INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - Bianca Andreescu collapsed onto the scorching-hot Stadium 1 court in a heap, burying her face in her hands and taking a moment to let it all soak in before kissing the tennis court.
The 18 year old’s BNP Paribas Open championship victory had made history many times over: already the first wildcard to contest the Indian Wells final, was also the tournament’s youngest winner since 17-year-old Serena Williams’ win over Steffi Graf two decades ago.
Andreescu battled cramps, hot conditions and a resurgent Angelique Kerber, the No.8 seed, but she survived a mid-match letdown to edge through 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 and win the BNP Paribas Open trophy.
“It's incredible to have my name beside so many incredible champions,” an elated Andreescu told press after the win. “It's a dream come true.”
The 18 year old’s breakthrough run had drawn parallels to Naomi Osaka, whose run to two Grand Slam titles and the top of the rankings started at this stage last year, when she won maiden title in Indian Wells. Andreescu had a nod for the Japanese player too, hoping to emulate Osaka’s rise.
“It's been a crazy ride. 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 - it means the world to me,” she said.
“It's definitely inspiration seeing her claim the trophy here last year, and winning two Grand Slams right after that has been amazing to see.”
The young Canadian seemed right at home on Indian Wells cavernous Stadium 1, the world’s second-largest tennis stadium, despite the multiple Grand Slam champions across the net. En route to her clash against Kerber, Andreescu also took out two-time major champion Garbine Muguruza in straight sets, along with stunning wins over Wang Qiang and Elina Svitolina.
“I have watched all these players play on TV so many times, so it's surreal to be able to play against them in front of amazing crowds at such prestigious tournaments. It's beyond crazy,” Andreescu said.
Andreescu also took a moment to reflect on her long journey to the biggest moment of her career. A year ago this week, she said, she was losing in the second round of an ITF 25K event in Toyota, Japan - on Monday she is set to rise to WTA World No.24.
“A year ago, during this period, I had been struggling a lot with my tennis and with my body, too. So it's crazy what a year can do,” she said, adding: “I was playing 25Ks in Japan, and now I'm the -- can I say the F word? No, I can't,” she laughed. “The F-ing champion of Indian Wells. It's crazy. Crazy is the word of the tournament for me. Just crazy.”
“Like, nothing has sunk in, guys,” Andreescu told press. “I don't know what's gonna happen tonight, but hopefully I will, because I have another tournament in, like, two days.”
Indeed, in the cruel - but also oddly liberating - nature of tennis, the Canadian is already having to switch gears and set her sights on the Miami Open, just over the horizon next week.
There’s even a hint of deja vu in Andreescu’s draw, which was revealed today: she’ll face the same exact first-round opponent as she did this week in Irina-Camelia Begu. And should she advance to the third round, she could meet Kerber again in a rematch of today’s final.
But Andreescu, always keen on staying present in the moment, didn’t allow herself to think that far ahead.
“I don't want to know yet,” she said, waving off questions about Miami. “I just want to savor this moment because you never know what next week can bring.”