Canadian teenagers have been all the rage at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells this year and two of them – Bianca Andreescu and Denis Shapovalov – went even deeper in the event thanks to their victories on Tuesday.
Bianca Andreescu, 18, advanced to the quarter-finals with a 7-5, 6-2 win over Wang Qiang of China and was followed shortly afterward by 19-year-old Denis Shapovalov downing no. 11 seed Marin Cilic 6-4, 6-2 to reach the Round of 16.
Both Canadian players were in control of their matches except for a brief moment in the first set of Andreescu’s match when the score went from 4-2 for her to 5-4 for Wang.
After she double-faulted to bring the score to 4-all in the first set, Andreescu slammed her racquet on the court and went on to lose the next game, falling behind 5-4. But there may have been a residual effect from the fit of pique, as well as a moral boost thanks to a visit by coach Sylvain Bruneau at the change-over, as she then won three games in a row to take the opening set 7-5 in 49 minutes.
“It’s nice to let some anger out sometimes,” Andreescu said about her racquet smack-down. “I wish I didn’t have to do that but it just came out.”
As for Shapovalov, he broke Cilic to 3-2 in the opening set with a deep service return that handcuffed the 30-year Croat. But the best was yet to come – at 2-all in the second set. After firing an ace to get to advantage, Cilic belted a deep forehand to Shapovalov’s backhand and moved forward to the net. With his trademark ‘Shapovalovian’ flourish, the 24th seed leapt in the air and somehow concocted a breath-taking cross-court backhand passing shot that left Cilic and the assembled faithful in Stadium 3 gasping.
“That was a bit of a screamer,” Shapovalov later conceded, “definitely not an ordinary shot. Once I hit it, it felt good (but) I didn’t see where the ball was until it kind of passed him.
“It definitely pumps me up when you know you’re probably losing the point and the game is done and then you hit an unbelievable shot. I kind of tell myself ‘okay let’s go – this is moment now.’”
Two points later, on a butchered Cilic backhand volley into the net, Shapovalov had the break and was basically in cruise control on route to victory and a place in Wednesday’s fourth round.
After the match, Shapovalov did a little rap for the crowd. He had hoped to remember the lyrics but had to go back to his phone to check them. HERE IT IS.
“I don’t ever mind rapping,” he said. “It wasn’t easy after the match to find my thoughts, find the lyrics.
“After my second round, we just said prepare something in case I win today. I wrote a couple of things down – it took me two, three minutes.
“It’s something I’ve been doing as a hobby. It’s just a fun little part of me.”
On the court Tuesday, the fun was a blizzard of booming baseline ground strokes that had Cilic, who is lacking a bit of match play in 2019, on his heels and struggling to control his forehand.
Shapovalov’s ratio of winners to unforced was 18/14 while Cilic was 13/21 in the one-hour and 19-minute match.
His free-swinging, explosive game-style has earned him a fervent following at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. “Shot-makers are just fun to watch, right?” Shapovalov said. “That’s always been kind of who I am. I go for my shots. It’s been a process of for me to kind of slow it down, tone it down and know when to go for the shots.”
He arrived in Indian Wells nine days before his first match on Sunday and that appears to have helped get his game. “I remember I told my team after (indoor European events in February) – they told me to take a break but I told them I’ll take two days max but I don’t feel like I need a break right now. I want to keep going and work on my game.”
During the days before the seeds began play in Indian Wells, Shapovalov practiced with a variety of players. When asked which one might have helped him the most, he said, “I think with Milos (Raonic) actually – we both played solid tennis. That was the first time I felt like ‘okay, I’m starting to feel my game again.’”
He will next “feel his game” in the second match after 11 a.m. (2 p.m. ET in Canada) on Wednesday in Stadium 3 against no. 67 Hubert Hurkacz. The 22-year-old Pole upset Kei Nishikori 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 on Tuesday – with the Japanese world no. 7 possibly bothered by a (taped) left calf.
It will be a first time meeting between Hurkacz and Shapovalov – who appear to be friends because they were seen hand-slapping after their victories on Tuesday.
In Andreescu’s win over the no. 18 ranked Wang, it often seemed like the 27-year-old Chinese athlete was playing into her opponent’s hands. She was hitting a lot of balls straight down the middle which gave Andreescu the opportunity to open up the court by going wide and hard. But as is her custom, she also varied her tactics. “She (Wang) really didn’t like the high ball to her backhand, which I used a lot,” Andreescu said.
Coach Bruneau, during his visit after the ninth game of the first set, basically told his player to remain calm and that she had only played one poor game to lose serve at 4-3. He later explained, “Wang is strong and she likes the ball low and in the strike zone so she can hit hard and heavy. Before the match we talked about using a variety of shots. I felt that the more the first set went on, the more Bianca fell into tempo battles with Wang. So we talked about varying and changing the rhythms.”
Andreescu amused reporters in her media conference with candour and playfulness. When a journalist asked her if she could keep the current hot streak going (a 25-3 record since the beginning of the year), she responded, “that would be nice. Obviously I don’t think it’s going to be all butterflies and rainbows every day. But it has been so far – just gonna take it one day at a time.”
She also talked about doing ‘creative visualization meditation,’ which her mother introduced her to at age 12, as well as superstitions. When she was questioned about any she might have, she said, “I’m not that superstitious. The only thing that I do is I like to use the same dampener the whole time – which is the Canadian flag.
“I take a sip of water. I take a bite of food – doesn’t matter what food. And then my sports drink. And then I sniff that little thing, which I’m not going to go into detail about – my little secret.”
Andreescu’s winning four rounds in Indian Wells has resulted in a WTA ranking which should be in the Top 50 at about no. 48 as of next Monday.
“One year ago, when we started in Japan she was about no. 225,” Bruneau said. “So it’s terrific progress in one year – really good.”
Andreescu is not a glass half-full kind of young woman – she’s more like 90 per cent full. “If I can continue doing this, then I think I can do really great things,” she said. “In this sport, in life, I think anything is doable.”
What may or may not be doable is beating Garbine Muguruza in the quarter-finals, with her match scheduled not before 1 p.m. (4 p.m. ET in Canada) on Wednesday in Stadium 1. “I’m playing Muguruza tomorrow (Wednesday),” Andreescu said, “I’ve watched her play many times on TV so it’s just crazy to think I’ll be competing against her.”
The two-time Grand Slam champion (’16 French Open and ’17 Wimbledon), is currently ranked no. 20 and seems to be reinvigorated as of late, after dropping from no. 2 to no. 18 in 2018.
“She’s a hard hitter,” Andreescu said about the 25-year-old Spaniard. “She likes to use her serve to control the point. She fights really hard. She moves really well. So she has the whole package.”
That ‘whole package’ might also be applied to Andreescu, who certainly is not lacking in the area of shot-making skills.
“I saw her play,” Muguruza said about Andreescu. “I think she’s playing very well since the start of this year. I don’t know a lot about her. I think she’s not around for a long time, so she’s starting to play better and better.”
Needless to say, allowances made for the appropriate deference, Andreescu believes in herself. “I’m going to go out there and play my game,” she said. “I think I can win tomorrow but I think it’s going to be a tough match.”
Milos Raonic is the third Canadian in action Wednesday – playing no. 55 ranked Jan-Lennard Struff, the second match on Stadium 2.
Andreescu is close with the other Canadians, particularly fellow teenagers Félix Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov. Before her media conference on Tuesday, she watched the ‘Shapo rap’ following her 19-year-old compatriot’s win over Cilic. “It really put a smile on my face, that’s for sure,” she said about Shapovalov rapping. “It brings entertainment to the game. He’s really good. I don’t think he’s gonna stop. That’s his thing. I’m happy for him.”
Gabriela Dabrowski and her Chinese partner Xu Yifan advanced to the women’s doubles semi-finals with a 6-3, 6-2 win on Tuesday over Darija Jurak of Croatia and Raluca Olaru of Romania.
While the score seems one-sided, the fifth seeds did need to win four games in a row to finish off the first set after trailing 3-2. They saved all three break points they faced in the 57-minute match.
They will play the winners of the quarter-final match that has Kaitlin Christian and Asia Muhammad of the U.S. facing Elise Mertens of Belgium and Aryna Sabalenka of Ukraine.
The doubles championship match will be on Saturday.
This is one of the more exclusive golf courses in the Coachella Valley. That bag by itself is actually fitted with a remote control and automatically follows the player around the course ‘caddie-like.’
FEATURE PHOTO: Mauricio Paiz