The Stunning Rise of Bianca Andreescu, Who Just Won at Indian Wells (2024)

Bianca Andreescu is into creative visualization. She learned the technique, which involves thinking about the things that you are hoping will happen, from her mother, who showed her a Web site that explained terms like “image generation” and “image maintenance,” “image inspection” and “image transformation.” Not that Andreescu wanted to get into all that. “It’s also a secret of mine,” she told me, when I asked her about it recently. She first started doing it, for hours and hours, at the age of thirteen. But there is so much else that she has to do these days, such as going online at night to complete the required assignments and take the necessary tests to finish up high school. Now she does creative visualization for fifteen minutes each morning. She also does it before practicing tennis or playing a match. She said that it provides a calming effect, and greater focus.

On Sunday morning, Andreescu visualized playing and winning the women’s championship at the BNP Paribas Open, in Indian Wells, California. She imagined the tactical, physical, and emotional challenges that she might face on court, and she pictured herself working through them. On Sunday afternoon, which was one of those cloudless and gentle Coachella Valley days that attract streams of retirees from the Midwest, Andreescu accomplished what she had envisioned, defeating Angelique Kerber, of Germany, a shrewd veteran, outstanding defender, and former No. 1, 6–4, 3–6, 6–4.

Andreescu, a Canadian, is just eighteen years old. Not since Serena Williams, twenty years ago, has someone that young won at Indian Wells—or at any of the other “premiere mandatory” events (Miami, Madrid, Beijing), which are considered the most prestigious and competitive tournaments after the Grand Slams and the Women’s Tennis Association’s year-end final. To win, Andreescu had to defeat not only Kerber, but also Garbiñe Muguruza, of Spain, a two-time Grand Slam winner and former No. 1, and Elina Svitolina, of Ukraine, who won the W.T.A. finals in October. At the beginning of the year, Andreescu was ranked No. 152. But by the time she reached Indian Wells she’d been on a tear. At a tournament in Auckland that serves as a tune-up for the Australian Open, she reached the final, beating the No. 1 seed, Caroline Wozniacki, and Venus Williams along the way. Then, after winning a challenger-level event in Newport Beach, she reached the semifinals of the hard-court tournament in Acapulco that leads into Indian Wells. Still, Andreescu needed a wild-card berth—which is awarded to a player at the discretion of the tournament’s organizers—to compete at Indian Wells. (The last tournament of importance I can recall in which a wild-card entry actually won was the 2009 U.S. Open, when Kim Clijsters, of Belgium, a former No. 1, was returning to tennis after a two-year retirement.) If Andreescu visualized her swift, steep ascent, few others did.

Andreescu is part of a surge of terrific Canadian tennis players who are the children of immigrants. Andreescu’s parents moved back to their native Romania for a time when she was young, and it was in Romania that Andreescu took her first tennis lesson. But it was at Tennis Canada’s facilities in Montreal and Toronto that she honed her game. “We don’t have too many players,” she said, when I asked her about the program. “Which is nice, because the coaches can work with them on specific things a lot of the time.”

Andreescu’s game has many specific things. She can drive her two-handed backhand, roll it with topspin at acute angles toward the sideline when presented with a short ball, or slice it with one hand on an unwavering glide path, as if on a frozen rope. She has a deft drop shot. Her topspin lob is well disguised and deadly. Her second serve is not a sixty-five-mile-per-hour rec-league spinner of the sort that is all too common in women’s tennis but a ninety-mile-per-hour dare, slid out wide or blasted flat up the T, which you seldom see from anyone without the last name of Williams. And she can hit her forehand flat, sliced, or in a loopy arc with heavy topspin. It’s like watching Clayton Kershaw pitch: Andreescu seldom puts two shots in a row to her opponent in the same hitting zone, at the same pace.

For me, this kind of play is tennis. Andreescu’s approach against Kerber was thinky, crafty, and, for considerable stretches, simply lovely. She set up a break point in the first game with a gossamer dropper, earned the break when Kerber double-faulted, and won the first set without being broken. She had two break-point chances in the third game of the second set, but couldn’t convert them. Kerber broke her the next game, a long one, and Andreescu’s energy level looked to be sagging—she’d played a lot of tennis, not only at Indian Wells but with all her deep runs at previous tournaments. (There is, in tennis, a physical punishment for winning: you keep playing and playing.) Kerber held her serve throughout the second set, winning rallies with perseverance and incisive shot placement. The championship would be decided in the third set.

Kerber broke Andreescu in the fifth game of the final set, but Andreescu broke right back, and then held her own serve with the help of two resounding forehand winners. She was limping a little by then, and she’d had medical treatment on her shoulder during a changeover. But she was willing one last push, and the crowd was beginning to roar for her. She broke Kerber again, only to be broken back after failing to win three championship points on her serve—a forehand in the net, a backhand shanked to the stands, another forehand in the net. Nerves? Exhaustion?

She’d earn one more championship point with Kerber serving, and, when Kerber netted a forehand, the crowd stood and cheered deliriously—fans know when they have witnessed history. Andreescu fell to her knees, dipped her head, and kissed the court. Then she rolled onto her back and lay down like a Canadian kid about to make a snow angel. Picture that.

The Stunning Rise of Bianca Andreescu, Who Just Won at Indian Wells (2024)
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