After an amazing 11 days, just two women remain in contention for the title at the WTA Indian Wells Open. It’s been an thrilling tournament in which we’ve seen it all: Serena Williams forced to retire with a viral illness, Naomi Osaka and Simona Halep unexpectedly upended, Venus Williams again asserting herself as a force to be reckoned with. And now, for the first time since Kim Clijsters, a teen is in the final in Indian Wells.
Future. Number. One. Not a doubt about it. The teenager from Canada is armed with serious artillery, including a missile of a forehand. Whether it’s instinct or meticulous planning is unclear, but what is certain is that Bianca Andreescu knows the right time to blast a ball, the right time to give the ball loft and the right time to slice it. She even has the guts to attempt a precision drop shot facing a crucial break point. It’s that variety which has moved her through the WTA Indian Wells Open. And to top it off, just when she starts to play a little shakily, she finds the maturity to play through the tough rallies and to win the big points. The nerves fade away and in their place comes a steely resolve. She is constantly learning and constantly making adjustments.
Her variety was on full display during her semifinal against Elina Svitolina. After going down 0-3 early on, Andreescu course corrected and fired off the next six games to take the opening set. But despite going down an early break in the second set, Svitolina quickly found her game. Andreescu began to struggle when the Ukrainian started taking the initiative, going up the line first and claiming court position. Svitolina comfortably took the second set 6-2, meaning she would have to play a deciding set for the fourth time in the Californian desert. The defining moment came in the eighth game of the third set, when Andreescu somehow willed herself to hold from 0-40 down, before breaking the Svitolina serve. The sixth seed didn’t give up, and made Andreescu work hard to serve it out at 5-4. But she found her inner champion and claimed her victory on her fourth match point.
Now comes the tallest task yet. On Sunday, Angelique Kerber will be standing between her and the championship.
World #8 Angelique Kerber is perhaps the best defender in the game. While she’s working hard to improve her offensive game, her instinct is to be more of a counter-puncher. She can easily absorb power and can draw errors by putting one more ball back in play. Her remarkable patience makes her a tough opponent, and she often waits until the last moment before sending the ball smoothly to the open court. But arguably her biggest assets are her court craft and guile. At all times, she seems to know how her opponent is feeling, how her opponent is moving and she clearly sees where her opponent is at all times.
Turning in one of her best performances, Kerber took out the red-hot Belinda Bencic in the semifinals, coming from a break down to take the opening set 6-4. The difference in the first set was really points won on second serve. Bencic won a mere 27%. By the second set, Kerber had really hit her stride. She was finding down the line winners in every game. More than once, Bencic crafted a fine drop shot, but Kerber’s speed was the Swiss’ undoing with the eighth seed reaching the ball before putting it exactly where Bencic wasn’t. She took the second set 6-2 and with it the match.
If Kerber plays that well again, she will have a superb chance of ending the final in possession of the trophy. But, Kerber will need her A game when she takes on Bianca Andreescu for the championship on Sunday.
The Way to the Win
For Andreescu to win the WTA Indian Wells Open, she will need to have a reserve of energy. There will be few errors from Kerber’s racquet, and Andreescu will find herself chasing down a lot of balls. But, her variety can put Kerber in uncomfortable positions. To take full advantage of that she’ll need to give herself some margin to keep her balls in the court. For Kerber to win, she’ll need to bring her A game. Her timing needs to be spot on against a hard-hitting Andreescu. But the German is a three-time Grand Slam champion for a reason. If she’s executing on her down the line shots and taking advantage when she has the opportunity to go on the attack, the match is hers.
Andreescu is undoubtedly a talented player. But after her lengthy clash with Svitolina, on top of what has surely been an emotional draining week, there is a real concern that her energy reserves are running out. Indeed, that began to show in the closing stages of her semifinal match. Kerber, a defensive mastermind with a vast wealth of experience from which to draw, looks perfectly poised to take advantage.
Kerber in 3
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