Canadian teenager Bianca Andreescu stunned three-times Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber 6-4 3-6 6-4 to win the BNP Paribas Open and capture her first career title in Indian Wells on Sunday.
Andreescu used creative and aggressive shot-making to defeat the German despite suffering with a troublesome right shoulder and leg cramps on a hot and sunny day in the Southern California desert.
The 18-year-old dropped her racket and fell on her back when Kerber hit a backhand into the net on match point to deliver the tournament wildcard the victory.
“It wasn’t an easy match. It was one of the toughest matches I’ve ever played,” she said in an on-court interview. “It’s so incredible.”
Andreescu would love to follow in the footsteps of world number one Naomi Osaka of Japan, who won the tournament last year before claiming the U.S. and Australian Open titles.
“The next is a Grand Slam. Let’s see where this can take me,” said the unseeded teenager who is ranked 60th in the world but will rise to 24th on Monday.
“Naomi did this last year. Now to have my name in front of so many champions it means the world to me.”
Andreescu played fearlessly at the outset, breaking the former world number one in the opening game of the match and taking the first set.
The eighth seed battled back to claim the second and looked like she would cruise to the finish line when she broke to go up 3-2 in the third after Andreescu needed a medical time out to have her heavily taped right shoulder worked on by a trainer.
Momentum swung in Andreescu’s direction when she broke back to level the set at 3-3 and held serve to love in the next game.
Nerves appeared to get to Andreescu near the end, when Kerber saved three match points behind some stout defence.
But Andreescu broke the German in the next game to claim the title and become the youngest woman to win at Indian Wells since 17-year-old Serena Williams in 1999.
Defeats Angelique Kerber 6-4, 3-6, 6-4! pic.twitter.com/ke5gA9Xvup
— WTA (@WTA) 17 March 2019
“Hopefully this moment can be a great inspiration for many young athletes,” she said.
“If you believe in yourself anything is possible. This moment has become a reality so it’s really, really crazy.”
Andreescu a champion in her mind and on the court
Andreescu pictured herself as BNP Paribas Open champion so many times during the tournament that actually winning it should have come as no great surprise but the Canadian wildcard was still stunned by Sunday’s victory over Angelique Kerber.
The 18-year-old, who relies heavily on meditation and visualisation techniques to get her mental game in shape, had to dig deep against three-times Grand Slam champion Kerber and found another gear late on to claim the 6-4 3-6 6-4 win.
She said she had visualized winning the tournament prior to the match, where the unseeded wildcard won her first career title despite playing with an injured right shoulder and cramp.
“I did (visualise the victory). Not only this morning but so many times,” she told reporters at a news conference.
“It’s crazy to think that it became a reality today.”
She said the key to the match came during a visit with her coach when she was trailing 3-2 in the third set.
“After I spoke to my coach I just let it all out there,” she said.
“At that point I was really tired, so I went for my shots more, and that obviously worked. The next couple of games I did the same thing.
“And I just fought till the end, because physically I wasn’t feeling too well.”
Not being 100 percent fit is nothing new for Andreescu.
She missed six months in 2016 with stress fractures in her foot and was sidelined last year with back problems.
“A year ago, during this period, I had been struggling a lot with my tennis and with my body too. So it’s crazy what a year can do,” she added.
She said she tries to stay positive when dealing with injury setbacks like the foot fractures, which required her to practice hitting on the court while wheeling around in an office chair.
Those sessions helped her develop her drop shot, which she used to great effect in Sunday’s final.
“I don’t necessarily think that being injured is a bad thing,” she said.
“I try to take it in a positive way and just find different things about me that might work later on.”
She said she hoped the Indian Wells title would do for her what it did for Naomi Osaka last year. The 21-year-old Japanese followed up her win in the desert with titles at the U.S. and Australian Opens to achieve the world number one ranking.
But for now, she said she was happy to simply stay in the moment.
“It’s definitely inspiration seeing her claim the trophy last year and winning two Grand Slams right after,” she said.
“But I don’t really want to focus on the future right now. I just want to enjoy this moment, because I don’t want to take anything for granted.
“You never know what next week brings.”