INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - Talk about a wildcard. And a breath of fresh air for women's tennis. If you thought Naomi Osaka winning Indian Wells last season was astonishing - she was just 20 years old at the time - she has now been eclipsed on that front by Bianca Andreescu, an 18-year-old Canadian.
This time last year, Osaka had already been around for a couple of seasons, and had been climbing the rankings. By comparison, Andreescu has come almost from nowhere, crashing through to win Indian Wells.
It was only in January, when Andreescu reached the final in Auckland, beating Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams along the way, that I heard of her for the first time. I watched a little bit of her then and thought she could play; I couldn't have imagined that just over two months later she would be the Indian Wells champion. Before long, Andreescu is going to be in the Top 10, and maybe in the future she and Osaka will develop the next big rivalry.
The manner of Andreescu's victory made her run all the more extraordinary. Everyone knows how to bang the ball; it's when you bring something extra to the table that it makes all the difference. And Andreescu brings a lot of extra to the table. Think the variety (almost) of Martina Hingis, but with more power.
Watching her amazing run in Indian Wells - where she was the first wildcard to take the title, as well as the youngest champion in the desert since a 17-year-old Serena Williams in 1999 - she showed that she almost has Hingis's variety. She also has a lot of power that Hingis never had, so she can bang the ball when she wants to. Bianca Andreescu really does have it all. She was throwing in unexpected dropshots from both sides, as well as hitting looping shots, either to help her get her back into the rally, or purely to throw her opponents' rhythm off.
Andreescu's shot selection was immaculate in Indian Wells; she was picking the right shots at the right time. Everything seemed so instinctive, and I think it showed that tennis-wise she was brought up the right way. She looked like a player who learned the game on clay courts.
The tennis she was playing in Indian Wells, you don't learn that kind of stuff growing up on hard courts or fast courts. Hingis and myself, we learned to play the game on clay, and on the men's side so did Roger Federer and Andy Murray. Playing on clay, banging the ball all afternoon doesn't quite cut it; it's a surface that forces you to be more creative, and then you can take that variety on to all surfaces, including the hard courts of Indian Wells.
Fans have totally bought into Andreescu's tennis - she had so much support in California! It wasn't just her game that engaged the fans; she also showed some emotion in Indian Wells, but in a good way. When she got down, she was swiping at the ground with her racket, or smacking the ball hard against the ground. But she did it in a way that was angry rather than whiny, which to me is OK, as long as you channel it the right way.
The crowd also saw the way Andreescu fought and how much she wanted it. In her last two matches, you could see she was absolutely exhausted. But she just wouldn't give up. The crowd really appreciated that effort and they responded to that.
Andreescu's rise has been meteoric. It's going to be exciting watching what she does next. If she keeps playing like this and stays healthy - and she's fit and sturdy, so her body should hold up - she will be in the Top 10 sooner rather than later. She's not going to be in a flash in the pan - I'm in no doubt that Bianca Andreescu's here to stay.