On paper, Monday’s third-round clash between defending BNP Paribas Open champion Iga Swiatek and 2019 champion Bianca Andreescu is a mouthwatering, two-tubs-of-buttery-popcorn clash.
Andreescu, the starlet who put the Indian Wells Tennis Garden under her magical spell during her wild card dream run to the title in 2019, is one of the most imaginative players in the women’s game, and is well equipped to challenge the cream of the crop.
That last statement comes with a caveat: as any watcher of women’s tennis knows, the cream of the crop in this case is playing at an almost unheard of level.
In reality, the onus will be on 36th-ranked Andreescu to significantly raise her level to match the runaway train known simply as Iga.
Can the Canadian do it? History says… maybe?
Andreescu took a shot at Swiatek’s crown last year in Rome, pushing the Pole in a tense first set before eventually falling 7-6(5), 6-0. The victory stretched Swiatek’s winning streak to 26 at the time, but it also gave Andreescu hope that she could challenge Swiatek, even on her beloved clay.
“She’s definitely setting a high precedent right now,” Andreescu said last spring when asked to comment on Swiatek’s rise. “For me at least it’s very motivating. I’m very impressed with how she’s doing.”
Andreescu isn’t the only one blown away by Swiatek’s rise. Ridiculously gifted in every facet, the three-time major champion has already had a Hall of Fame career – and she’s just 21!
Swiatek sent a message of intent loud and clear on Friday as she rummaged past American Claire Liu, 6-0, 6-1 to stretch her BNP Paribas Open winning streak to seven. The woman who steamed to the title last year while in the midst of a 37-match winning streak that included titles at Doha, Indian Wells, Miami, Stuttgart, Rome and Roland Garros, is very much the clear favorite against anyone she faces.
But don’t sleep on Andreescu. Four years ago, when she became the first teenager to win the Indian Wells women’s singles title since Serena Williams in 1999, she embedded herself into the fabric of this event. Though she has struggled with injuries and form in recent years, she returned to the Top 40 in February for the first time since November of 2021.
Back at the scene of the climb ⬆️
2019 Indian Wells champion @Bandreescu_ survives Stearns 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, setting up a third-round showdown with Swiatek!#TennisParadise pic.twitter.com/XeeVDRFPCU
— wta (@WTA) March 12, 2023
Back at Tennis Paradise and feeling the love from her legions of fans, Andreescu will be eager to stare down the biggest challenge in women’s tennis. She’ll no doubt be buoyed by her storied past at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, and take confidence from it.
That said, the numbers don’t paint the prettiest picture for Andreescu. She has never defeated a reigning World No.1 and, additionally, the Canadian hasn’t logged a Top 5 win since the summer of 2019. Meanwhile, Swiatek is 39-2 against players ranked 36 or lower since the start of 2022.
Andreescu was also shaky in her second-round victory over American wild card Peyton Stearns, winning 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 over the World No.126 in a match that saw the No.32 seed surrender five breaks of serve.
But numbers don’t win matches, talent does. And there’s no denying that peak Andreescu has the type of talent to ruffle the feathers of Swiatek. Yes, she’ll have to execute to perfection to do it; yes, she’ll need to summon the magic that guided her to the crown at Indian Wells in 2019.
As former champions, both Andreescu and Swiatek know what it takes to win in the California desert. Though she’ll be the underdog, Andreescu is in there with a fighting chance.