Last week was the best of Bianca Andreescu’s tennis life. At the Premier Mandatory event in Indian Wells, the teenaged Canadian tore through the draw, winning seven matches in a row to win the title. That included three giant-killings in a row to end the tournament as she beat former world #1 Garbine Muguruza, sixth seed Elina Svitolina and Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber in succession to take the trophy.
Andreescu’s mental fortitude was particularly impressive. She rallied from a set down in her first match of the tournament against Irina-Camelia Begu, before battling to the win in the semifinals from 3-3 in the third set against Svitolina. And despite having been a break down against Kerber, with a Major champion up a break in the third set against an unheralded 18-year-old usually only ending one way, Andreescu rewrote the script to win the decider.
And her game is tremendous fun to watch. She has a good serve and great variety off the ground. When playing Andreescu, her opponents find it hard to figure out whether she will paint the line with a powerful shot, resort to a wicked slice or deploy a deft drop shot. She also does a great job mixing up slower, higher balls with more powerful shots to keep her opponents off balance and out of position.
That triumph in Indian Wells was the culmination of what has been a spectacular start to the year. She began it by making the final in Auckland after coming through the qualifying, beating Wozniacki and Venus Williams in the process. She then qualified for and won a round at the Australian Open, before losing a tight three-setter to 13th seed Anastasia Sevastova. Andreescu continued that fine form by claiming the WTA 125k title in Newport Beach, winning a dramatic semifinal in a third set tiebreak against Tatjana Maria and coming from a set down to beat Jessica Pegula in the final. She also reached the last four in Acapulco, coming to within a set of the final.
Her results this season show sustained success, but winning a title as big as the Indian Wells Open creates a newfound celebrity status that Andreescu has not enjoyed before. That is especially true considering the number of high-profile players that she beat to win the title. But with that newfound celebrity will come extra scrutiny and pressure that could effect her aim of reaching the very top of the tennis world.
It’s also important to note that, despite all of Andreescu’s successes this year, Indian Wells was the first tour-level title of her career. Encouragingly, another player who won their maiden title at Indian Wells is Naomi Osaka, the reigning US Open and Australian Open champion and the world #1. Osaka also had a very impressive run at Indian Wells, dropping only one set en route to the title. Her run included straight-sets wins over Maria Sharapova, Agnieszka Radwanska, Karolina Pliskova, and Simona Halep. She capped it off by crushing Daria Kasatkina in the final.
But, what happened afterwards for Osaka? After a win over Serena Williams in Miami, one of the great American’s first matches after her maternity leave, she failed to win three matches in a row again until the grass court season and did not make another final until the US Open. Osaka struggled badly at times throughout that spring and summer, taking tough losses to players such as Carla Suarez Navarro and Maria Sakkari, who she had beaten in Indian Wells. In short, it took Osaka time to adjust to becoming a top player on the tour.
That’s something to keep in mind as Andreescu takes the court to play Begu (again) in the first round in Miami. Begu took the first set from Andreescu in the Californian desert and, as a result, will surely not be overly intimidated by the Canadian. Drastically high expectations of Andreescu must be tempered by the reality that she is still 18. Despite her great start to the season, this is still new success for Andreescu, and she will have to adapt to being the favorite in matches. Indeed, she is still adapting to life on the main WTA Tour.
Kerber, who Andreescu beat in the final of Indian Wells, also had trouble initially backing up her first big win which came at 2016 Australian Open. She went 1-3 in her next four matches and lost in the first round to Kiki Bertens at the French Open. However, Kerber bounced back by reaching the Wimbledon final winning the US Open later that year. But the likes of Halep, Wozniacki and Sloane Stephens also found life difficult in the immediate aftermath of their first landmark win.
So, what can we expect from Andreescu both in the near and distant future? The only real answer is, who knows? Will Andreescu slowly fade out of the picture, like 2017 champion Elena Vesnina? Or will she go through some bumps, but use her success at Indian Wells as a building block for what’s to come, like Osaka? Or will she just keep rolling, with no hitches at all? Time alone will tell. However, what seems certain is that the hardest part of being a champion is not winning the first big title. Rather, it’s getting used to the media attention, pressure, and target on your back, and backing up that success.
It’s easy to play an underdog role, to know that many don’t believe in you and let that fuel your successes. But it’s hard to be the “hunted”. To know other players are gunning for your spot at the top. Andreescu is currently fifth in the WTA race, and she is not far at all from third. Even in the live rankings, she is already up to 23rd in the world and rising fast. Therefore, Andreescu will have to get used to players attempting to chase her in the rankings, instead of doing the chasing herself.
Andreescu has accomplished more at 18-years-old than most players do in their entire careers. But given her age, it is completely up in the air how she will handle this huge success. However, as she has not had a let down yet all season, there seems a good chance that she will be able to make a mostly seamless transition to the top of the game. Nonetheless, there will still surely be the occasional bump along the path to staying at the top of the rankings. And she will need the mental fortitude to deal with such setbacks.
Because for Andreescu the hardest challenge lies ahead: staying on top.
Embed from Getty Images