Andreescu makes history at Indian Wells, to meet Kerber in the final

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Friday night at the BNP Paribas Open was a WTA semifinal double header. Eighteen-year-old Bianca Andreescu continued her meteoric rise by beating Elina Svitolina and becoming the first wildcard ever to reach the final at Indian Wells. The teenager’s opponent in the title match will be Angelique Kerber, who ended Belinda Bencic’s 12-match winning streak.

[WC] Bianca Andreescu (CAN) d. [6] Elina Svitolina (UKR) 6-3 2-6 6-4

After competing with some of the best on tour, Bianca Andreescu is an Indian Wells finalist and the only wildcard to do so. The 18-year-old toppled the familiar names one after another, to the amazement of the crowds and the media — Dominika Cibulkova, Wang Qiang, Garbine Muguruza and tonight Elina Svitolina, one of the most spirited fighters on the WTA tour. Svitolina relied on her marathon grinder game and she nearly pulled it off again in three. Despite an immense physical performance, the Ukrainian fell just short in the thriller.

Svitolina came out of the blocks fighting and took a 3-0 lead after capturing two breaks. Andreescu regrouped, perhaps employing some yoga breaths, and came back winning six successive games. The sixth seed fought hard to hang onto the set, however, in her final service game two double faults crept in and the ten-point game went to Andreescu. The wildcard finished strong with a love hold, taking the first set 6-3.

While Andreescu was up a set and a break in the second set, no one counted Svitolina out. The 24-year-old immediately broke back, taking all four points, and she continued to roll, chasing down the shot variety that Andreescu could bring. Svitolina won four successive games to go up 4-1.

The second set included a 30-shot rally that left the Canadian bent over, gasping for breath at the baseline. Andreescu requested her coach, who reminded her to keep a positive attitude and mindset on every point and to leave a bit more margin on her shots. While she held, Svitolina had the momentum, consolidating her lead with a quick hold to 5-2. With a double fault assist from Andreescu, Svitolina closed the set 6-2. This was an all too familiar scenario and Andreescu released frustration by launching a ball into the air.

Back on serve in the third, Svitolina was moving her serve around, giving her opponent different looks. There were some interesting plays, including the Andreescu moon ball combination and a surprise overhead drop shot from Svitolina. You could see both players working to find solutions. With the score at 3-2 in favor of Andreescu, both coaches were back on court. Svitolina’s coach had sensed the physical grind was beginning to take a toll on Andreescu. Svitolina broke back as the crowd began to hold its breath.

There were subtle signs that Andreescu was beginning to cramp. The camera zoomed in on some of her very concerned facial expressions. Somehow she found her composure, another break and a hold to 5-3. Now you could see hints of desperation in Svitolina. Pure physicality got her the hold after 12 points. Andreescu kept her mind in check and her body followed, so she held after four match points, taking the deciding set 6-4. Elated disbelief was her expression. On the other side, disappointment for Svitolina had to be immense.

In press, Svitolilna described Andreescu as an all-court player and summed up the match:

I think she was playing good tennis. I was up and down. I didn’t play as I wanted. I had my chances. I didn’t take them.

The world No.6 revealed information about her knee, which has been wrapped the entire event. Movement is the hallmark of her game and it is compromised due to inflammation:

It’s a big inflammation, you cannot see so much. I did already scan when I arrived here. So I’m going to do one more, because it was getting worse in some point because I was playing three sets.

This match and the day did not go Svitolina’s way. She disclosed on social media a police mix-up where she and her boyfriend Gael Monfils were held briefly at gunpoint by police earlier today. No one needs that kind of wake-up call.

In contrast, Andreescu was all smiles. The world No.60 started out with:

I’m actually shaking right now. It’s just so incredible. I’m honestly speechless, speechless.

Moments later she found her words speaking highly of the Tennis Canada program producing her generation of players, including Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime. She stated it is a very friendly and supportive environment where everyone is treated the same.

Andreescu’s most nervous match at Indian Wells was actually her first. In her words:

Yeah. I actually thought I was going to lose my first round, because I started off really, really slow. I was really nervous. I have never played at Indian Wells before on such a big stadium. I played on Stadium 2. I was pretty nervous.

Given that reveal, it is impressive for this young woman to process and adjust to the challenges she has faced. She referred again to yoga and meditation along with goals she has for herself.

[8] Angelique Kerber (GER) d. [23] Belinda Bencic (SUI) 6-4 6-2

Kerber and Bencic took the late shift, starting about 9 p.m. This semifinal was really all Kerber. In just over an hour, the 16-year tour veteran advanced to her first final at Indian Wells. She is continuing to make her own history.

Kerber’s match stats were superior across the board: first serve points won, return points and break points.

In press, Bencic spoke of how she was uncomfortable from the start:

Yeah, it was 4-2, but I didn’t feel like I was really in the lead. I was really up and down in the start. I just didn’t figure out so much what to do against her. She took my weapons away with how she was playing against me. So I think she did that well. Obviously she’s a great baseline player, so she’s not gonna miss. Definitely she put the wall mode on (smiling).

The 22-year-old discussed her 2019 success:

I think my head is different. You know, definitely I’m healthy. Of course I’m playing. But my mindset is different. Work-wise, it’s kind of always the same.

Bencic heads to Miami with a solid results and although she is disappointed, she holds a positive outlook.

Kerber described her performance tonight this way:

I was finding my rhythm a little bit, like especially in the first few games. And then I started stepping in a little bit and playing really aggressive. I think that was the key that I really took the match in my hand, and I was going for it. That was also the game plan, to really play my tennis again. I played good. And also in the second set. I think that that was the key, that I really was able to play aggressively, especially in the second set.

Kerber described her expectations of the young woman who will stand across the net from her on Sunday:

You know, she really played a great tournament so far. She beat tough opponents. She has nothing to lose. She will enjoy the final. Like me, I will also go out there and try to play like I played the last matches. I know it will be tough challenge, as well, because she played well. I saw the match today a little bit, and I know that she is playing really hard and she is going for it. So she is one who is really taking the match in her hands. I think a good match, on the high level, and I know I have to play also one of my best tennis, especially in the important moments.

Whoever comes through the final will have the first-time champion BNP Paribas Open experience. As I spoke with other media colleagues today, there was agreement that the margins are slim. Will an eager new face propel herself forward or will the occasion engulf her? Will experience and poise prevail? Both scenarios are exciting, with vastly different impacts for each player.

A win would launch Andreescu in a similar manner to Naomi Osaka. And should that occur, she sounds ready. A win for Kerber will solidify her career record and ranking as she heads to the next slam, Roland Garros. Both players get a well-deserved break tomorrow, as the final will be played Sunday. However, there is still an excellent doubles final on Saturday: [1] Barbora Krejcikova (CZE) / Katerina Siniakova v. Elise Mertens (BEL) / Aryna Sabalenka (BLR).

3 COMMENTS

  1. Can we not only get a report on the matches but a recital of what the tournament is worth in terms of a 1st place, 2nd place, 3rd/4th place showing? I’d like to be kept abreast of which tournament has more financial juice and in theory incentive to win. Thank you.

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