|||||Photo: Mauricio Paiz||||||Photo: Mauricio Paiz
The score was 6-0, 6-1 and, as brutal as loser Garbine Muguruza was, Bianca Andreescu was brilliant.
The 18-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., started the match playing in perfect tennis pitch and her 25-year-old Spanish opponent was horribly off key – making 10 unforced errors in the first four games and not hitting a winner until the fifth game.
Andreescu never let up, pouring it on, whether it was with craftily-guided winners that Muguruza didn’t read or anticipate, deft drop shots that left her opponent flat-footed or just a constant barrage of ground strokes that broke down the Spaniard’s game and her will.
The first set was a 23-minute wipe-out and, as it turns out, Muguruza really only had one shot at reversing the flow (despite on-court coaching pep talks from Sam Sumyk). Serving down 1-0 in the second set, Muguruza led 40-love only to have Andreescu run off five points in a row and then hold serve to 3-0 – or as tennis Channel commentators said at the time about the score: “Nine-zero.”
The whole match lasted only 52 minutes in Stadium 1 and soon Andreescu was on-court doing her interview.
“Today I played one of the best matches I’ve ever played,” she said in the first flush of victory. “I think it all comes down to good days and bad days and today I just had a really good day.”
Later she would get into specifics of a performance that featured 14 winners and 12 unforced errors compared to Muguruza’s woeful 25 unforced errors and just four winners.
“I just stuck to my tactics, which was to put pressure on her forehand, move her around and change the rhythm like I always do… Play my game,” Andreescu said.
That game was way too much for Muguruza, who didn’t have much to say in her media conference except to suggest about Andreescu: “She looked very fresh and very confident.
“I think today my level wasn’t as good as the previous days (wins over Serena Williams – 6-3, 1-0 ret. – and Kiki Bertens – 5-7, 6-1, 6-4). I struggled to find a way to turn things around because she was keeping her high level all the time.”
Andreescu is now 26-3 on the year and semi-miraculously in the first 11 weeks has improved her ranking from a 2018 year-end No. 152 to what will be no worse than about No. 37 when the new WTA rankings come out next week.
That’s something for a player who in January in Australia was saying that all she hoped for was to get her ranking up high enough to get into the qualifying for the French Open in May. Now she has a real shot at being among the 32 seeds at Roland Garros.
“We’ve seen her coming for a little while,” said Serena Williams’ coach Patrick Mouratoglou about Andreescu. “She has moved up the rankings very, very fast, which is a very important sign. The players that move up the fastest are usually the ones that go the highest – speed rising up the rankings is an essential element. She has a game that’s complete and you sense that she really feels the ball well. She’s aggressive and today she was in a perfect headspace – the young one who had nothing to lose and played completely freely which allowed her to play very inspired, super tennis.”
Her coach, former Canadian Fed Cup captain Sylvain Bruneau from Montreal, noted about his player: “What differentiates Bianca from other players is that she can hit really hard but she can also vary her game. She can hit balls that really kick up – for girls who want to hit hard and take the ball early it’s not easy to manage that kind of ball. So she has lots of tools but it’s certainly her amazing hands that mean she can really generate excellent ball-speed. It’s one of the factors why she’s had such good results.”
Describing her own maturation, Andreescu said: “In the past I felt like I was over-thinking a lot of things during a match. (Now) I keep key words in my head usually. One day during – I think it was a Challenger in Granby (Que.) – I just told myself ‘okay let’s try not to say anything during the match to myself’. That really worked. I just stayed focused on my tactics. That’s what I’ve been doing.”
She provided an example which has her thinking during matches: “‘Catch and stroke’ because sometimes I tend to have a big swing on the returns. And ladies are serving really fast. I just try to keep it (the return) compact.”
Andreescu wasn’t the only Canadian to win on the day as Milos Raonic defeated Jan-Lennard Struff 6-4, 6-2. The victory avenged a 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 loss to the No. 55-ranked German in the opening round in Dubai three weeks ago. “My attitude wasn’t that good last time I played him,” Raonic said. “There were a few moments and lapses in concentration. He was the one that was dictating most of the time. I didn’t get the chance to sort of incorporate my game.”
On Wednesday in Stadium 2 he ‘incorporated’ his game in ruthlessly efficient (74 minutes) style – 27 winners and 21 unforced errors and going 2/5 in break point chances while Struff was 16 and 24 and 0/3 on break points.
Raonic is now three for three with new coach Fabrice Santoro (above on right in friends’ seats on Wednesday) and said about the 46-year-old Frenchman: “He’s very meticulous. Throughout practice he knows exactly pretty much what he wants to achieve each minute. I always need to be challenged throughout a practice.”
About preparing for opponents, Raonic added: “We both take the time, sit down together, we watch matches. We watch a few things that we pick up and we have that discussion before we go out on the court.”
He will next be on the court – Stadium 1 – at 1 p.m. on Thursday against lucky loser Miomir Kecmanovic, who replaced injured Kevin Anderson in the draw and has beaten Maximillan Marterer, Laslo Djere and Yoshihito Nishioka (6-4, 0-0 ret [back] on Wednesday) to reach the quarter-finals. Raonic defeated the No. 130-ranked Serb 6-3, 7-6(2) in the second round in Brisbane in January.
“It’s going to be important that I can sort of try to take away his rhythm and give him a few different looks,” Raonic said about the 19-year-old from Belgrade, who was the 2016 ITF World Junior champion without winning a Grand Slam title the same year Shapovalov won the Wimbledon juniors and Félix Auger-Aliassime captured the US Open junior title.
The draw has opened up on the Raonic (after his match above) top half and, if successful against Kecmanovic on Thursday, he will play the winner of No. 7 seed Dominic Thiem vs. No. 18 Gael Monfils in Saturday’s semi-finals.
Denis Shapovalov was the unfortunate Canadian on Wednesday, losing 7-6(3), 2-6, 6-3 to No. 67-ranked Hubert Hurkacz. After losing the second set, the 22-year-old Pole took an extended bathroom break and then proceeded to break Shapovalov in the opening game of the third set. He also broke in the final game of the set – but by then Shapovalov was a pretty unhappy camper.
With Hurkacz serving up 4-3, Shapovalov had a break point but missed long with a backhand. It was just that kind of day for the 19-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont.
“I played a little bit tight, a little bit stupid,” said the No. 25-ranked Shapovalov. “(I) just wasn’t able to convert when I wanted to. I did everything I could. I fought every point. I’m happy I almost turned the match around – but it’s tough to win with a C game.”
Hurkacz is 6-foot-5 but he moved well and prevailed in just enough of the big-time, up-tempo rallies to win the match and advance to the quarter-finals. It is only the Wroclaw native’s third Masters 1000 event and the first time he has won a match (now four) at the highest ATP level.
“I was staying positive,” Hurkacz said about the match. “I was fighting for every ball. I think in the first set I started to play a little bit more aggressive, that was crucial.”
It’s a tough defeat for Shapovalov because he lost a chance to play Roger Federer in the quarter-finals.
“In the third set, he stepped on it when he saw me miss a couple of balls,” Shapovalov said about Hurkacz. “He made sure to make me play and stayed strong.”
It was a pretty even match with Shapovalov’s winners to unforced errors being 29/34 while Hurkacz was 15/30.
So it’s on to Miami for Shapovalov, who crossed paths with Andreescu as he entered the media interview room.
“I congratulated her,” he said about his compatriot. “We started at the bottom (here Shapovalov seemed to smile referencing the Drake song) together. So it’s amazing to see her doing so well.
“She’s a great person as well. That always helps to have a couple more people on your side.”
Fans at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden have taken to the plucky Andreescu and she should be guaranteed solid support when she faces No. 6-seed Elina Svitolina in Friday’s semi-finals.
“She has a super personality,” said coach Bruneau about his player. “She’s playful and extroverted so communication is easy. I don’t really have to ask myself, ‘what’s she thinking?’ With some players it’s hard to know what they’re thinking and to read them. But she’s able to easily verbalize how she feels. We have a lot of fun outside the courts. Business is on the courts, training and preparation, but that’s not 24 hours a day. There are other times – we’ve been to the movies twice this week and we often do that at tournaments. When it’s time to be serious it’s game-face, and then there’s a time to relax.”
On Wednesday, Andreescu was relaxed and talkative with the all the grown-up reporters facing her in a fairly crowded interview room. She spoke about her meditation, giving some details. “I wake up every morning and first thing I do is meditate,” she said. “I think it really helps me get a jump-start on the day. Not opening my phone or anything, not getting too overwhelmed.”
She also expressed her feelings about the increased responsibilities and attention that now accompanies her higher profile in the tennis world. “It’s definitely a new experience,” she said about the change that includes multiple interview commitments. “I think it’s good for the fans to get a taste of how the players are – their persona on camera.”
“I’m just going to continue doing that,” she continued before mischievously adding: “It’s also mandatory – so I’ve got to do it.”
INDIAN WELLS POST CARD
The sagebrush in the picture here is basically what most of the Coachella Valley – with Palm Springs as its centrepiece – looked like before this vacation paradise was created using water diverted from the Colorado River and from underground aquifers. It’s an incredible transformation.