INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — In 2011, a bright eyed, lanky 20-year-old from Thornhill, Ont., burst onto the tennis scene. Milos Raonic started the year ranked 156 in the world and following a fourth round appearance at the Australian Open and his first career ATP title in San Jose, he rose to No. 37 by the end of February. He put Canadian singles on the map.
Bianca Andreescu was just 10-years-old at the time. Her family had recently moved back to Canada after spending two-and-a-half years in Romania, the country her parents Maria and Nicu had originally immigrated from in 1994. Their hope was to start a new and better life for their family in Canada. What they couldn’t have imagined is what happened next.
As Andreescu began training at Tennis Canada’s Regional Training Centre in Toronto and then the National Training Centre in Montreal, she watched from afar as Rebecca Marino, Vasek Pospisil, Genie Bouchard, and most recently, Denis Shapovalov burst onto the scene.
But when would it be Andreescu’s turn?
The answer, is now.
Similar to Raonic’s breakthrough eight years ago, Andreescu, now 18, began the 2019 season ranked 152nd in the world. Her goal was to crack the top 100 by year’s end. After her Indian Wells title, she’s now ranked a career high 24th.
Her year began in Auckland, where she beat Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams en route to her first WTA Final.
"She didn’t play like she was outside the top 100," Williams said after their match. "I thought she played a great match… there was no ball that seemed [to] go out, even the floaters landed on the line. She played even better against Caroline."
Andreescu then qualified for the Australian Open and notched her first main draw win, reaching the second round. She went on to win her first WTA title in Newport, won both her matches for Canada’s Fed Cup team in a win over the Netherlands, reached the semifinals in Acapulco and for her efforts, was awarded a wild card to Indian Wells.
After upsetting the likes of Dominika Cibulkova, Garbine Muguruza and Elina Svitolina in the California desert, she became the first wild card to win the title.
"I have watched all these players play on TV so many times," Andreescu said after her championship win. "It’s surreal to be able to play against them in front of amazing crowds at such prestigious tournaments. It’s beyond crazy."
According to her coach and former Canadian Fed Cup Captain Sylvain Bruneau, Andreescu has been building up to this moment.
"I think it started in 2018," Bruneau said. "She got injured in the summer, [so upon her return] we went to play some smaller tournaments that were under the radar in the States. She won 18 out of 21 matches, won two titles [in Florence, S.C. and Norman, Okla.]. It started to grow there, that confidence."
"A year ago, I had been struggling a lot with my tennis and with my body," Andreescu added. "So it’s crazy what a year can do… [and] now I’m the – can I say the F word? No, I can’t."
"[I’m] the f-ing champion of Indian Wells," she said, beaming with pride. "It’s crazy. Crazy is the word of the tournament for me."
Crazy? That’s one way of putting it. Another, is unexpected. But watching her play makes sense of it all.
"[There are] a lot of tools in her toolbox," Bruneau explained. "Her ability to change up the pace, to play higher, lower, faster, slower angles is much different than most of the girls. It’s an asset she’s getting much better at."
The drop shots, the slice, the powerful forehands. It makes for a winning and fun to watch formula, ironically created out of boredom.
"Ever since I was little, I was changing the pace," Andreescu said. "I think I was just getting bored on the court so I was trying anything. It’s been working ever since. I’ve been practicing it and it’s obviously throwing off a lot of players."
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But now, as a top 25 player, she’s no longer the underdog. Everyone knows who she is.
More than two hours after she won the title, Andreescu made her way from reporter to reporter, reflecting on her win, her year, her career.
"Are we done yet?" she asks the WTA press rep. The answer is no.
"I guess I’ll need to get used to this," Andreescu says with a smile. "I’m overwhelmed."
And so too were her parents, Maria and Nicu, who were watching on TV from Miami. She Facetimed them right when she got off the court.
"They’re always the first people I call," Andreescu laughs. "This call wasn’t really a conversation. We were just looking at each other for 10 minutes, not saying a word because we just couldn’t believe it."
Andreescu’s hope was to one day reach a level where she’d be in the financial position to have her parents travel the tour with her more often. After a $1.3 million dollar champions pay cheque, she’s in a position to do that; to give back and say thank you to her mom and dad who moved to Canada all those years ago so that she could have a better life.