It was hard to keep track of the flood of courageous shots Bianca Andreescu hit under pressure in her 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 semi-final victory over world No. 6 Elina Svitolina on Friday night at the BNP Paribas Open.
And none was more audacious or craftily struck than the second to last point of the match when she froze Svitolina dead in her tracks with a gorgeous forehand drop shot winner. A point later, after two hours and 12 minutes of racquet to racquet combat, Svitolina misfired with a forehand into the net – and momentarily a joyful Andreescu could only crouch on the court in amazement.
It was her fourth match point and previous three had escaped on her backhand down-the-line just centimeters wide, an aggressive inside/in forehand by Svitolina that barely caught the sideline as a failed Andreescu Hawk-Eye challenge revealed and her own hooked forehand unforced error wide. Below Andreescu is overcome in her courtside chair shortly after winning.
If you’re a tennis purist, the match ended the way it should have because fortune should favour the brave and Andreescu was easily the player more willing to go for her shots throughout the match. The final shot may have been a Svitolina forehand unforced error but Andreescu’s relentless ground attack had to be a factor in that ultimate miscue.
It always seems a little strange when the winner of a match like Andreescu has stats that read 36 winners and 57 unforced errors (Svitolina was 14/29), but that high total of unforced errors shows who was carrying the play – and it certainly wasn’t Svitolina.
Andreescu started poorly, obviously a little nervous, and Svitolina jumped to a 3-0 first-set lead before a stretch of brilliant aggressive play by Andreescu allowed her to roar back and win seven games in a row to lead 1-0 in the second set.
There was a sense Svitolina early on was thinking something like: “This kid isn’t so good, she’s finally come down to earth,” only to be totally unprepared for the sudden Andreescu onslaught. Then, after winning the first game of the second set, Andreescu had her turn to lose several (four) games in a row. The commentators on WTATV.com suggested Andreescu had an “adrenaline dump’ after such a fervour of games to finish off the first set and begin the second.
In the third set, Andreescu reassumed her dominant play and, though Svitolina caught up to 3-all from 3-1 down, Andreescu persevered with her aggressive hitting. She angled her signature cross-court backhand with mechanical precision and power, and belted her forehand deep, wide and down-the-line to keep the Svitolina, a terrific retriever, on the defensive and on the run.
During the change-over at 4-3 for Andreescu, Svitolina’s coach Andrew Bettles came out and said to the 24-year-old Ukrainian: “You have to be aggressive, you have to go for your shots, she’s dying physically.” At the same time Sylvain Bruneau was out talking to Andreescu and emphasizing: “You’re moving great and staying in these tough rallies. Keep that positive mindset.”
Andreescu may have been a little weary and felt down her left leg in the fourth game of the final set as if there was something bothering her, but she certainly wasn’t “dying physically.” She remained faithful to her free-flowing uber-hitting right until the final ball.
When asked post-match on court about her habit of meditating and whether she had visualized herself winning, Andreescu replied: “Yeah I visualized myself after the match winning. So I guess that obviously helped. Today I just believed in myself playing against these top players. I’ve watched them play so many times on TV so it’s really incredible to play against them… and win.” That last little hesitation about before saying “win” made the guileless Andreescu laugh at herself and the crowd got a big kick out of it as well.
When offered a chance to thank people who had helped her, she mentioned coach Bruneau, his assistant Isade Juneau and fitness coach Nicolas Perrotte – as well as her parents Maria and Nicu who were en route from Toronto to Miami for next week’s Miami Open and watched their daughter’s match via wifi on the plane. Then there were a number of others noted including fellow-Canadian players.
Andresscu (above eating a date during a change-over) said she was still shaking as she started her media conference following her post-match routine which included a 20-minute ice bath. She declared: “I’m speechless, I’m speechless.”
But true to form she was soon able to converse and said about the semi-final: “This match had a little bit of up and downs. I started a bit slow and then I picked it up after 3-love… Thank God! Svitolina took control of the second set. I started missing more. Then in the third set I kept my composure, at least tried to. I pumped myself up.
“Like I always say, I went for my shots. I think a crucial game was when I was down 40-love on my serve (leading 4-3). I was really, really happy I got that game. Then again at 5-4, I was down 40-15, as well. There were so many emotions going through my head.
“I had like four or five match points. So it was a crazy match. It was a roller coaster. I’m really happy I pulled through.”
There was an issue with some cramping in her left leg and she later explained: “I think the cramping was because I was so stressed out with everything. But I have had many moments like this in the past, playing challenger events, juniors. So I had a good feel of how to deal with it – breathing really helps for me. So I took a lot of deep breaths and I tried not to get mad at myself. It really worked.”
Looking back at her progress through the tournament, Andreescu recalled her first-round match against Irina-Camilia Begu, a 6-7(3), 6-3 6-3 win. “I came back in that first set (from 0-4),” she recalled. “It gave me confidence. And then I started off well in the second set. I ended up winning that match. But I really didn’t think I was going to.
“And physically actually my back was hurting a bit that match too. So I was really, really lucky it held.”
Svitolina spoke about a (taped) right knee issue she had during the match, saying: “Today it was… I mean we could see I didn’t move so well. I couldn’t allow myself to play 100 per cent because my movement was not there.” To the tennis layman there was little evidence of restricted movement and she had taken anti-inflammatories before the match.
She did praise Andreescu, saying: “She definitely can be the top of the women’s tennis and be one of the top players. Of course she will need to play lots of tournaments, lots of matches. But at the moment she’s a really, really good player.”
Andreescu will now face No. 8-ranked Angelique Kerber, a 6-4, 6-2 winner over Belinda Bencic on Friday night, in Sunday’s final.
Her semi-final win will move her ranking up to No. 33 and she would be about No. 24 if she was able to win the tournament.
It’s interesting to note Andreescu has won 1,228 of her current 1,563 ranking points since the beginning of 2019. That’s in two and a half months. If one projects she could win twice that amount – 3,684 – in the remaining seven months of the season, her 2018 year-end ranking would be about No. 9.
And no question she’s currently playing like a top-10 player.
Only Serena Williams (2015) and Martina Hingis (2006) have ever made the Indian Wells semi-finals as a wild card. Andreescu now becomes the first wild card to reach the final.
“I did not know that,” she answered when she was asked for her thoughts. “Thoughts? So many thoughts.
“Another goal of mine was to make history and I just did.” Smiling she added: “It’s incredible.”
Earlier on Friday, the 18-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., showed that she had a social conscience when she tweeted about the horrible deaths at mosques in New Zealand.
— Bianca V. Andreescu (Bibi) (@Bandreescu_) March 15, 2019
Milos Raonic plays Dominic Thiem on Saturday at 11 a.m. (2 p.m. ET in Canada) in the semi-finals of the men’s BNP Paribas Open.
He will bid for a fourth Masters 1000 final after being runner-up at the 2013 Rogers Cup (Rafael Nadal), the 2014 Paris Indoor (Novak Djokovic) and the 2016 Indian wells (Djokovic). Thiem will aim for his third Masters 1000 final, but his first on hard court unlike his previous two finals on clay at the Madrid Masters where he lost to Nadal in 2017 and to Sascha Zverev in 2018.
The head-to-head is 2-0 in Raonic’s favour – see below:
2016: ATP FINALS RR – Raonic 7-6(5), 6-3
2016: CINCINNATI SF – Raonic 6-3, 6-4.
The other good omen for Raonic is that he is a superior hard-court player – his life-time record on the surface is 222-96 while Thiem is 99-80.
“I think the conditions are good for me, especially when the sun’s out the court heats up a little bit,” Raonic said regarding the arid air in the California desert. “There’s a good amount of jump on the court. This year it’s a little bit slower than the previous years but it allows me to take a few more swipes at a few more shots, and I can do different things with my serve that I need to get ahead in the point.”
About facing the 25-year-old, No. 5-ranked Austrian, runner-up to Nadal on clay at Roland Garros last year, Raonic said: “With Dominic you can’t give him too much time. He can do a lot of good things, get ahead in the point, and start to run you around a lot if he has time to get into a point and work it.”
A runner-up at Wimbledon in 2016, Raonic was asked about what winning the Indian Wells title would mean for him. “It would be there I believe parallel to the Wimbledon final,” he said. “If not higher just because it’s going through a week among the best players in the world without sort of ending with a loss.
“It’s not easy to do, especially not the ones at the beginning of the year, these two (Indian Wells and Miami) because guys have a lot of time. Nobody is really rushing here. Guys can bring their best tennis because it’s an extended tournament. So it’s tough to do it here.”
Because he was a semi-finalist a year ago, No. 14-ranked Raonic could only move up to No. 12 if he captures the title against the winner of Saturday’s second semi-final between Nadal, if his iffy right knee allows him to play, and five-time champion Roger Federer.
The clouds often mix with the mountains surrounding Indian Wells and the other cities in the Coachella Valley. There are also a vast number of windmills for power generation – and it’s possible to appreciate just how many by looking to the left and right in the distance at the bottom of the picture here.
Feature Photo: Jared Wickerham/BNP Paribas Open