“That came out nowhere, that drop shot!” exclaimed Chanda Rubin, commentating for Tennis Channel from Indian Wells.
Her partner in the booth, Mary Carillo, echoed her enthusiasm.
“She’s making all of these reasoned, mature decisions,” Carillo said, with a touch of amazement in her voice.
The object of their astonishment? It wasn’t anyone in the WTA’s Top 10, 20, 30 or even 50. It wasn’t a player who had ever been this deep, at a tournament this size. It wasn’t a player that many people in the crowd were likely to have heard of before. But it may have been, as Rubin’s and Carillo’s words of praise indicated, the most interesting player they would watch all week.
That player was 18-year-old Bianca Andreescu of Canada, and she was in the process of putting her name on the pro-tennis map, probably for good. Over 51 fast-moving but never-boring minutes on Tuesday, she dismantled two-time Grand Slam champion Garbiñe Muguruza 6-0, 6-1 to reach the semifinals at one of the WTA’s top-tier events.
It was the peak moment in a rise that began at the start of the season for Andreescu. So far in 2019, she has reached the final in Auckland and the semis in Acapulco, won the Oracle Challenger Series event in Newport Beach, moved from outside the Top 150 to inside the Top 60, and recorded wins over Caroline Wozniacki, Venus Williams and now Muguruza. What her fellow 18-year-old Canadian Felix Auger Alissiame has been to the men’s side in Indian Wells, Andreescu has been to the women’s: a breakout player whose game and attitude look built for the long haul.
“We’re all killing it,” Andreescu said of Auger Alissiame and their fellow Canadian teen Denis Shapovalov, who reached the round of 16 before losing. “It’s great. We have played so many junior tournaments together, and it’s so nice to see every one of us at the top of our game at this stage of our life, only 18, 19, which is pretty incredible.”
“We motivate each other.”
Andreescu should be motivating for any tennis player to watch. With her, you have a chance to see her think her way through each match, each game, each point. During a rally, she’ll move seamlessly from a drive backhand to a slice backhand to a moonball forehand to a power forehand to a drop shot—changing the pace with each one. In the final game on Wednesday, Andreescu floated easily to her left and knocked off two inside-in forehand winners in a row. The shot is clearly part of her wide-ranging repertoire, but I hadn’t seen her hit it all afternoon; she obviously didn’t need it.
Andreescu is just 5’7”, but she has a nice rhythm, and thus a nice pop, on her serve, and she gets good depth on her returns. At one stage against Muguruza, Andreescu had hit 31 percent of her ground strokes within two feet of the lines, yet, like Auger Aliassime, she rarely tries to do too much with the ball.
Milos Raonic and Andreescu are the last two survivors of a Canadian contingent that has made its presence felt at Indian Wells—in the number of top-level players the country has produced, in the variety of their playing styles, even in their rapping skills. Each is a child of immigrants, none of whom hail from the same country of origin: Raonic’s parents are from Montenegro, Shapovalov’s are from Russia, Auger Aliassime’s father is from Togo, and Andreescu’s parents are Romanian (her favorite player is Simona Halep). She started training with Tennis Canada at 11, worked with Nathalie Tauziat when she was younger, and is now coached by Sylvain Bruneau.
If there’s a defining characteristic to the Canadian players, it seems to be that they’ve been allowed to flourish in their own, distinctive ways: Raonic is a methodical serve machine; Shapovalov is a flashy shotmaker; Auger Aliassime is equally explosive and contained; Andreescu has a high competitive IQ.
As Carillo says, this 18-year-old already knows how to make the reasoned, mature decision. As Andreescu herself says: she’s killing it.