You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

From toil to triumph in 12 months: the remarkable rise of Bianca Andreescu

The Guardian logo The Guardian 21/03/2019 Bryan Armen Graham

Twelve months ago Bianca Andreescu was toiling in obscurity on the lowest rung of professional tennis, grinding for points to boost her world No 198 ranking at a $25,000 ITF tournament on a university campus in Toyota, Japan. An array of physical woes, including back injuries, shoulder ailments and stress fractures in her foot, were wearing on her teenage body. Her prize money after a straight-sets defeat in the second round was $392. As she recalled last week: “I wasn’t really in a good spot.”

Related: Wildcard Bianca Andreescu, 18, shocks Angelique Kerber to win Indian Wells

What a difference a year makes. Now the 18-year-old Canadian is the toast of the sport and her country after her astonishing breakthrough at Indian Wells, as prestigious a tournament on the calendar after the four majors and year-end championships. The reward for Andreescu’s three-set victory over Angelique Kerber in Sunday’s final was $1.35m – more than quadruple her career earnings to date – and says nothing of shout-outs from Shania Twain, Rod Laver and Justin Trudeau.

That Andreescu toppled a string of higher-ranked opponents, including the No 32, No 18, No 20, No 6 and No 8 seeds, and became the first wildcard to win the tournament was remarkable enough. How she closed the show against Kerber, battling from behind in the third set against a three-times slam event champion and former world No 1, was somehow more extraordinary.

Trailing by a break of serve and beset by cramps in the decider, Andreescu took command by winning nine consecutive points – and 14 from 16 – against one of the best defenders on the tour. Nerves crept in when she squandered three match points with the match on her racket but Andreescu broke back immediately to become the youngest women’s champion at Indian Wells since a 17-year-old Serena Williams took the title in 1999 – and lock down the biggest singles title for a Canadian player.

a person standing in front of a mountain: Bianca Andreescu, 18, is the youngest women’s champion at Indian Wells since Serena Williams 20 years ago. Photograph: Rob Prange/Rex/Shutterstock © Rex/Shutterstock Bianca Andreescu, 18, is the youngest women’s champion at Indian Wells since Serena Williams 20 years ago. Photograph: Rob Prange/Rex/Shutterstock

Afterwards she collapsed to the court beneath the Coachella Valley sky and the roar of more than 16,000 spectators. “Every time we thought this is it, she doesn’t have the game or she doesn’t have the belief, the legs, she just kept proving us wrong,” Martina Navratilova told BT Sport. “It was a coming-of-age tournament. This one is here to stay.”

It has been a stunning rise for Andreescu, who started the season as the world No 152 but has steadily climbed the rankings after beating Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki to reach her first WTA final in Auckland and winning a Challenger-level event in Newport Beach. Her 29 wins in 32 singles matches is the most of anyone on the men’s or women’s circuits this year.

Her game is a thing of beauty. The quality of her powerful groundstrokes off both wings, struck with a pace belying her 5ft 7in frame, is enhanced by a deft command of spin that keeps opponents off balance. Her ability to switch from defence to offence flows from her footwork and mobility. She has, as they say, all the shots.

Yet even more impressive is Andreescu’s steely composure and taste for the fight, a mental fortitude she attributes to the meditation exercises she has practised since she was 13. “I do creative visualisation techniques in the morning,” she reluctantly explained after her gruelling three-set win over the world No 5, Elina Svitolina, in the semi-finals. “It’s only 15 minutes. I used to do hours and hours of it but I found that 15 minutes has really helped me and it’s not time-consuming at all.

Related: Dominic Thiem upsets Roger Federer at Indian Wells for first Masters title

“It basically is nothing can distract me. I’m relaxed. I trust myself. I trust my shots. I feel confident. In those moments I try to breathe as much as I can, as well, to get into the zone. That’s what I do usually before the match.”

The only child of Romanian immigrants, Andreescu is the latest in a line of promising first-generation Canadian talents with Denis Shapovalov and Félix Auger-Aliassime. Her promise was evident during a junior career in which she won the Les Petits As tournament and a pair of grand slam doubles titles in 2017. But no amount of visualisation could have foreseen a breakout like this.

There is a wind of change about women’s tennis as the youngsters threaten to kick in the door. Andreescu, who vaulted to No 24 in Monday’s rankings, means there are eight players aged 22 or younger in the top 25 – a group who have accounted for the three biggest titles of the season to date: Naomi Osaka at the Australian Open, Belinda Bencic in Dubai and the precocious teenager from Ontario, who is the youngest of them all.

“It’s crazy what a year can do,” she said.

AdChoices
AdChoices

More from The Guardian

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon