruza, Qiang Wang and No6 Elina Svitolina took her combined tally to 27-3, and made her the first wild card ever to reach the final, and the youngest woman to do so since 2001. A new career-high of 33 could rise to around 24 should she beat Kerber for the title.

Did this calm, assured, and versatile young player with that happy blend of power, speed and touch, need any more inspiration for her biggest match to date? Well the current No1, Naomi Osaka, was also unseeded here last year, and cut a swathe through the draw to win her first title, age 20.

Perhaps there was a touch of concern for Andreescu as she began the match with heavy taping to her right arm. She had played more matches than anyone else this year, and her semi-final had taken two and a quarter hours to win.

But she showed no restraint, no weakness to quickly unsettle Kerber in the opening games. Here is a player able to power the forehand, throw in superb drop shots, moon-ball and slice to change the pace and rhythm, and come to the net with confidence.

It was all there in a huge opening game, with the experienced Kerber showing more nerves than the teenager. Three break points, one courtesy of a Kerber double fault, ended in a break for the Andreescu via another double fault.

The Canadian then held for 2-0, and never looked like giving up her serve in the set: She dropped just five points on serve, faced not a single break point, and ran Kerber ragged with drops, angles to the corners, and had the set 6-4, after 40 minutes, 14 winners to Kerber’s six.

The German seemed constantly to be reacting rather than controlling the play, and Kerber’s frustration came out in a vocal discussion with her coach, but that seemed to focus her attack, and the leftie forehand became a bigger weapon, her serve more effective. She began to throw in some drops of her own, wearing down those tired legs of the Canadian.

Kerber withstood an early barrage in the third game, but this time she resisted through two break points to hold. Instead, the German’s weight of shot and speed across the court drew a couple of overhead errors, and she broke, 3-1.

Andreescu was having to work much harder now to stay on level terms, and could not out-rally Kerber enough to get the break back. She began to look tired, made more errors, and her serving suffered, down to 49 percent, but she dug deep in a long eighth game, 3-5. Kerber, though, served out the set, 6-3.

The third set would become a barnstormer, a battle with physical exhaustion, missed chances, but above all a demonstration of bold and creative ball-striking. Andreescu held onto her serve in the third game, but looked exhausted, and sure enough, needed a medical time out to rehab her elbow and shoulder. She had ice on her head, her neck, her legs, and talked of her ‘burning feet’.

Kerber still looked cool, calm and collected, and she broke at the next opportunity: Andreescu double faulted, and netted a forehand—it was inevitable. She tried one last thing, called her coach to court, lamenting “I can hardly move out there,”but he encouraged her to push through the pain, she did just that.

The young Canadian ramped up the aggression, went for first-strike winners, and it paid off. A smash and a forehand broke Kerber, and then Andreescu held to love. The forehand winners now came in blizzard, a 26th, a 27th, and another break: the Canadian would serve for the match.

More forehand winners, and she went 40-15, two match points, but Andreescu was cramping, her first serve was failing, and Kerber broke back.

Yet Andreescu had one more bite of the cherry, earned with her 31st forehand winner of the match—one more match point. Kerber netted a final ball to concede the break, and Indian Wells celebrated a brand new champion, 6-4.

It had been a remarkable effort, remarkable tennis, and introduced the world of tennis to a great new champion. Andreescu is the first wild card to win the BNP Paribas trophy, capturing her first title on the biggest stage outside the Majors. And thoughts will surely now turn to those very Majors, and just how soon this young woman will win one of those, too.

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