Two finals, two upsets in Indian Wells. Usually, Dominic Thiem beating Roger Federer in a thrilling three-set final, 3-6 6-3 7-5, for his first Masters 1000 title would unquestionably be the story of the tournament. This time, though, there was no doubting who the star of the show was in California.
18-year-old Bianca Andreescu won the women’s title in dramatic fashion, overcoming injury and exhaustion to beat eighth seed Angelique Kerber 6-4 3-6 6-4. She became the first ever wildcard to win the event and the youngest winner since Serena Williams in 1999.
And it was far from plain sailing in Sunday’s showpiece. After the first two sets were split, Andreescu looked down and out after being broken at 2-2 and telling her coach “I’m tired – I can barely move”. However, the Canadian came storming back and although she faltered when serving for the match at 5-3, Andreescu converted her fourth match point, breaking the German at 5-4 to cap off a surreal week.
“There were some ups and downs in some matches, obviously,” said Andreescu. “Tennis isn’t a perfect sport – this means everything to me. Crazy is the word of the tournament for me. Just crazy. If you believe in yourself, anything is possible.”
It is worth emphasising how impressive an achievement this is. Before the start of the year, the Canadian was not ranked inside the top 150 in the world. Now, after a week where she steamrolled through a host of well-established players, the highlight a 6-0 6-1 drubbing of two-time Grand Slam winner Garbiñe Muguruza, Andreescu has shot up to 24 after Monday’s new set of rankings.
Andreescu, who has Romanian parents, is the latest in a stream of young talent emerging from Canada. While Eugenie Bouchard has so far failed to fulfil her potential after her memorable run to the Wimbledon final in 2014, Denis Shapovalov and, more recently, Felix Auger-Aliassime, are among a crop of rising stars in the men’s game. Auger-Aliassime, who is also just 18-years-old, beat Stefanos Tsitsipas and Cameron Norrie in the desert, and he is currently the youngest player ranked inside the top 100, at 57.
So in some ways, the next generation seem to be making their move. Aside from Andreescu, two teenagers reached the quarter-finals in Indian Wells: Miomir Kecmanovic, 19, in the men’s, and Marketa Vondrousova, 19, in the women’s. Twenty-two-year-olds Belinda Bencic, Hubert Hurkacz and Karen Khachanov also reached the last eight.
In other ways, though, normal order was restored – or at least that seemed to be the case. The 39th meeting between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal was scuppered when the Spaniard withdrew due to a knee injury, which ostensibly paved the way for the Swiss to win his 101st title. Thiem, who flourishes on clay, had other ideas, though, as the finals day crowd were treated to another match of immense quality.
It’s a breakthrough moment for the 25-year-old. His 12th title, but his first at Masters 1000 level. Back up to his career high ranking of four, the Austrian has the game to challenge the very best, but has lacked consistency throughout the whole season. But with the clay court swing on the horizon and the biggest title of his career to date under his belt, a promising few months beckon for a player who’s been on the fringes in recent years.
It was a fantastic conclusion to a tournament which started controversially with the ousting of ATP president and chief executive Chris Kermode last week. The Brit did not receive the support of the three players’ representatives on the board, and will leave his post at the end of the year. It has divided the locker room, with head of the player council Novak Djokovic refusing to be drawn on which way he leans. More importantly, perhaps, it leaves a gaping hole at the top of men’s tennis in a period where the sport is undergoing major reform.
Thankfully, the tournament dubbed the ‘fifth major’ will be remembered for the on-court spectacle. Andreescu’s victory came from nowhere, but may well have set the ball rolling on a new era for the women’s game. Indeed, this time last year, Naomi Osaka won her first ever title at Indian Wells. Twelve months and two Grand Slams later, Osaka is world No 1. Andreescu has followed the Japanese in making her own statement. Time, then, to see how much higher she rises.
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