INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - Bianca Andreescu loves a good keyword. Before a serve or down break points, the 18-year-old wildcard from Canada keeps certain words or phrases in her mind to help her focus her energy during those crucial moments.
“History” should be her newest keyword - Andreescu has been eyeing lofty goals since before she even played her first match at BNP Paribas Open, telling WTA Insider before the tournament: "I do see myself winning a Grand Slam, maybe even more, and making a name for myself, making history."
Now, “making history” is a goal that she’s already fulfilled, regardless of tomorrow’s championship match result: by defeating No.6 seed Elina Svitolina in a grueling three sets, Andreescu will become the first wildcard player to ever compete in an Indian Wells final. And at 18, she’s also the tournament’s youngest finalist in almost two decades (2001).
As a result, Andreescu is projected break into the Top 50 at No.33, making her the highest-ranked teenager on tour.
It’s a complete turnaround from Andreescu’s experience just a year ago, when she was still competing almost exclusively at the ITF level and trying to chip away at her World No.198 ranking.
“I was actually struggling a lot with my tennis,” Andreescu recalled in her post-match press conference. “I was losing matches a year ago, and I wasn't really in a good spot. But I worked around it and I learned a lot from all those experiences. I don't necessarily think it's anything bad.
“I just tried to gain as much experience as I can from those situations, and everything that I have learned in the past couple years I have implemented and I keep implementing.”
Now, Andreescu finds herself in the biggest final of her career after recording three wins in a row over Top 20 players - Wang Qiang, Garbine Muguruza and Svitolina - a far cry from the Andreescu who fell in the second round of an ITF 25K event in Toyota, Japan just last year.
“Meditation is one big thing that I have been doing that's really been helping me stay focused and positive,” Andreescu explained. “And also, all the work I put in on the court with my coaches, all the things I do for recovery is really important for me, and right now I think I'm in the best shape I have ever been. I'm healthy.”
Meditation and mindfulness are a big part of Andreescu’s routine, on and off the court. She practices “creative visualization meditation,” which involves creating a visual mental imagery of the goals that you want to manifest in order to train the brain to achieve them.
It’s a practice that helped Andreescu navigate through the toughest moments of her semifinal against Svitolina: painful cramping toward the end of the final set.
“I think the cramping was because I was so stressed out with everything,” Andreescu admitted. “But I have had many moments like this in the past, playing challenger events, juniors. So I had a good feel of how to deal with it.
“Breathing really helps for me, so I took a lot of deep breaths and I tried not to get mad at myself. It really worked.”
The match showed so much of why Andreescu’s been able to do well throughout the fortnight. She was able to turn around a 0-3 deficit to claim the opening set, and despite dropping the second, Andreescu rallied in the third. She saved nine of ten break points faced and survived the cramps to grit out another improbable victory over a top player.
"This match had a little bit of up and downs," Andreescu said. "I started a bit slow and then I picked it up after 3-0, thank God. Svitolina took control of the second set. I started missing more. Then in the third set I kept my composure, at least tried to. I pumped myself up."
"I went for it. Like I always say, I went for my shots," the Canadian added. "It was a crazy match. It was a roller coaster. I'm really happy I pulled through."
And so just like she’s done all week long, Andreescu will take the court tomorrow to contest the biggest moment of her career as she faces three-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber, the No.8 seed, in the BNP Paribas Open final.
“Kerber is an incredible fighter,” Andreescu assessed. “She redirects her shots. Like, she can hit any shot at any time in any specific place whenever she wants. She has a pretty decent serve. She's a good mover, great fighter.
“I have watched [her] play many, many times… it’s going to be a very tough match.”
But regardless of tomorrow’s result, Andreescu’s biggest goal has already been achieved and she heads into a historic final clash with nothing to lose.
“It's incredible, really,” Andreescu laughed in press with clear disbelief in her face. “Another goal of mine was to make history and I just did. It's incredible.”