Indian Wells champion Bianca Andreescu, 18, has something unteachable

Indian Wells champion Bianca Andreescu, 18, has something unteachable

With her wide-ranging game and flair for the fight, the Canadian earned her first title with a three-set win over Angelique Kerber.

“No matter what the score is, anyone can come back,” a giddy, exhausted Bianca Andreescu told ESPN2's Mary Jo Fernandez on Sunday at the BNP Paribas Open. “5-0, 3-0...6-0. Anything is possible, I think I proved that today.”

Judging by her effort over the last 10 days at Indian Wells, where she pushed herself to the physical limit and beyond, tennis’ latest Canadian sensation just might be able to will herself back from a 6-0 deficit.

In 2018, Naomi Osaka made a breakthrough run at the BNP Paribas Open, when she won the title as an unseeded 20-year-old. Somehow, Andreescu managed to one-up that performance. She’s 18, she was granted a wild card into the event, and at the start of the year she was ranked outside the Top 150. Now, after a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 win over Angelique Kerber that was dramatic, stubborn and brilliantly played in equal measure, Andreescu owns a Premier Mandatory title and has cracked the Top 30.

“It’s one of the toughest matches I’ve ever played,” Andreescu said afterward, one where, in her opinion, she proved “how much determination I have.”

Through the week, the talk surrounding Andreescu had, rightly, been about her competitive IQ and her ability and willingness to do anything with the ball. And that’s how she started against Kerber. In the early going, Andreescu sliced her forehand; used moonballs to back Kerber up, before moving in for the kill; rolled her forehand crosscourt to set up her inside-out putaway; pumped in strong second serves; and always had the drop shot close at hand.

To try to keep up, Kerber had to bend low to dig out the slices; reach above her shoulders to counter the topspin; reflex back Andreescu’s powerful drives; and chase down her drop shots. To add insult to injury, Andreescu also hit Kerber three different times with balls that she batted to the other side of the net in between points. When the second set began, an annoyed Kerber dug in and began hitting with flat pace and more depth. She was answering the challenge, and not giving Andreescu the time she needed to weave her complex web. When Kerber reached break point twice at 2-2 in the third set, Andreescu seemed, finally, to be out of ideas, and out of gas.

That’s when we found out what else she has. It’s commonly called the X-factor, and in Andreescu’s case, it comes in two parts—one athletic, one emotional, neither teachable.

“I’m so tired,” Andreescu complained to her coach, Sylvain Bruneau, on the next changeover. “I want this so bad!”

In those two sentences, we could see what this 18-year-old already has something that so many more-seasoned players don’t: an ability to turn obstacles into motivation—to articulate and even dwell on the obstacles, so she can inspire herself to overcome them.

Throughout the tournament, Andreescu vented, but she didn’t mope, or rush, or get negative, or get away from her game. She thrives on the drama of competition, which is never a bad thing in any athlete. 

In her previous match, a similarly hard-fought win over Elina Svitolina, Andreescu appeared to be cramping near the end. Rather than slowing her down, though, the cramps forced her, or reminded her, to be more aggressive.

“I think the cramping was because I was so stressed out with everything,” she said. “But  I’ve had moments like this in the past, playing challenger events, juniors. So I had a good feel of how to deal with it.”

The same thing happened to Andreescu over the last three games against Kerber, and she dealt with it in the same way. Instead of rallying with Kerber, as she had for much of the match, Andreescu began to pull the trigger as soon as she could. Again, it worked. Her forehands practically detonated off her racquet and into the corners; she hit 19 forehand winners in the third set alone, and 37 for the match. Kerber can do a lot of things on a tennis court, but she can’t create opportunities for winners the way Andreescu can.

And that’s the other thing we found out about Andreescu: Yes, she’s thoughtful, and yes, she has variety, but those things wouldn’t mean nearly as much if she couldn’t back them up with old-fashioned racquet speed, and the point-ending power that comes with it. Andreescu may have started the match trying to mix things up and disturb Kerber’s rhythm, but she ended it by dropping bombs.

“I’m speechless,” Andreescu claimed, briefly, after her win over Svitolina. But, of course, she wasn’t, and her trophy-ceremony speech after the final was characteristically pitch-perfect in its ingenuous enthusiasm.

With her wide-ranging game and mature-beyond-her-years attitude, Andreescu defies all categories except one: she’s a natural.