Eighteen-year-old Bianca Andreescu started out the 2019 season at 152nd in the world. At Indian Wells, as big a tournament as exists outside the majors, she came in as a wild card. Like so many promising young players, she was granted entry to a huge event she wouldn’t have qualified with just her ranking.
Admission alone was its own thrill. But after seven wins, which included upsets of the No. 32, 18, 20, 6, and 8 seeds, Andreescu left the desert with $1.3 million and the towering glassy trophy—something no wild card had ever done. She also became the youngest woman to win Indian Wells, or any tournament of this tier, since a 17-year-old Serena Williams won the same in 1999. It’s pretty wild.
After starting the calendar year well outside the top 100, Andreescu has gone 26-3 and leapt to No. 24 in the world, enjoying the hottest start of any player on either tour. Her victory on Sunday was the third final she’s played this year. Although she’s playing more tour-level matches than ever before, and playing tougher opponents than ever before—even with a right arm mummified in physio tape—somehow it all worked out for her. Here’s a baffling stat for any teenager just kicking off a career: Andreescu has beaten all three top-10 opponents she’s faced to date. Against the top 20, she’s still a cool 6-2.
After dropping her first set at Indian Wells, Andreescu would not drop another through her next four rounds, which included a 6-0, 6-1 quarterfinal massacre of two-time major champion Garbiñe Muguruza. She was finally tested in the semifinal and final rounds, where she ground out a pair of three-set upsets against top-10 players Elina Svitolina and Angelique Kerber. Those matches had their patches of inconsistency and lapsed focus, not surprising for a young player getting acclimated to the thinner air this high up in the sport, but there were even more passages of highly auspicious, creative play.
One point from the final set of the tournament stuck out as a concise summation of her talent:
Andreescu crushes a return of serve to immediately get Kerber scrambling; she sends two yawning, annoying moon balls into two corners; she uses a drop shot to drag Kerber into a third corner still; and it’s all finished off with a well-weighted lob. That’s about every skill that can be managed with a tennis racket, spun into a single point: variations in pace, spin, placement, all held together by good feet and court coverage. A tennis player doesn’t necessarily need to have huge variety at their disposal to enter the elite—sometimes all you need is a hammer, so long as it’s a good one—but it definitely makes them much less predictable to an opponent, and much more compelling to a viewer. Everyone wins, not least Andreescu.
Down a break to Kerber in the deciding set of the final, Andreescu managed to break serve three times, taking four of the last five games. Kerber, the defending Wimbledon champ, patrols the court on tireless cyborg legs, beating back the consistent balls that make her the most adept defender on the women’s tour. Andreescu, though, had all the necessary weapons to break the wall and steal one of the season’s biggest titles. Startling breakouts are not so uncommon on the tour. An unseeded Jelena Ostapenko, just two days past her 20th birthday, rampaged through the French Open in 2017 and has yet to claim any hardware in the seasons since. An unseeded Naomi Osaka won Indian Wells in 2018, and, of course, backed that up with twin majors. Whichever path Andreescu takes, with so few gaps in her game and so many options in every stroke, it’s sure to be a fun show.