Bianca Andreescu is only 18-years-old but she showed maturity beyond her years in turning around her opening match at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells on Wednesday – defeating Irina-Camelia Begu 6-7(3), 6-3, 6-3.
She made unforced errors on seven of the first nine points of the first set and trailed 4-0 in just over 10 minutes against the 28-year-old Romanian. But she rebounded and actually led 6-5 before dropping the first set 7-3 in the tiebreak.
The final point was a shot that just missed by Andreescu and above she and Begu can be seen looking at the courtside screen showing just how close the Hawk-Eye call was.
Andreescu jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the second set and really never looked back. Even though she trailed 3-1 in the final set, she was the bigger, more consistent hitter and it paid off in a two-hour and 23-minute victory over an increasingly error-prone Begu.
“That was slow,” Andreescu conceded about her horrible start. “But you get tennis matches like that all the time and for me the ending is the most important. I’m really glad I pulled through.”
As for the secret of her role reversal, she said: “I guess mentally I’m like ‘I’m playing like absolute ****, I might as well just go for my shots and see where that leads me.’ And it worked.”
Her coach, Sylvain Bruneau from Montreal, watched patiently and, on two occasions, used the WTA’s on-court coaching rule to go out and talk to his player during change-overs.
“I don’t have an explanation, honestly,” Bruneau later remarked about Andreescu’s abysmal start. “It was unexpected. We had two days of preparations, Monday and Tuesday, and everything went well. Normally Bianca starts very fast – one of her strengths is that she starts with a good run of points and plays well and even her opponents are surprised.
“Today, it was the opposite – it was very erratic. She wasn’t feeling the ball and it took a few games to get her bearings. You have to be able to get back on your feet, readjust, find solutions and get back into the match. That’s what she did, and I’m pleased about that.”
When Bruneau was asked if he counselled his player to play more to the sketchy Begu forehand, he smiled a complicit smile and replied: “maybe.”
Andreescu confirmed that notion, saying: “I wanted to go more to her forehand because I feel that she hits the ball a bit more short on her forehand than her backhand. She likes to take control more with her backhand.”
Despite the fact that they share Romanian heritage, the post-match handshake at the net between Andreescu and Begu was noticeably curt and cool.
“No one likes losing so I totally feel her on that,” said Andreescu, in no way feeling offended. “We’re friendly. We’ll say ‘hi’ but nothing more.”
There’s a ten-year age gap between them and Begu, who ranked as high as no. 22 in 2016, is not the quite the player who beat Andreescu 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-2 in Fed Cup action in Romania in February, 2018. As for the Mississauga, Ont. resident, she’s on a remarkable run of results that has taken her from no. 178 at the end of the 2018 season to her current no. 60.
Her next opponent will be the 32nd seed and current world no. 35, Dominika Cibulkova. The 29-year-old Slovak (above watching Andreescu on Wednesday) has ranked as high as no. 4 in 2017 and was the singles runner-up at the 2014 Australian Open. So far in 2019, Cibulkova has a modest 1-3 record, although each one of her matches has been a three-setter.
There’s one thing Andreescu is not – and that’s a shrinking violet. Asked about facing a well-established player such as Cibulkova, she said: “She’s a fighter. She runs to every ball, places the ball pretty well. I think if I play my game and stay aggressive right from the start, I think I can take her.”
So far in 2019 Andreescu has victories over two former Grand Slam champions – Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki – and a Grand Slam runner-up – Genie Bouchard.
“I think it’s a lot about experience,” she said about facing big-name opponents. “I’ve gained a lot of that the last couple of months and hopefully it shows.”
There’s a lot of kid still in Andreescu, something that came out when she was asked why she kept bending over and fidgeting with her shoes during the match.
“My orthotics were like slipping in my shoe,” she said. “Next match I have to tighten my shoes because it’s like (they’re) all over the place.”
Wouldn’t it have made sense to just tie her laces tighter? “I didn’t really feel like it – I thought like maybe it’s my lucky thing today,” she replied with guileless naivete.
The tennis world is taking notice of Andreescu after her 22-3 start to the year and more reporters are attending her post-match media conferences. On Wednesday, when one of them asked if she was surprised by her progress in 2019, Andreescu replied: “No because I’ve been working so hard and I really believe in myself and my capabilities. And yes in a way where I didn’t expect all this to come so quickly. I did expect to be at this level at one point in my life but I guess it’s better sooner than later.”
In tennis and in life, and especially in a young life, sooner feels like it has to be better than later.
Félix Auger-Aliassime, a wild card, will play his first match of the 2019 BNP Paribas Open on Thursday at 11 a.m. (2 p.m. ET in Canada) in Stadium 1 against no. 48-ranked Cameron Norrie. The 23-year-old Briton spent three years at Texas Christian University before joining the pro tour.
A 6-foot-2 left-hander, he moved up from no. 114 to no. 91 last year and has progressed even further in 2019 as a result of a runner-up finish (Tennys Sandgren) in Auckland in January and a semi-final last week (Sascha Zverev) in Acapulco. Solid but not a flashy player, Norrie is a tenacious competitor who will not give away much and Auger-Aliassime will have to be on his aggressive game to come up with a win.
On Thursday evening – no earlier than 6 p.m. (9 p.m. ET in Canada), Genie Bouchard will play in her seventh BNP Paribas Open when she starts out against no. 56-ranked Kirsten Flipkins of Belgium.
Bouchard and Flipkins, a 33-year-old who ranked as high as no. 13 in 2013, will be meeting for the first time. Flipkins is an aggressive, forward-moving player who should present an attractive target for the 25-year-old Montrealer if she’s sharp and playing good tennis. The winner will get to play hyper-competitive American Danielle Collins, the 25th seed and a semi-finalist at the 2019 Australian Open.
Doubles at the Indian Wells event is often simply used as a tune-up for some of the top singles players. That certainly seemed to be the case on Wednesday night when the wild card pairing of no. 4-ranked Sloane Stephens and Bouchard played a first-round match against Flipkins and Johanna Larsson of Sweden. It was pretty chilly in Stadium 2 but Bouchard and Stephens only had to stay out there for 54 minutes in a 6-1, 6-2 loss to the Belgian/Swedish pairing.
On Thursday Bouchard and Flipkins will graduate from 8,000-seat Stadium 2 to the big house – 16,100 capacity Stadium 1 – for their opening-round encounter.
When visitors talk about visiting the California desert, they usually mention the fresh air, expansive skies, the mountains that surround the Coachella Valley and palm trees. It’s a very relaxing place to visit at this time of year but forget about being there in the summer months – then locals barely go outside in daylight hours, and indoors air conditioning is an absolute must.
Feature Photo: Mauricio Paiz