Wednesday, March 6, 2019 - Bianca Andreescu plays Irina-Camelia Begu in the 2nd round of qualifying during the BNP Paribas Open in at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California. (Michael Cummo/BNP Paribas Open)
It all comes down to this.
Canadian wild card Bianca Andreescu made history at the BNP Paribas Open by becoming the first wild card in tournament history to reach the women’s final – but her job here isn’t done yet.
Standing in the way of a perfect finish to the 18-year-old Canadian’s dream week is ostensibly her hardest opponent yet. Reigning Wimbledon champion and former world No. 1 Angelique Kerber, seeded 8th this year in Tennis Paradise, is one of the game’s fiercest competitors, whose tenacity – and world-class lefty forehand – have seen her lift tennis’ most prestigious prizes.
Nevertheless, like Andreescu, this will be Kerber’s first final at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. In fact, it will be her first final at the Premier Mandatory level ever. Despite having three of the ITF’s Grand Slams to her name (she’s just one Roland Garros title away from completing the Grand Slam sweep), she’s yet to win a WTA title of this caliber.
“When you have not the best results you are thinking about this, that you played so well in the last few years… and you are always trying to coming back stronger, but you have always the up-and-downs,” explained Kerber on the difficulty of backing up Grand Slam success with tour-level results. “You cannot be on top the whole year playing the best tennis.
“But I’m always trying to finding a way to play as good as I can on [the] day,” she added. “Of course I’m looking back on these days where I beat all the players, and I have been the No. 1 player in the world, winning Grand Slams. So it’s always in my mind, which will be forever, I think.”
With the pressure firmly on Kerber’s shoulders, Andreescu finds herself in a familiar and comfortable position this week. She’s been the underdog against all five of her previous opponents, but as a result has been able to summon combination of mental clarity and tennis ferocity on court that has catalyzed a string of impressive wins. Most noteworthy was the Canadian’s 6-0, 6-1 demolition of two-time Slam champ Garbiñe Muguruza in the quarterfinals, followed up by a gutsy upset of No. 6 seed Elina Svitolina, saving nine of 10 break points in the final set before serving out the biggest match of her career.
At least, it was the biggest match of her career.
Andreescu has everything to gain and nothing to lose in Sunday’s final. The upward momentum of her past two months is primed to reach its zenith if she can seize the moment against Kerber. Deft drop shots, blistering angled backhands and heavy forehands down the line have helped the young Canuck construct some of the points of the tournament. Kerber herself isn’t unfamiliar with a hitting hot shots though, and will hope to muster her defensive best in the final; hitting screaming forehand passing shot or two is always certain to spark the world No. 8’s efficient German engine into its top gear.
Billie Jean King once said pressure is a privilege, and Kerber will have to put that adage to the test as her immovable object meets Andreescu’s seemingly unstoppable force.
In the final match of the women’s singles tournament, only one can leave with the trophy. Ready? Play.