A year ago, a young Naomi Osaka came thundering through draw, hitting without fear and creating points without nerves to blow away Daria Kasatkina. That was her launch pad. It was her first trophy yet within 10 months, she had won two Grand Slam titles and taken over at the top of the rankings.
Lightning strikes again in Indian Wells
So lightning does, indeed, strike twice, particularly out in the Californian desert.
This time around, and 18-year-old Bianca Andreescu stepped into the glare of the spotlight and, without blinking, took Angelique Kerber apart 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 to win $1.3million. Given a wild card to get into the main draw, she started the tournament as the world No.60 but when she wakes up on Monday morning, the rankings computer will have bumped her up to around the No.24 mark.
Like Osaka, Andreescu hits the ball with venom and power; she pastes the lines, she takes her courage in both hands and plays the unexpected and the outrageous shot – and she lands it. And like Osaka, she is able to remove herself from the tension and pressure of the moment and just focus on the point ahead of her.
"Truly a Cinderella story"
If Osaka was the prototype, Andreescu looks like the production model. And, let’s face it, the prototype did not do too badly. The future for the young Canadian looks as bright as that Californian sun.
“It's been a crazy ride,” the new champion said. “Truly a Cinderella story. Naomi did this last year. And now to be able to have my name in front of so many amazing champions – it means the world to me.”
The two champions even have matching idiosyncrasies when it comes to taking the microphone. Osaka is shyer – although very funny and refreshingly honest – but she has her own style. So does Andreescu.
Standing in front of the huge glass trophy (the trophy she tried to lift but failed miserably; “It's, like, like 40 pounds,” she said. “Thank God I didn't drop it during the ceremony. That would have been a story to remember.”), she thanked the whole of Canada personally for supporting her and Tennis Canada for helping her since was 10 years old.
She then said something in Romanian to the fans sitting in the bleachers – her parents are from Romania and she lived there for a few years before coming back to Canada –and then wrapped it all up. “OK, I think I’m done!” Not a hint of a nerve, not a sign of stage fright. Bianca has it all.
She came racing off the blocks to break Kerber in the opening game and never looked back for the rest of the set. It was not that the former world No.1 was not trying; it is just that when Andreescu hits a winner, it goes like a bullet and stays hit. Apart, of course, from the audacious drop shots she used to keep Kerber guessing.
Having pushed her more experienced foe further and further back with the sheer power of her ground strokes, she could change the rhythm with the most delicate of drop shots, some of which barely made it over the net, the ball clinging to the net cord for dear life before staggering over and securing the point.
Calling for her coach
Even when the second set escaped her – Kerber managed to pull rank by breaking for 3-1 and then hanging on to the her lead – she did not panic. And when she started to feel sore and tired at the start of the third set, she still held firm.
At 2-1 down, she called for the trainer to massage her racket arm. Her shoulder had been tight all week and now, as she was running out of fuel, it needed help. Back in action, she dropped serve and then called for her coach. As Sylvian Bruneau gave her tactical advice, she turned to him and said “I want this!”. And then she got up, broke Kerber twice in a row and even though she was cramping, she manged to find the will and the power to close out the win.
“A year ago, during this period, I had been struggling a lot with my tennis and with my body, too,” Andreescu said. “So it's crazy what a year can do. I was playing 25Ks in Japan, and now I'm the -- can I say the F-word? No, I can't. Now, I’m the effing champion of Indian Wells. It's crazy. Crazy is the word of the tournament for me. Just crazy.”
Crazy may be, but not unheard of. Lightning had struck the Indian Wells Tennis Garden again.