Andreescu’s coach hopes she’ll be ready to defend title at Indian Wells

Bianca Andreescu, of Canada, celebrates after winning a point against Angelique Kerber, of Germany, during the women's final at the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament Sunday, March 17, 2019, in Indian Wells, Calif. (Mark J. Terrill/AP)

Bianca Andreescu’s astronomical rise up the ranks of tennis began with her first WTA tournament victory at last year’s Indian Wells Masters.

And if she has it her way, she’ll be there to defend her title.

The 19-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., hasn’t been on court for a competitive match since she suffered a left knee injury and retired against Karolina Pliskova during the WTA Finals in China last October. But the reigning U.S. Open champion has been working in Barcelona under the supervision of her coach, Sylvain Bruneau, and Rafael Nadal’s doctor, Angel Ruiz-Cotorro, in hopes of returning for Indian Wells, which begins qualifying on March 9.

Bruneau told Sportsnet in a phone interview Tuesday that he and Andreescu are flying down to Palm Springs, Calif., on Friday to see if her knee is ready for the rigours of an extended tournament.

“Well it’s been a long road, a long recovery, but … it’s going well, especially recently, we’ve had some really good momentum and things are in, I would say, good shape,” Bruneau said.

“Now it’s not even two weeks away from the tournament, so we’re hoping she’ll be ready. She’s just going to start competing when she’s … ability- and health-wise, totally ready and we’re gonna take no risk. So we’re hoping it’s going to be good to go for Indian Wells, but we need a few more days.”

Bruneau said Andreescu has clearance from doctors — he declined to offer specifics, however the injury has been rumoured to be a torn meniscus — but whether she gets the OK to return depends on her ability to play without apprehension.

“(She needs) to be able to move full out with no restrictions, with no fear and totally trust that everything’s fine,” he said. “And if that’s there and if we’re able to prepare properly — which means do that before the tournament, not just that, ‘Oh, everything would be like this in the first round,’ but know that we have enough saved for the tournament where everything’s in place — that will give us the green light and I think we should know that by next Monday.”

This isn’t the first major health issue for the young Canadian, who is starting to develop a reputation for being injury prone early in her career.

Andreescu was forced off the court due to a shoulder injury in the fourth round at the Miami last March, bringing a halt to a 10-match win streak, in what was, at the time, a WTA Tour-high 35th match.

The subscapularis muscle tear in the rotator cuff of her right shoulder sidelined her for two months, before she came back prematurely at the French Open and was forced to retire in the second round.

But then she returned with vengeance, winning her hometown Rogers Cup and the U.S. Open en route to finishing the season ranked No. 4 in the world.

Known for her all-out hustle and aggression on the court, in combination with powerful strokes and a top-notch off-speed game, some commentators have wondered if she needs to take it down a notch to stay healthy.

But Bruneau said it’s more a matter of load management, rather than getting her to rein in her trademark competitiveness.

“I like the way she competes,” he said of Andreescu, who has also dealt with back and groin issues in the past. “I like her game. I think what we need to be careful with and be very vigilant with is the amount of matches, the load in training and be very wise and careful this way. But that’s the way she plays tennis. That’s the way she excels. And I think she needs to be herself. I think we just need to be careful with some other aspects as far as the number of tournaments, monitor her matches and the number of matches she plays, the time spends on court.

“And, I must say, probably her rise in women’s tennis was so fast that, for sure, I believe that at some point her game might have been a little bit ahead of her fitness level. And it catches up to you and she was not used to this intensity during the matches and the level (of play) and I think it caught up to her. So we’ve been working really, really hard to … make sure she’s physically very ready.”

While Andreescu and Bruneau have “incredible memories” at Indian Wells and it would “mean a lot” to have her return at the tournament, being at 100 per cent health takes precedence.

“It’s gonna be a tough decision,” Bruneau said. “If she ends up not playing, it’s not an easy situation. But I really want to stress the importance of trying to bring her back when she’s healthy and strong and ready, and not to take the chance of going there and playing matches and not being fully ready and then get another injury, because it’s a cycle.”

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