Bianca Andreescu showed lots of moxie in earning a convincing 6-2, 6-2 win over Dominika Cibulkova in second round action at the BNP Paribas Open on Friday.
But that didn’t quite match the enthusiasm she displayed later when asked if she would be watching Saturday’s popcorn second-rounder between rising stars Stefanos Tsitsipas, 20, and her fellow Canadian, 18-year-old Félix Auger-Aliassime.
“Two-hundred per cent,” was her excited response. When a reporter suggested it could be 500 per cent, she readily complied: “Okay five-hundred – I’ll give you any percentage you want. That’s definitely going to be a really good match. It could honestly go either way – they’re both incredible players. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Andreescu and Auger-Aliassime were born two months apart in 2000 – Bianca in June and Félix in August. As they moved through the junior ranks, they frequently played the same tournaments in Canada and abroad.
“We for sure have this connection going on,” she said when asked about herself and Auger-Aliassime. “Telepathically I feel it’s really nice to see both of us doing so well at this age – and for Canadian tennis I think it’s amazing. We both motivate each other. It’s really, really nice.”
They are also ranked closely together at the moment, Auger-Aliassime at No. 58 and Andreescu at No. 60 – although her number is already guaranteed to rise to No. 58 and then close to No. 55 if she wins her next match on Sunday against No. 109-ranked qualifier Stefanie Voegele. The 28-year-old Swiss upset No. 4 Sloane Stephens 6-3, 6-0 on Friday – Voegele’s fifth win in six matches with the 25-year-old American.
Stephens had an off day and her loss has opened the way to a possible round-of-16 match for Andreescu with No. 16-ranked Elise Mertens of Belgium or No. 18 Wang Qiang of China– if she can get past Voegele.
The match with Cibulkova in Stadium 5 was played in driving wind conditions and with a bone-chilling ‘desert’ temperature of seven degrees Celsius. Flags atop the stands blew at 90 degrees to the ground, wrecking havoc with ball tosses.
The match was close until Andreescu broke serve to 3-2 in the opening set as Cibulkova committed a rash of unforced errors. From there on it just seemed that there was no way back into the match for the Slovak. Quite simply Andreescu had more power than the No. 35-ranked Cibulkova, whose only way to victory appeared to be out-steadying her opponent in an effort to induce errors. But Andreescu was more consistent as well as more powerful, allowing her to finish off the one-sided affair in an hour and 23 minutes.
Andreescu was 4/8 on break point chances while Cibulkova, who lost her fourth match out of five so far in 2019, was 0/1. In terms of her own matches won, Andreescu is now at 23-2 this season.
“At the beginning it was so windy,” Andreescu said. “I tried not to focus on that but it’s so hard – when you’re serving the toss goes everywhere. I double-faulted a couple of times.” Smiling, she continued: “My coaches after the match told me that they were freezing their butts off. Thank goodness I was playing. But for the next match I’ll definitely bring a long sleeve.”
After the match, because of the chill, Andreescu had a hot shower followed by her customary ice bath.
“I think my ball was coming more out of my racquet than hers,” Andreescu summed up about her superior power. It brought to mind the thought that ten or so years ago when she was Andreescu’s age, it was the 29-year-old Cibulkova who was the spunky, energetic up-and-comer. But if she looked across the net on Friday, she could see that same kind of player in her opponent.
After she broke serve to 3-2 in the opening set, Andreescu had a visit from the trainer and was treated for an eye issue. “Since it was so windy, my eyes were getting really watery and my nose was dripping,” she said. “I just put in some eye drops. It was better…but barely.”
Questioned about facing Voegele next, and not the fourth-seeded Stephens, Andreescu said: “I just found out that she (Stephens) lost. I don’t know her (Voegele) at all actually. She beat a very good player today so I’m sure it’s not going to be an easy match.”
Andreescu won’t be changing anything in her game, which features power mixed with a variety of off-pace and angled shots, for the match-up with Voegele. “I really think that my game can hurt a lot of players,” she said. “And I enjoy playing like this. I enjoy mixing the rhythm, keeping the other person guessing and making the crowd go ‘wow’ because I’m hitting all these weird shots sometimes, which is really nice.”
As unpredictable as her tennis can be, she’s totally consistent when it comes to firing herself up on court. There will be the occasional “let’s go” or a “c’mon” but nothing in her native Romanian.
“I don’t, surprisingly,” she said about the absence of any Romanian exhortations on court during matches. “Maybe I should start, maybe I should get ‘haide’ in there.”
When it was suggested Romanian could also come in handy if she wanted to use a few naughty words to express herself, she just laughed. “I don’t know about that – the referees, there’s a lot of Romanians on tour and I’m sure they know the words. I know some Romanian players that swear a lot so you’ve got to be careful.”
Milos Raonic and partner Jeremy Chardy played their first-round doubles match on Friday and were beaten 7-6(5), 6-1 by Novak Djokovic and Fabio Fognini.
After a competitive first set that was decided in the tiebreak, Djokovic and Fognini broke Chardy to lead 3-1 and then Raonic to take an insurmountable 5-1 lead in the second set.
It was good match practice for three of the four players – Chardy was already eliminated in singles. But as one wag suggested about players just wanting to get one match in and then not have to carry on in doubles: “Whoever wins loses.”
The truth of that won’t be known until the singles draw plays out and that will begin Saturday for Raonic who takes on No. 51-ranked Sam Querrey in the second match after 11 a.m. in Stadium 3.
Raonic is 3-2 in the head-to-head with the 31-year-old American. He has won the last three meetings since 2016, including 7-5, 2-6, 6-3 in the BNP Paribas Open quarter-finals a year ago.
Also in action late Saturday in Stadium 7 is Denis Shapovalov. Paired with Rohan Bopanna of India in doubles, he will face the second-seeded team of Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares.
In women’s doubles next door in Stadium 8 at about the same time, fifth seeded Gabriela Dabrowski and Xu Yifan will take on Romanian Monica Niculescu and American Abigail Spears in a second-round encounter.
The highly-anticipated Auger-Aliassme – Tsitsipas confrontation is first up in Stadium 1 at 11 a.m. (2 p.m. ET in Canada) on Saturday.
Obviously the 20-year-old Greek, currently ranked No. 10, is favoured over the 18-year-old Canadian from Montreal with a No. 58 ranking. But Auger-Aliassime has a few things on his side, including a 3-0 record in their junior match-ups in 2015-2016, as well the fact he has already played a match at the BNP Paribas Open while Tsitsipas will be making his debut after receiving a bye.
Auger-Aliassime is also playing on the same court and at the same time as his match on Thursday – a two-set victory over Britain’s Cameron Norrie.
Rob Steckley, who coaches Auger-Aliassime’s great friend Denis Shapovalov, offered the following when asked about the match-up: “I heard some stuff about Félix saying he was confident and that he’d won the last few times. Obviously that doesn’t mean too much (but) I think Félix is doing great things and I’m really happy for him. We spent some time with him in the off season and he and his team were working extremely hard. I think he’s ready for the challenge, he’s up for the challenge. Tsitsipas also believes in his game and he’s where he is now. So I think it’s going to be a great match.”
It’s a first meeting in the pros for Auger-Aliassime and Tsitsipas and it comes exactly a year to the day since the Canadian’s first ATP Tour match victory – 6-2, 7-6(4) over compatriot Vasek Pospisil at Indian Wells in 2018.
There are golf courses just about everywhere you look in the Coachella Valley, which stretches from Palm Springs in the east to Indio in the west. This is the one at the Marriott Desert Springs Resort – and the birds on the right here certainly seem to know where the pickings are good.
Feature Picture: Mauricio Paiz