The best Cinderella story in March is already over.
18-year-old Canadian Bianca Andreescu, an unseeded wild card ranked 60th in the world, defeated Angelique Kerber 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 to win Indian Wells on Sunday afternoon. She finished her stunning run to the title by overcoming cramps, nerves and the resolute defense of Kerber in a dramatic final, showing the world she has arrived in impressive fashion.
Born to Romanian parents in Mississauga, Ontario, Andreescu is Tennis Canada’s latest teenage phenomenon after breakouts on the men’s side from Denis Shapovalov and Felix-Auger Aliassime. She received a wild card to Indian Wells after making the finals in both Acapulco and Auckland and winning a WTA 125K event in Newport Beach in 2019. She has lost just three times this year and will be ranked No. 24 in the world on Monday.
One year ago, then-world No. 198 Andreescu lost in the second round of a $25,000 Futures event in Toyota, Japan. This seems inconceivable now, especially after defeating Kerber, three-time Grand Slam champion and world No. 4. Andreescu showed her quality by breaking Kerber in the first game and racing through the first set 6-4. She powered through the left-handed German’s typically excellent defense with punishing groundstrokes, powerful serving and brilliantly executed drop shots. Despite being just 5-foot-7, Andreescu generates tremendous racquet speed and power, while also possessing the crafty tennis mind of a longtime veteran, mixing in slices and off-pace shots when necessary.
She credits much of her success to her Romanian background; her first tennis lesson came in Romania at age 7. Romanian hero and current No. 2 Simona Halep advised her to turn professional back in 2016. Indeed, her game is a perfect mixture of traditional North American power tennis and the inventive defending of Halep or Monica Niculescu.
But inexperience caught up with her in the second and much of the third. Kerber rallied to win the second set and break first in the third to go up 3-2. In a wild swing, Andreescu then won three straight games to go up 5-3 and serve for the match. Then, the nerves and exhaustion set into her legs. She missed an easy overhead at 30-15 and wasted three match points soon after, allowing Kerber to come back to 5-4. But Andreescu mustered her last reserves of energy to break back and capture her first main WTA Tour title.
This is a truly meteoric rise. The WTA has been very unpredictable in recent years inconsistency at the top of the game has allowed a deep pool of talented young players to rise. But even in this climate, a Canadian ranked No. 152 at the start of 2019 winning the most prestigious Premier Mandatory title is stunning.
In a sport once defined by domination from a young age (Steffi Graf, Monica Seles, Serena Williams, etc.), the 2010s have seen women’s tennis abandon its tendency toward teenage prodigies. The last teenaged woman to win Indian Wells was Maria Sharapova in 2006, and no teenager has won a Grand Slam since Svetlana Kuznetsova at the 2004 U.S. Open. Andreescu’s explosion onto the scene in this era of extended longevity is even more impressive. Whether she can avoid the inconsistency that has plagued the WTA’s new wave of stars (Naomi Osaka, Jelena Ostapenko, Garbine Muguruza and Sloane Stephens, among about 20 others), is yet to be seen.
The quality of Andreescu’s play and her opponents bode well for her future success. She obliterated two-time Slam champion Muguruza 6-0, 6-1 and knocked out No. 6 seed Elina Svitolina in a close semifinal. This was no easy road to a title. Although she is the only teenager in the top 25, her consistent play in 2019 and ability to bring it against top players cannot be ignored. Andreescu has taken the tennis world by storm. All that’s left to do is wait for her next act.