On Thursday, the BNP Paribas Open posted an Instagram video of Bianca Andreescu and her fitness coach, Abdul Sillah. Standing about 10 feet apart, Sillah – who has trained Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka and Sloane Stephens – bounced a medicine ball waist high to Andreescu, who threw it back, mimicking the motions of a forehand or backhand.
On Saturday, Andreescu will put those forehands and backhands to good use when No.16 seed plays her first match against Alison Riske, who was a 6-2, 6-2 winner against qualifier En-Shuo Liang in the opening round.
Hard to believe, but it’s been 31 months since Andreescu’s breakout victory at Indian Wells. She was only 18 at the time and quickly elevated herself as the next big thing on tour.
Andreescu was asked in a pre-tournament press conference what advice she would offer to the more recent successful teenagers on tour like Emma Raducanu, Leylah Fernandez – the two US Open finalists from last month – and Coco Gauff. Andreescu's answer was poignant, laced with a bittersweetness that can come only with experience.
“The advice I would give is to always remain grateful, even if you’re having the hugest successes, because it can all be taken away from you in a split second,” Andreescu said. “For me, it was being injured two months after and that was really hard for me.
“I feel like I didn’t savor it as much. That’s one thing I learned now that I wish I did back then.”
Back then, in less than a fortnight, she blasted into the consciousness of mainstream tennis. She was ranked No.152 to open the 2019 season, but ran off a series of accomplishments – reaching the finals in Auckland and the Acapulco semifinals, among others – that moved her ranking to a healthy No.60.
Still, nothing could possibly telegraph what happened next, at Indian Wells more than two years ago. Andreescu started slowly, but rallied in three sets to defeat Irina-Camelia Begu, and finished strong, defeating four Top 20 players, including Garbiñe Muguruza, Elina Svitolina and, in the final, Angelique Kerber.
Andreescu became the first wildcard to win the title at Indian Wells the youngest champion since Serena Williams two decades before.
“It’s incredible to have my name beside so many incredible champions,” she said afterward. “It’s a dream come true.”
And then it got even better. Andreescu, using a home-field advantage, won all six of her matches in Toronto, beating Serena in the final. It happened again at the US Open in New York with Andreescu, now 19, prevailing over Serena in the final.
Playing in the year-end WTA Finals in Shenzhen, Andreescu felt something give in her left knee – and didn’t play for the next 15 months.
“It was a complete stop,” she said in an interview with The Canadian Press earlier this year. “It brought me down many levels. You go from that high to that low, and it’s like, `How do I get back into that zone?’
In March, she reached the Miami final but was forced to retire with a foot injury and then a case of COVID-19 delayed the start of her clay season. She had won only a single major match in four tries, but found an equilibrium on the grounds of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, reaching the fourth round.
At Indian Wells, she’s hoping to complete the circle, looking to become the first player to defend the title here since Martina Navratilova 30 years ago.
“Don’t let it go too much in your head,” Andreescu advised her teenage colleagues, perhaps also addressing her 2019 self. “Stay confident, obviously, but you know, don’t become stuck up or, ‘I won a Grand Slam, so look at me.’
“Just stay humble. Remain grateful and continue to work hard because everyone says, at least in my experience, it’s easy to get to the top. But stay staying at the top is what is the hardest part.”
Other notable matches:
No.1 Karolina Pliskova vs. qualifier Magdalena Frech
For the first time in seven Indian Wells appearances, Pliskova is the top seed; she is a two-time semifinalist, in 2016 and 2017.
No.3 Barbora Krejcikova vs. Zarina Diyas
Krejcikova is the only player already qualified for the WTA Finals in both singles and doubles.
No.5 Garbiñe Muguruza vs. Ajla Tomljanovic
Muguruza has momentum following her recent win at the Chicago Fall Tennis Classic.
No.6 Maria Sakkari vs. Viktorija Golubic
A terrific second-round match, with No.46-ranked Golubic coming off a marvelous 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 win over No.37 Marketa Vondrousova.
No.10 Angelique Kerber vs. Katerina Siniakova
Siniakova defeated the 2003 and 2005 Indian Wells champion Kim Clijsters 6-1, 2-6, 6-2 in the first round.
No.12 Ons Jabeur vs. Anastasija Sevastova
Jabeur leads the WTA with 44 match-wins in 2021; Sevastova was a 3-6, 6-2, 6-0 winner over Polona Hercog.
No.15 Coco Gauff vs. Caroline Garcia
The 17-year old Gauff is looking to finish strong in her first full professional season; Garcia defeated Kirsten Flipkens 5-7, 6-4, 6-0 in her opener.