INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA -- 18-year-old Canadian wild card Bianca Andreescu capped a dream fortnight with a gripping 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 win over reigning Wimbledon champion and former World No.1 Angelique Kerber of Germany, clinching her first-ever WTA singles title at the BNP Paribas Open on Sunday afternoon.
"I have been in the zone, I think, every match," Andreescu exclaimed to the press, following her victory. "There were some ups and downs in some matches, obviously. Tennis isn't a perfect sport. So I'm just -- this means everything to me."
The teenager was making her first appearance in the Indian Wells main draw, and her debut in a main draw of a Premier Mandatory event to boot. But as she has been all week, the World No.60 was completely unfazed by the new experience, coming back from a break down in the final set to blast past No.8 seed Kerber after two hours and 18 minutes of scintillating play.
"[At 2-3 in the third set], after I spoke to my coach, I just let it all out there," said Andreescu. "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. Yeah, I fought till the end. I managed to pull through."
Andreescu matches the feat of last year’s champion, current World No.1 Naomi Osaka, by winning her first WTA singles title as an unseeded player at Indian Wells. She becomes the fourth unseeded champion after Serena Williams (1999), Kim Clijsters (2005), and Osaka.
"It's been a crazy ride," Andreescu continued. "Truly a Cinderella story. Naomi 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."
The Canadian teen has also set a new record of her own, by becoming the first wild card to reach the final and win the event in tournament history. Andreescu is the seventh different champion in the desert in the last seven years.
Andreescu is now projected to move all the way up to No.24 in the WTA rankings, a tremendous leap for someone who started the year outside the Top 150. Despite her loss in the final, Kerber will move from World No.8 to World No.4 when Monday's rankings are released.
The opening game proved crucial in the grand scheme of the match, as Kerber was able to stave off three break points before double faulting on a fourth to hand over an early break advantage to Andreescu.
Kerber would ease through the rest of her service games without facing a break point, but Andreescu never let the German back into the set. The Canadian teen used a plethora of drop shots and a variety of spins intermixed within her arsenal of powerful groundstrokes, and never faced a break point en route to the opening-set win.
But the dogged determination of three-time Grand Slam champion Kerber was in full effect in the second set. Kerber used ferocious crosscourt groundstrokes to stave off two break points and hold for 2-1. The German was rewarded for that grit with her first break point of the match in the next game, which she converted after a forehand error by Andreescu.
Again, one break would decide the set, as Kerber’s magnificent angles kept her in front, and the errors started to mount from the racquet of Andreescu. Consecutive backhand errors by the Canadian ended the second set, leveling the hard-fought final at one set apiece.
After a couple of lengthy games to open the deciding set, it was Kerber who maintained her momentum by breaking an increasingly error-prone and tired Andreescu for a 3-2 lead. But the Canadian steeled herself and fought through her fatigue to break right back with big hitting, leveling at 3-3 with an outlandish forehand crosscourt winner on break point.
From there, the teenager began to take control. Andreescu blasted various forehand winners to quickly hold at love for 4-3. The fiery shots kept on coming as she shot winners from numerous positions to break Kerber for a 5-3 advantage.
Serving for the match, Andreescu’s lack of experience at this level finally reared its head. The Canadian was unable to convert three match points, though it was Kerber’s miraculous shotmaking, mainly from her fearsome lefty forehand, which helped pull her through to take the game and get back on serve at 5-4.
But Andreescu’s audacious play popped up again exactly when she needed it, crushing more outrageous forehand winners to claim a fourth match point on Kerber’s serve. There, the German replied to Andreescu’s service return with a backhand into the net, giving the Canadian a landmark title as she collapsed to the ground in exhaustion and joy.