We're counting down the Top 10 matches of 2019 as part of Tennis Channel's Home for the Holidays. Click here to read each selection.
“No matter what the score is, anyone can come back,” a giddy, exhausted Bianca Andreescu said after her win over Angelique Kerber in the Indian Wells final. “5-0, 3-0…6-0. Anything is possible. I think I proved that today.”
Can a player really come back from a 6-0 deficit? At certain moments during 2019, Andreescu seemed to have the skills, the willpower, and the moxie to pull off just about anything—even the impossible.
Her title run at Indian Wells was the first of those moments. Ranked outside the Top 150 at the start of the year, the 18-year-old took a wild card from tournament officials and proceeded to, as one website put it, “blow up tennis.” On her way to the title, she beat four Top 20 players and two Grand Slam champions. Andreescu capped the run in style, by stubbornly refusing to lose a final against Kerber that was as dramatic as it was brilliantly played.
By the end of 2019, Andreescu was the US Open champion, she had beaten Serena Williams twice in finals, and she had torn her way through a 17-match win streak on her way to a spot in the Top 5. But the best, most entertaining, and most characteristic of Andreescu’s wins came against Kerber.
Throughout the week at Indian Wells, the talk surrounding Andreescu had, rightly, been about her competitive IQ and her ability and willingness to do anything with the ball. And that was how she played the final. Andreescu sliced her forehand; used moonballs to back Kerber up, before moving in for the kill; rolled her ground strokes crosscourt to set up open-court putaways; pumped in strong second serves; and didn’t hesitate to use the drop shot.
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 those 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, a thoroughly irritated Kerber dug in and began hitting with flat pace and more depth. She answered the challenge, and stopped 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 Andreescu has. It’s commonly called the X-factor, and in her case, it comes in two parts—one athletic, one emotional, and 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 that this 18-year-old already has something that so many more-seasoned players don’t: An ability to turn obstacles into motivation. Andreescu may vent, but she doesn’t mope, or rush, or get negative, or get away from her game. She thrives on the drama of competition.
In the third set, Andreescu appeared to cramp. So instead of rallying with Kerber, as she had for much of the match, she pulled the trigger as soon as she could. Like everything else she did that week, and for most of 2019, it worked. Rockets flew off her racquet, and Kerber had no answer for them. Andreescu would hit 19 forehand winners in the third set alone, and 37 for the match. Kerber was so annoyed that, when she lost to her again the following week in Miami, she called Andreescu “the biggest drama queen ever.”
Andreescu, it was obvious, had arrived, and her fellow players knew there was nothing they could do about it. By the end of the season, she had another title: Grand Slam champion. Could world No. 1 be far behind? With her wide-ranging game and mature-beyond her-years attitude, Andreescu defies all categories but one: She’s a natural.