Coming in at No.3 is 18-year-old Bianca Andreescu’s gripping, three-set victory over Angelique Kerber in the BNP Paribas Open final, capping off a dream fortnight in the California desert.
WHAT HAPPENED: Bianca Andreescu burst onto the scene with a run to her first WTA final in Auckland, and it wasn’t long before tennis fans sat up and took notice of her world-beating talent.
A wildcard in Indian Wells, Andreescu went largely under the radar in the early rounds, but after a gritty, hard-fought win over No.18 Wang Qiang sent her into the quarterfinals, it seemed like all eyes were on the young Canadian. She followed it up with an absolute masterclass over Garbine Muguruza, 6-0, 6-1, and a three-set marathon win over Elina Svitolina, 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 as her electrifying Cinderella run continued.
In the final, she found herself up against reigning Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber, who had failed to reach a final since that Grand Slam triumph but seemed to be regaining her best form in Indian Wells.
But she went down an early break right away, saving three break points in the first game before double faulting on the fourth to give Andreescu the advantage. Kerber would ease through the rest of her service games without facing another break point, but Andreescu never let the German back into the set.
Read match report: Andreescu conquers Kerber to win first title in Indian Wells
Andreescu employed her signature plethora of drop shots and a variety of spins intermixed within her arsenal of powerful groundstrokes - the same game that confounded so many opponents throughout the season was having the same effect on Kerber.
But the German’s dogged determination was on display in the second set, staying patient before pouncing on an Andreescu letdown to earn her first break of the match at 3-1. Once again, a single break decided the set as Kerber held firm to force a decider.
She looked to be in the driver’s seat as Andreescu, increasingly tired and error-prone, started showing signs of cramping and struggling with her shoulder, and the German broke for a 3-2 lead. But after an emotional - and instantly viral - coaching time out with Sylvain Bruneau, Andreescu refocused and found a second wind, going for her shots and fighting her way back to a 4-3 lead.
Serving for the match at 5-3, the Canadian’s inexperience reared its head, and Kerber’s brilliant shotmaking earned her a timely break back. But Andreescu’s audacious play popped up again exactly when she needed it, crushing more outrageous forehand winners to break right back and, after two hours and 18 minutes, she collapsed to the ground in exhaustion and joy, winning 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.
WHAT THEY SAID: Andreescu’s win was then the biggest in Canadian tennis history, and the teenager was all smiles in media whirlwind that followed - even as she still processed the achievement.
“I was actually really dizzy in the locker room because just there were so many thoughts and emotions going through my body,” Andreescu admitted in her post-match press conference.
“It's been a crazy ride. Truly a Cinderella story. Naomi [Osaka] did this last year. And now to be able to have my name in front of so many amazing champions is -- it means the world to me.”
In fact, it was a historic win in many ways, as Andreescu became the youngest Indian Wells champion since Serena Williams in 1999, the first wildcard to win the title, and only the fourth unseeded champion ever.
For Andreescu, in addition to her gritty, never-say-die mentality, the key breakthrough moment came when she found herself down a break in the deciding set and struggling physically, and decided to call down her coach.
“That moment was everything to me,” she said. “[My coach] really helped me in that moment with such incredible words. The way he says things really - it really gives me chills. So I'm glad I called him at that moment.
“At that point, I was really, really tired, but at that point I was, like, mind over matter. That's what helped me win today.”
"After I spoke to my coach, I just let it all out there," Andreescu continued. "At that point I was really tired, so I went for my shots more, and that obviously worked. The next couple games I did the same thing. And I just fought till the end, because physically I wasn't feeling too well.”
On the other side of the net, Kerber was quick to take away the positives after reaching her first final of the year at a Premier Mandatory tournament.
“I was not expecting two weeks ago to playing here in the finals, especially after the last few weeks where I was a little bit struggling,” Kerber said. “So that's why I'm happy about this tournament and that gives me a lot of confidence.
“Also today, the match, it was a good one. I know that I have still few things to learn and to doing better the next time. But, yeah, I mean, in a few days we have another tournament and, yeah, it's starting again from zero.”
WHAT IT MEANT: For two weeks leading up to the Indian Wells final, the tennis world watched breathlessly as the Canadian teenager pulled off stunner after stunner, winning gritty, come-from-behind matches against the world’s top players. By the time we got to the match against Kerber, it seemed more like a formality - whether or not she won, Bianca Andreescu had arrived.
But win she did, and her Indian Wells coronation would prove to be a major inflection point in Andreescu’s upward trajectory. Having started the year outside the Top 150, Andreescu’s run gave her major rankings boost.
And it wasn’t a one-off, flash-in-the-pan run, either. Andreescu immediately put those doubts to rest a week later with another dramatic win over Kerber in Miami. But instead, new doubts emerged as Andreescu was forced to pull out of the tournament a match later due to shoulder injury - an injury that would cause her to miss almost half of the season.
Despite the setbacks, Andreescu continued to prove herself in the second half of the year. She became the first Canadian in the Open Era to win the Rogers Cup, claimed her maiden Grand Slam title at the US Open, qualified for her first WTA Finals and ended the year ranked No.5.
Kerber’s back-to-back heartbreakers to Andreescu during the Sunshine Swing also proved to be an inflection point, but in a different trajectory: the German would end the season without lifting a trophy for the first time since 2017. She went on to reach her second final of the year in Eastbourne, but lost out to Karolina Pliskova in a one-sided straight-set match. A week later, the defending Wimbledon champion went out in the second round of her title defense. She finished the season ranked No.20, having started the year as the World No.2.