Indian Wells 2019: Brilliant teen Bianca Andreescu meditates on first big final after Muguruza and Svitolina wins
Bianca Andreescu will take on Angelique Kerber in the Indian Wells final on Saturday
There was no shortage of teenagers in the draws of one of the most prestigious events in the tennis calendar.
Among the men’s Masters 96 were four of them, with another four in the women’s Premier Mandatory draw. And amidst those teens, there was no shortage of Canadian talent.
On the men’s side, one of them, Denis Shapovalov, was even seeded, at 24. After all, at 18 he made the semis of his home Masters in Montreal in 2017 and the semis of the Madrid Masters last year. Now 19, he made the fourth round in Indian Wells via a dominant straight-sets win over Marin Cilic, but then lost to Hubert Hurkacz.
Even younger, Shapovalov’s great friend Felix Auger-Aliassime was the youngest man in the draw, at 18. The charming, athletic Canadian had been on the radar since his junior days—he won both the doubles and singles titles at the US Open by the time he was 16. By 17, he had two Challenger titles, and was the youngest player to break the top 200 since Rafael Nadal in 2002.
Less than a year ago, Auger-Aliassime was ranked 185, but by the time he reached Indian Wells with his first ATP final—Rio—in his racket bag, he was inside 60. Then he beat Cam Norrie and No9 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas before losing a painfully close contest with Yoshihito Nishioka in the third round—so another career-high beckons.
But it would be a teenage Canadian in the women’s draw, Bianca Andreescu, who most captured the imagination as she dropped just one set on her way to the semi-finals via a 6-0, 6-1 thrashing of two-time Major champion Garbine Muguruza.
Certainly the quality of Andreescu was there for all to see in her ITF-level results last year: two titles from four finals, and plenty more match-wins plus ‘nearly there’ runs to the third-round of qualifying at the Majors. So she began 2019 ranked 152, and began to make an impact on the senior stage immediately.
Andreescu reached the final via three rounds of qualifying in Auckland, 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.
Added together, she was up to 26 match-wins for just three losses once she made the semis in Indian Wells—something a wild card had done only twice before in the desert by two of the sport’s greats: Martina Hingis and Serena Williams. Could the power-packed, all-court speed and variety of the young Canadian take her one step further?
The answer came as a resounding yes, after another win over the formidably fit No6 seed Elina Svitolina.
In the opening games, it looked as though all those matches were weighing heavy in Andreescu’s legs, the errors flowed, and Svitolina broke twice, 3-0. But the Canadian bounced back to level, then broke again with smart tactical rallies—now angled slice, now a winner down the line—and held for 6-3 in just 33 minutes.
She then broke in the opener in the second with a drop-shot winner—seven straight games. But Svitolina, no mean tactician herself, began to serve better and break up the Canadian’s rhythm, and she broke twice to grab back the lead, 3-1, fought off break points in the fifth game, and kept up her aggressive tactics to break for the set, 6-2.
Again Andreescu got the jump, a break and a 3-1 lead, but Svitolina levelled after a couple of tired errors from the Canadian. Svitolina returned the favour, though, and Andreescu broke once more, held off three break points, led 5-3. She now looked in pain, and could not convert a first match point: She would have to serve it out at 5-4, saved a break point with a stunning forehand pass, and eventually converted her fourth match point with a superb drop-shot winner, 6-4—her 30th match of the year, her first Premier Mandatory final.
No wonder this mature, calm young woman was almost overcome by the moment:
“I’m actually shaking right now. It’s just so incredible. I’m honestly speechless—speechless.”
Her fitness, clearly, is not open to question, but how does this 18-year-old stay so mentally assured—in the moment? She revealed something of her secret:
“It’s nothing complicated. I wake up every morning. First thing I do is meditate. I think it really helps me get a good jump-start to the day. Not opening my phone or anything, not getting too overwhelmed.
“It’s just creative visualisation. I take 15 minutes every morning just to get in tune with my body, my mind. Because I feel like a lot of people work on the physical part of things, but I think the mental part is the most important because it controls your whole body, right?
To earn her first WTA title, Andreescu will need all her energy and resolve to get past No8 seed Angelique Kerber, who ended the 12-match winning streak of Belinda Bencic, 6-4, 6-2.
Kerber, a three-time Major champion and former No1, has, perhaps surprisingly, never made the final of a Premier Mandatory before, but in Indian Wells, the left-handed 31-year-old has looked formidable in beating No9 seed Aryna Sabalenka, Venus Williams and Bencic. This final battle of the generations should be a thriller.