INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Bianca Andreescu, an unseeded 18-year-old from Canada, went where no woman of any age has gone before in the California desert, becoming the first wild card to win the prestigious BNP Paribas Open.
Andreescu finished off her unprecedented run by upsetting the No. 8 seed Angelique Kerber, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, in the final on Sunday.
Kerber, a three-time Grand Slam singles champion and former No. 1, was unable to prevail despite a huge edge in experience and an apparent physical edge in the final phase of a grueling match.
“Hopefully this moment can be a great inspiration for many young athletes because, like I always say, if you believe in yourself anything is possible,” Andreescu said during the award ceremony. “If you work hard and you dream big to get big, then you accomplish so many things, and that’s what I’ve been doing throughout many years, and this moment has become a reality. So it’s really, really crazy.”
Andreescu arrived on court with her right shoulder and right forearm taped after winning six matches en route to the final. She required more treatment early in the third set, but despite looking weary between points, crouching down and stretching, she found the will and, above all, the talent to finish off Kerber on her fourth match point.
When it was over, Kerber kissed the teenager on both cheeks. Andreescu then crossed to the opposite side of the net, kissed the blue court and rolled onto her back, her arms and legs splayed as she basked in the sunshine and one of the most remarkable performances in tennis’s recent history.
There have been a few of late, including Naomi Osaka’s run to the title here a year ago as an unseeded player, when she was 20. That presaged Osaka’s victories at the United States Open and the Australian Open and her rise to No. 1, where she remains.
It is unclear, of course, what the future holds for Andreescu, born in Canada to Romanian parents. But she is certainly in excellent company.
Andreescu is the youngest woman to win at Indian Wells since 17-year-old Serena Williams did in 1999, and the youngest finalist since Kim Clijsters, one of Andreescu’s childhood idols, reached the final in 2001 at age 17.
“You just played amazing the whole tournament, so you really deserved to win the title here,” Kerber told Andreescu in her postmatch on-court remarks.
Andreescu did not emerge from obscurity at this elite WTA event. She was a highly regarded junior who won the prestigious Petit As title in France and went on to win two Grand Slam junior doubles titles.
In January, she upset Caroline Wozniacki, then No. 3 in the world, and Venus Williams to reach the final of the tour event in Auckland, New Zealand, and then qualified for the Australian Open, where she won her first Grand Slam singles match.
But her run in the California desert was still a huge leap, and the element of surprise certainly worked in her favor. In her seven matches here, the last six were against players she had never faced on tour: Dominika Cibulkova, Stefanie Voegele, Wang Qiang, Garbiñe Muguruza, Elina Svitolina and Kerber.
The tour’s elders will have a better idea going forward of what to expect. Opposing coaches will be developing detailed game plans, but it will not be an easy task to identify areas of weakness.
Andreescu has a remarkably complete game for a player of any age, much less an 18-year-old, and though she struggled physically at times against Svitolina in their semifinal and again versus Kerber, she was still able to display her full range of all-court skills.
Andreescu can bang groundstrokes at a world-class pace or change pace abruptly with backhand slices or squash-style, open-stance slice forehands. She can rush the net and knock off volleys and overheads, or stay back and defend in the corners with her foot speed and excellent footwork.
She also has a strong first serve and, perhaps more important in the return-focused women’s game, a solid second serve.
She also likes to drop shot, which can be both a joy and a curse — as was evident against Kerber. Andreescu hit some exquisite winners and some tight, untimely errors with the risky shot.
But after failing to convert three match points on her serve at 5-3 in the third set, she roared back after the changeover to break Kerber’s serve for the victory.
Ranked No. 60 before the tournament began, Andreescu will be 24th on Monday.
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