INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – When you arrive at Palm Springs International Airport this week, 2019 women’s singles champion Bianca Andreescu will be there to greet you.
The workers have been efforting hard on finishing up the mural, tradition for the champions at the BNP Paribas Open.
A blown-up photo of a jubilant Andreescu hugging her trophy will greet fans in the main square, who want to have a look at the past champions.
Unfortunately, the lady herself will only be here in spirit.
The tournament announced Saturday that the 19-year-old would not be defending her title.
The last word from coach Sylvain Bruneau earlier this week was that Team Bianca was going to fly to Indian Wells Friday from Barcelona, and see if the defending champion was going to be able to go when the tournament begins in a week.
It didn’t get that far.
Andreescu is the fourth player who has at least one Grand Slam title on her resumé to pull out of the tournament this week.
Victoria Azarenka, Simona Halep and Angelique Kerber all preceded her to the withdrawal list.
And the pullout makes it … two defending champions who won’t defend their title because of knee issues, as Roger Federer also won’t be here after having knee surgery.
Federer also welcomes you to the desert, as it happens.
(The photoshopping of their kits to match the banner colours is epic).
Andreescu will be in the house
On the optimistic side of things, Andreescu and Bruneau did arrive in Indian Wells Friday.
She has some commitments here. Andreescu may well be onsite for the traditional dedication of her champions’ mural, among other things.
And she will practice some, before heading to Miami and trying once again to get her season kickstarted.
Long-term knee issue persists
Andreescu hasn’t played since the WTA Tour Finals in Shenzhen, China in late October.
The nature of the knee injury has not been disclosed, although it’s believed to be the left meniscus. The information pipeline around the US Open champion has been a slow-dripping one – to say the least.
The statement from Andreescu through the tournament doesn’t even mention what body part it is.
“As many of you know, I’ve been working through an injury I suffered last year during the WTA Finals. It’s been a long road to recovery and while I was looking forward to getting back on court and defending my title at Indian Wells, unfortunately, I’m still not 100 per cent,” the statement said.
“I would like to thank you all for your continued support and sticking with me on this journey, your kind words have been so uplifting. While I am disappointed that I am not competing next week in a tournament where I have such great memories, I am focused on my recovery and rehab and working hard to get back on the court as soon as possible.”
Looking for answers in Barcelona
Andreescu has been in Barcelona consulting with Rafael Nadal’s physician, Dr. Angel Ruiz-Cotorro, per an interview Bruneau gave to Sportsnet.
The “long road to recovery” theme was there, as well.
“Well it’s been a long road, a long recovery, but … it’s going well, especially recently, we’ve had some really good momentum and things are in, I would say, good shape,” Bruneau told Sportsnet.”
“Now it’s not even two weeks away from the tournament, so we’re hoping she’ll be ready. She’s just going to start competing when she’s … ability- and health-wise, totally ready and we’re gonna take no risk. So we’re hoping it’s going to be good to go for Indian Wells, but we need a few more days.”
If Andreescu and team have already decided there’s no chance of her playing here, even with a week to go, that’s pretty definitive.
Fed Cup appearance mostly for show
A month ago, Andreescu was named to the Fed Cup squad, even though it seemed there was only an infinitesimal chance that she would even play. And even then, perhaps only in doubles.
But it was a nice show for Tennis Canada to have its top-five player there doing interviews.
The word was that she had a “setback” in practice while there. But that was over a month ago.
The best guess on this is that they’re doing everything to try to avoid having surgery on the knee. But five months on, whatever they’re trying doesn’t seem to be working very well.
There certainly has to be come cause for concern.
When you think of those triumphant moments about six months ago, inside Arthur Ashe Stadium – and where things are now – it has to be so discouraging for her. And for the team around her, as it’s difficult to capitalize on the momentum created by such a major triumph if your player isn’t on the courts, and around the town.