Teen Andreescu masters the mind, Svitolina finds another energy reserve to reach Indian Wells semifinals

Bianca Andreescu and Elina Svitolina set up a BNP Paribas Open semifinal meeting, after winning their quarterfinals on Wednesday. Let’s have a closer look into their games and the way they defeated Garbine Muguruza and Marketa Vondrousova, respectively.

[WC] Bianca Andreescu (CAN) d [20] Garbine Muguruza (ESP) 6-0 6-1

Eighteen-year-old wildcard Andreescu has dropped only one set on her way to the semifinals. The dropped set was in her first-round match against Romanian Irina-Camelia Begu. Her straight-set wins have come against Dominika Cibulkova, Stefanie Voegele, Wang Qiang and former world No.1 Garbine Muguruza.

This 5’7″ right-handed all-court player is living a dream at Indian Wells, but she has worked hard to get here, playing since age 7. A title in the desert would be her first WTA milestone and we all know how Naomi Osaka launched after her maiden title win in 2018.

Andreescu had begun to peak on the way to Indian Wells with a final result in Auckland, a win at the Oracle Challenger Event in Newport Beach and a semifinal finish in Acapulco. While this does not make her the obvious pick for a WTA Premier title, it shows the potential and momentum that can put her on that path.

Today’s result was unreal in a very real way. There is not much to say about a bagel or a breadstick. In fairness, it was an off day for the two-time Grand Slam champion Muguruza.

As I reviewed Andreescu’s pressers, I see a few repeating concepts. First, she grasps the idea of building habits that support success. Some examples are starting her day with a 15-minute meditation (yes, we may have the only teenager who does not grab her phone first thing each morning), keeping simple keywords in her head during matches to stay pumped up, and using aromatherapy before matches (she doesn’t want to reveal her secret scent).

Moreover, Andreescu studies her opponents’ matches. Notice that she does not review, she “studies”. I believe that word selection is significant.

Another related concept is preparation. Andreescu talks about the mental part as key in her preparation, because “it (the mind) controls your whole body”. The teenager explained that former coach Nathalie Tauziat gave her a lot of tips on what to do during the match, before the match, after the match. Andreescu learned a preparation process that she uses now, another repeatable habit, and she believes that Tauziat’s pearls of wisdom have gotten her where she is now.

This young woman is very self aware and she has built her own success formula.

She also has perspective beyond her age. She explained that she tries not to have expectations and to accept what is happening and then she tries to work around it. There is an ATP player that comes to mind when I hear the word “accept”, that is Rafael Nadal. Many times over he has said “I have to accept…” and then move on.

Andreescu’s method is simple and sound. In this game of mind over matter, the 18-year-old has mental skills that set the foundation for her physical execution. After all, doesn’t the the mind matter more? In mastery of the mind, there is confidence. This package and her results all make sense now.

[6] Elina Svitolina (UKR) d Marketa Vondrousova (CZE) 4-6 6-4 6-4

Speaking of mind over matter, let’s discuss Svitolina’s win over Vondrousova. The Ukrainian will clash next with Andreescu on Friday, after a well-earned day off.

Svitolina again fought for every ball in her quarterfinal match against Vondrousova. The looming question, when will she run out of gas? I actually wanted to go to Gael Monfils’ presser to ask him if he would be concerned if she were on his side of the draw? As a semifinalist, she did not get here by playing pristine tennis.

There have been ill-timed double faults and failed match point moments that led to a third set when she looked physically spent. Yet, by sheer will and determination, she prevailed every time. When Vondrousova captured the first set, I just thought, well, here we go again.

Her ability to transcend her body and tap a motivational reserve is fascinating. In the third set, she sprinted out of the chair during changeovers, danced at the baseline and leapt into the air on the final point. “One more ball” and “keep moving” had to be in her head.

While this game is working now, one wonders when her body may fail her in protest. As a relatively young player, I wonder if she sees that her playing style, while successful and exciting, may limit her longevity?

Her coach did encourage her to come more to net and she did so with success later in the match. Her natural speed seems a great fit for the development of a strong, short court weapon.

In some ways, Svitolina may be living a teenage dream on tour with boyfriend Monfils. This sport is all-consuming and having a dedicated, supportive partner must bring an amazing lift. The pair both won this evening, so perhaps they shared a small celebration. Of the two, Svitolina has been the more focused and serious about her career, while Monfils has been more fancy free. It appears that together they achieve balance.

A quick note on Vondrousova. The 19-year-old stands out to me as an unassuming, focused, even-tempered player. Look at the list of players she dismissed at Indian Wells and tell me she does not have the power to take on the best: Laura Siegemund, Daria Kasatkina, Jelena Ostapenko and Simona Halep! These are home run hitters and great defenders. Expect to hear more from the Czech this year.

Friday’s Andreescu vs. Svitolina semifinal: The contrasting styles and their mental strengths should produce a match of thrilling complexity. It will be their first career meeting.

In the meantime, Thursday holds two more exciting quarterfinals: Belinda Bencic vs. Karolina Pliskova (first meeting) and Venus Williams vs. Angelique Kerber (Kerber leads head-to-head 5-3). My prediction is that anything is possible. In fact, that seems to be the mantra of the WTA tour. More players seem to have the “why not me” mindset. That is great for the sport. Both matches will be played in Stadium 1.

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