Canada all … out for Fed Cup

The photo above is of better days, hopeful days, as a jubilant Canadian Fed Cup squad swept the Netherlands in February.

Two months later, the bad news is … well, it’s pretty much all bad news.

The team had been counting on the young player of the hour, 18-year-old Bianca Andreescu, to lead the team in its effort to get into World Group I.

But Andreescu is pretty banged up after a career-making trip to Indian Wells and Miami. And she has a big spring clay-court season ahead as a top-25 player. So she can’t make the date.

Also out? Genie Bouchard, who hasn’t played since Miami.

Also out? Françoise Abanda, a player whose best career moments have come when representing her country.

It’s a key playoff tie that would get them into World Group I. But to face the Czechs in Prostejov, the vaunted Canadian tennis program basically had to get all hands on deck. 

Marino to lead in singles

Rebecca Marino, currently ranked No. 204, must be the leader.

The 28-year-old will have to play No. 1 singles – on red clay – in her first Fed Cup singles duty since 2011.

No Serena, but strong US squad for Fed Cup

Rookie at No. 2 singles

At No. 2? That likely will be Leylah Annie Fernandez. The 16-year-old will be making her Fed Cup debut. The alternative is Gabriela Dabrowski, a doubles star who is a talented singles player, but has rarely played in recent years.

The fourth member of the team will be Sharon Fichman.

Fichman has played in 27 Fed Cup ties in her career, most of them on the South American clay in the zonals.

But the 28-year-old hasn’t worn the colours since 2016. She had basically retired before returning in doubles last year.

The “press-release quote” from new captain Heidi el Tabakh is, as you would expect, full of positive.

“Our players have all had some good results since the start of the year. And we are hoping to capitalize on their momentum going into this matchup. We recognize that this tie represents a challenge for us as we are playing a great team who is proficient on a clay court surface. They are last year’s Fed Cup champions. And we will be prepared for some tough matches.”

Basically, it’s a disaster

The Canadians were so impressive in February, playing on indoor clay in the Netherlands.

Andreescu didn’t drop a set in her two singles matches. Abanda, whose shoulder already was bothering her and has barely played since, impressively defeated lefty Arantxa Rus. And Dabrowski and Marino won the dead-rubber doubles to sweep.

Andreescu was a rock star against the Netherlands. But she’s still recovering from the toll a successful tour of Indian Wells and Miami took on her body.

The win over the Netherlands was Marino’s first participation in a Fed Cup tie since 2011. So, in retrospect, it was good for her to at least get her feet wet in anticipation of the heavy load she’ll have to carry in Prostejov.

Since returning after a 5 1/2-year retirement at the beginning of last season, Marino has played singles on red clay just once. It was early in her comeback in 2018, at one of the lower-level Futures events she played in Antalya, Turkey.

Before that, the Vancouver native’s last red-clay experience goes back to the 2011 French Open. There, she reached the third round and lost to Svetlana Kuznetsova. So far in her career, that has been the only good result for her on that surface.

From Osaka to Prostejov, for Canada

The bigger challenge Marino faces is that she is currently in her fifth consecutive week on the ITF hard-court circuit – in Japan.

Marino getting help from the sisterhood

It is both impressive and commendable that she’s willing to fly from Osaka to the Czech Republic, with the jet lag and all the wear and tear she’s experienced over the last five weeks, and quickly switch to a less-beloved surface to represent the maple leaf.

But it’s a big challenge.

(Marino, who was a finalist last week in Kashiwa, won her first-round singles match in Osaka Tuesday. But has yet to play her first-round doubles match).

Rookie Fernandez at No. 2?

The most experienced and accomplished of the group, Dabrowski played singles last week at an ITF in Florida. But that’s been a rare occurrence in recent years given the disparity between her doubles ranking (which allows her to play the biggest WTA events), and her current singles ranking of No. 387.

With the Fed Cup format putting the doubles rubber last after the singles, the outcome is often decided before it gets to that point. And so Dabrowski’s expertise has too often not been called upon.

Fernandez, who reached the semifinals in her Grand Slam junior debut at the French Open a year ago, is very much an outsider in the Tennis Canada scheme.

She receives very little financial support, even though she reached No. 4 in the junior rankings after making the girls’ singles final at the Australian Open in January. She trains in Florida with her father, Jorge.

The young lefty does have more recent clay-court experience – although it was in Australia. Fernandez reached the quarterfinals of a pair of $25,000 ITF events. Both times, she came out of the qualifying, and was defeated by Aussie veteran Olivia Rogowska. Her WTA Tour ranking stands at a career-best No. 376.

Under(wo)manned Czechs still strong

The Czechs will not have top-10 players Petra Kvitova or Karolina Pliskova on board.

But unlike Canada, this established tennis nation has significant depth.

The players who will take part – Marketa Vondrousova, Karolina Muchova, Maria Bouzkova and Barbora Krejcikova (who just won a big ITF title on the American clay in Florida) are all ranked much higher than the Canadians. Krejcikova also is ranked No. 2 in the world in doubles, typically paired with Katerina Siniakova.

Veteran Lucie Safarova, who will officially retire at a home tournament in Prague later this month, is the fifth member of the team.

A big challenge made even bigger

To sum up, it’s a pretty dire situation for the Canadians, who would have had a better than fighting chance with their best assets – Andreescu, Bouchard and Abanda – at full strength.

Here’s the press-release blurb about the absence of Andreescu. There is no elaboration on the absences of Bouchard and Abanda.

“Bianca Andreescu was not named to the Canadian Fed Cup team for the upcoming tie against the Czech Republic due to a lingering injury that she suffered during the Miami Open. Andreescu has been recuperating and slowly preparing for her return to competition. Representing Canada has always been a priority for Andreescu, who has played in eight consecutive Fed Cup ties since her debut in 2017. Although she is unable to participate, she wishes the team the best of luck and she will be ready for the next tie.”

A little trash talking as Andreescu bests Kerber – again (video)

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Serena Williams pulls out of the Miami Open. World No. 1 Naomi Osaka falls prey to the wizardry of Hsieh Su-Wei.

Roger Federer almost exits the tournament at the hands of the only Moldovian tennis player you’ve heard of.

The retiring David Ferrer takes out No. 2 Alexander Zverev.

But the biggest story overnight was three-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber’s parting words to Canadian teenager Bianca Andreescu, after losing to her twice within a week.

“You’re the biggest drama queen ever,” said Kerber, as she dispensed the trademark WTA Tour “drive-by” handshake.

Kerber was still trending on Twitter in Canada, 12 hours after Andreescu’s 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 victory.

Andreescu, meanwhile, has won 10 matches in a row on the U.S. sunshine swing, after coming through to win Indian Wells last week as a wild card.

She is now 31-3 on the season, including two Fed Cup victories against the Netherlands and the title at a WTA 125K tournament in Newport Beach, Calif.

Tight shoulder, sore body

The strapping on the shoulder, with tape running down her right arm and another bandage below the elbow, has been in place since that Indian Wells final.

And she has played three matches in four days in Miami. Andreescu had a medical timeout to try to loosen that shoulder, and the allowed two visits on changeovers subsequent to that to dispense more quick treatment.

It’s all a lot. The Canadian has been answering the same questions for two weeks. And a look at the video below will give an idea of just how repetitive some of those can be. 

On a dramatic night that ended after 1:30 a.m., she was asked three times in the space of a few minutes about her next opponent, which will be Anett Kontaveit of Estonia. Twice by the same fellow, who rapidly changed the microphone flash to a different logo and asked the same questions again.

At this point, she has to feel as though she’s repeating herself. She might try to run into Roger Federer and see how he’s managed it for 15 years.

“Biggest drama queen”

In the cool light of day, Kerber thought better of the low-level trash talking, and issued a bit of a damage-control Tweet. It was the right thing to do.

For Andreescu, Sunday brings a welcome day off from tennis, which she planned to fill with sleep and “a lot of treatment.”

Which didn’t mean she wasn’t somewhat aware of what had gone on at the net.

At the end of the video, you can see how she responded to questions about it from Ben Rothenberg, who writes for the New York Times and David Kane, who writes for the WTA Tour’s website.

If Andreescu is a little low on energy, this definitely isn’t the case for her beloved Coco.

You can see the furry female pooch running sprints all over the (fake) grass area just outside the court, after the late-night match was done.

It’s starting to sink in for Andreescu

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – As we await the rematch of the Indian Wells final between new star Bianca Andreescu and No. 8 seed Angelique Kerber in the third round of the Miami Open, a little look at just how much her life has changed in less than a week.

Because it’s been … a pretty big adjustment.

After the 18-year-old Canadian dispatched Sofia Kenin 6-3, 6-3, in her second-round match Friday, there was a pretty massive bunch of people awaiting her upon her exit from the court.

Jumbo balls, selfies, Andreescu tried to sign as many things as she could.

But it was a big crowd.

From the outside, it looked pretty intimidating, to be honest.

“They were pretty aggressive” – Andreescu

“Because of that, a lot of what’s happening right now is starting to soak in,” Andreescu said, asked about the scene following her match.

She gets the big stadium for the second time in three matches Saturday night against Kerber. At least in theory.

Her first-round match against Irina-Camelia Begu, scheduled for the stadium, was rained out and played on an outside court the following day.

Facing Kerber – a three-time Grand Slam title winner – so soon after that epic effort in the desert Sunday will also be a big dose of reality.

But so far in this tournament, Andreescu has faced players she faced in the last few weeks – and has beaten then.

She played Begu in the first round of Indian Wells, and won after dropping the first set in a tiebreak. As the draw gods would have it, she got her again here. And she defeated her again, in three sets – saving match point and basically  being down and out before she prevailed.

As for Kenin, Andreescu played her in her first career WTA Tour semifinal in Acapulco – the week before Indian Wells. 

She lost that one – 7-5 in the third set, after definitely having her chances. But Andreescu turned that right around on Friday in a straight-sets win that featured, for whatever reason, a somewhat more subdued and less feisty Kenin.

It might not have helped that Kenin literally lives a stone’s throw from the stadium. And Andreescu was getting the bulk of the support.

Andreescu also looked a lot more settled in that second match than she did in the first round.

Physical trainer Tremblay proud

Everyone around Andreescu was on heavy rotation earlier in the week, as the Canadian media was all over the country’s latest athletic success.

Here is the fabulous Virginie Tremblay, the Tennis Canada physical trainer who was with Andreescu right at the start of the run. Tremblay was both trainer AND a coaching stand-in for regular coach Sylvain Bruneau in Auckland.

(The TV cameramen in Auckland took a particularly liking to her, let’s just put it that way).

Bruneau had flown directly to Melbourne ahead of the Australian Open after spending Christmas with his young family. And so Tremblay even went out on court to offer a little advice.

Andreescu went from the qualifying to the final. And that’s where it all started.

Happy girl – and oblivious doggie

This adorable young lady was able to get through the crush and get her ball signed by Andreescu.

She was pretty happy.


And it can’t go unmentioned that Andreescu’s pooch, Coco, is on hand here in Miami.

Coco sat next to the seat occupied by Mom, Maria, during the Kenin match. And Coco was too occupied with a meaty-looking bone (well, meaty before Coco went to work on it) to worry about whether his young mistress was winning or losing.


“It’s the only way to keep her quiet,” Andreescu said of Coco, who is a tournament newbie attending only her second event.

Andreescu may move up one spot in the rankings with what she has already done in Miami. But there’s a 450-point gap between her and Daria Kasatkina, who is the next-ranked player and who is still alive in the tournament, too.

It would take a pretty massive result for her to break into the top 20 in Miami.

But as she has often said over the last 10 days, “Anything is possible.”

WTA Rankings Report – March 18, 2019

The star of the week, of course, is Canadian Bianca Andreescu.

The 18-year-old, who needed a wild card to get into the main draw because of the six-week advance deadline, rocked the women’s event  at Indian Wells – the entire event, really – with a run to the title.

She became the youngest to win it since Serena Williams in 1999. And the first wild card to ever win the BNP Paribas Open.

In the process, her ranking skyrocketed. Her place in the tennis firmament completely changed.

Andreescu was ranked No. 178 at the “official” WTA Tour year-end (which comes after the year-end finals). She played more after that, and got it up to No. 152.

By the time she finished her crazy run from the qualifying to the final in Auckland to start the 2019 season, she was up to No. 107. After she won the WTA 125K Challenger event in Newport Beach held during the second week of the Australian Open, she was at No. 70.

(That was enough to squeeze her into the Miami Open main draw without needing a wild card this week).

After winning Indian Wells, Andreescu stands at … No. 24. As she says, it’s … crazy.


Petra Kvitova (CZE): No. 3 ———-> No. 2

Angelique Kerber (GER): No. 8 ———-> No. 4

Ashleigh Barty (AUS): No. 12 ———-> No. 11 (By reaching the fourth round at Indian Wells, the Aussie gets to a career best. She’s just 11 points behind Serena Williams and a spot in the top 10).

Garbiñe Muguruza (ESP): No. 20 ———-> No. 17

Belinda Bencic (SUI): No. 23 ———-> No. 20 (Back in the top 20 for the first time since Aug. 2016).

Bianca Andreescu (CAN): No. 60 ———-> No. 24 (The Canadian teen makes a huge leap into the top echelons – in one week that was a few years in the making).

Johanna Konta (GBR): No. 45 ———-> No. 38

Ajla Tomljanovic (AUS): No. 44 ———-> No. 40 (One of the rare cases in tennis where shoulder surgery has been a great success, as matches her career high).

Jennifer Brady (USA): No. 83 ———-> No. 76

Veronika Kudermetova (RUS): No. 100 ———-> No. 81 (A career high for the 21-year-old Russian after she won the WTA 125K event in Guadalajara, Mexico last week. 

Mona Barthel (GER): No. 97———-> No. 86

Stefanie Voegele (GER): No. 109———-> No. 97

Kateryna Kozlova (UKR): No. 114 ———-> No. 101

Christina Mchale (USA): No. 140 ———-> No. 120

Ysaline Bonaventure (BEL): No. 144 ———-> No. 122

Astra Sharma  (AUS): No. 163 ———-> No. 143 (The Aussie who first got a little attention at the Australian Open won the $25K in Mexico last week, over Veronica Cepede Royg in the final).


Simona Halep (ROU): No. 2 ———-> No. 3

Sloane Stephens (USA): No. 4 ———-> No. 6

Daria Kasatkina (RUS): No. 14 ———-> No. 22 (The Russian was No. 10 to start the season, but is 1-6 on the year and has dropped out of the top 20. Her only win this season was a three-setter in Dubai against No. 178 Magdalena Frech of Poland).

Carla Suárez Navarro (ESP): No. 24 ———-> No. 29

Venus Williams (USA): No. 36———-> No. 43 (Venus had a nice run in the desert, but dropped seven spots).

Maria Sakkari (GRE): No. 41 ———-> No. 49

Petra Martic (CRO): No. 38 ———-> No. 52

Amanda Anisimova (USA): No. 67 ———-> No. 73

Samantha Stosur (AUS): No. 78 ———-> No. 83

 Ekaterina Makarova (RUS): No. 77 ———-> No. 87 (The former top-10 player is still out, and has missed the entire Sunshine Swing).

Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS): No. 108 ———-> No. 111 (Is she ever coming back?)

Coco Vandeweghe (USA): No. 103 ———-> No. 117

Sachia Vickery (USA): No. 118 ———-> No. 142

The race to Shenzhen

Hey – look who checks in at No. 5?

(It’s not exactly your mom’s “Top 8 race” list, is it?)


Canadians do a LOT of talking at Indian Wells (video)

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – You know who’s done a whole lotta talking at the BNP Paribas Open?

The Canadians.

Win or lose, rain or dry – amid the moths and beetles – the Canuck crew created more buzz than any single group at Indian Wells.

The veteran Milos Raonic did as he usually does – went deep in the desert. And he’s still in it, to face Dominic Thiem in the semifinals.

Teenager Félix Auger-Aliassime impressed in a dominant win over Stefanos Tsitsipas. But then he hit the wall physically against Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan. 

Even then, he almost pulled it off.

Denis Shapovalov made a victory over Grand Slam champion Marin Cilic look routine, before not playing his best against the unseeded Hubert Hurkacz.

And then, there was Bianca Andreescu.

The third of the teen triumvirate is into the final, after getting into the tournament as a wild card.

Here is Milos Raonic talking about righting recent wrongs.

Here’s Auger-Aliassime looking at the positive after a great few weeks.

Here’s Shapovalov talking rap, and shrugging off a sub-par day.

And finally, here’s Andreescu after her crushing win over Garbiñe Muguruza, and answering questions that will allow the fans just discovering her to get to know her a little bit.


Surprise IW quarterfinalist Andreescu dreaming big

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – Bianca Andreescu has had a lot of “Wow, did that actually happen?” moments in 2019.

She began the season beating Caroline Wozniacki and Venus Williams – both Grand Slam champions and former No. 1s – in her opening tournament.

But making the quarterfinals of the BNP Paribas Open – a Premier Mandatory event, one step below the majors – was not on the radar.

And yet, the 18-year-old has made it look easy. From the outside, at least.

A 7-5, 6-2 victory over No. 18 seed Qiang Wang of China puts her in the final eight, to play No. 20 seed Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain Wednesday afternoon.

Andreescu has already defeated No. 32 seed Dominika Cibulkova and former top-30 player Irina-Camelia Begu on the way. If there’s a thread between those three impressive wins, is that Andreescu’s opponents were not playing the tennis they played when they have been at their very best.

That is true of Muguruza as well. The former French Open and Wimbledon champion has been a shadow of her former championship self in the last couple of years.

Here’s how Andreescu vs. Wang looked on Tuesday.

Muguruza getting back her best form?

The Spanish No. 1’s ranking hasn’t dropped precipitously. But she has had some bad losses – some cringe-worthy on-court coaching consults, and some injuries here and there.

Who knows what might have happened, had Muguruza faced a Serena Williams who was 100 per cent healthy in the round? 

For all we know, Andreescu might have had an opportunity to share the stadium court with the greatest of all time. But the victory gave Muguruza wings, in a sense. And she was able to back it up with a comeback win over No. 7 seed Kiki Bertens in the fourth round.

Muguruza has only beaten one top-20 player over the last 12 months. That’s hard to believe, but it also means that as she has remained a seeded player more often than not, she’s not gotten to the pointy end of the bigger tournaments. That player was then-No. 11 Anastasija Sevastova, last October in Zhuhai. 

In this tournament, she has beaten top-10 players back to back. 

So the narrative of how the biggest match of Andreescu’s career is going to go will very much be dictated by which version of Muguruza shows up to play.

Andreescu had nothing but praise for Muguruza, while still feeling she has a shot.

Andreescu to face Wang in 4th round (video)

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – Bianca Andreescu had faced Switzerland’s Stefanie Voegele once, on the practice court in Australia earlier this year.

The 18-year-old Canadian remembered she had to stop because of her aching back. But she recalls the Swiss veteran taking the ball earlier and hitting harder.

But that was practice. The real thing happened Sunday. And Andreescu was all over her in an emphatic 6-1, 6-2 victory that puts the teenager in the round of 16 at the BNP Paribas Open.

Andreescu has rolled through the draw in impressive fashion so far. Her toughest test was the first one, against Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu – a former top 30 player whose ranking might be down, but whose quality remains high.

After losing the first set in a tiebreak, she won the next two. And then she routined No. 32 seed Dominika Cibulkova, a former Australian Open and Rogers Cup finalist and top-10 player.

Both those players have better resumés than Andreescu. But youth, confidence and current form are powerful equalizers.

In Voegele’s case, it was simply a difference in level.

Here’s what Andreescu had to say after the win.

Andreescu: a wild card gone wild

Andreescu is making great use of the wild card she was given into the tournament after reaching the semifinals at the WTA event in Acapulco the previous week.

On her ranking at the start of Indian Wells, she would have been in on her own merits. But there is a six-week advance deadline for entry.

The ranking points at this tournament are slow to come –  only 65 points through the third round. But now, it gets exponential.

Andreescu will have gained three or four spots so far. But if she can defeat No. 18 seed Qiang Wang on Tuesday, she will surely jump into the top 50.

Wang is another player with a better resumé, but who is not in the same form that saw her leap into the top 20 last fall.

The 27-year-old Chinese player reached the third round of the Australian Open. But she didn’t play after that – until she entered the Oracle Challenger event the week before the main event at Indian Wells.

She didn’t win it. Wang lost to Viktorija Golubic in the semifinals. But her 7-6, 6-7, 6-3 win over No. 16 seed Elise Mertens in the third round this week was an impressive one.

Halep took notice

Andreescu’s idol – no surprise – is Romania’s Simona Halep.

The former (and perhaps future) No. 1 has always believed in Andreescu’s potential.

“I spoke to her a few years ago in Canada when we practiced once. I told her she has to stop playing juniors. She wanted to play more but I said she is ready go to the higher level. As we see, she’s doing great,” Halep said, per the WTA’s Insider.

“I think she’s running very well. I think she’s hitting the ball strong and she’s a good fighter, which gives her a better level. I’m sure she can improve a lot and be in the better ranking soon.”

Canadian teen Andreescu to 3rd round

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – Is Bianca Andreescu on a roll in 2019?

Yes, ma’am, she sure is.

The 18-year-old Canadian posted a comprehensive 6-2, 6-2 victory over former top-10 player and No. 32 seed Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia Saturday, to move into the third round of the BNP Paribas Open.

And there, instead of facing the “expected” opponent in No. 4 seed Sloane Stephens of the U.S., Andreescu will instead get qualifier Stefanie Voegele of Switzerland.

The winner of that plays the winner of No. 16 seed Elise Mertens and No. 18 seed,  Qiang Wang of China.

When the No. 4 seed exits early, that section of the draw becomes a juicy opportunity for … somebody.

Cibulkova, who turns 30 in May, has kept her ranking in the top 40. And she’s missed just one major (the 2015 French Open) since the 2009 US Open. But she’s far from the force she once was.

There have been injuries. She has gotten married. Perhaps she’s at the stage where a little ennui has set in. She has contemporaries who have walked off the stage lately – Lucie Safarova, Elena Vesnina, Agnieszka Radwanska …

Her strength was always playing a “big babe” game despite some height limitations. And that takes a toll as well when you’re fighting an uphill battle every match.

Varied tactics, solid power

On Friday, the confident Andreescu changed the pace up on a regular basis. She mixed in slices, and high, looping balls. She was aggressive on return, and Cibulkova, who never got close to 100 mph with her first delivery, helped her in that.

She also stayed toe-to-toe with the Slovak in the hard-hitting rallies. But where Cibulkova seemed satisfied most of the time to go cross-court, it was Andreescu who was bold enough to change the direction and go down the line fairly regularly.

It took an hour and 23 minutes, but it was a comprehensive performance by the Canadian.

Here’s what she said about it.

On a hot streak

Cibulkova came into the desert having played just four matches so far this season. And she lost three of them.

When you add in qualifying matches, WTA 125K-level matches and Grand Slam and WTA main-draw matches – and Fed Cup – Andreescu is now 23-3 on the year.

Her first-round win over Irina-Camelia Begu was as impressive. Begu is currently ranked No. 70. But she has been as high as No. 22 in both singles and doubles and is just as tough an out.

Andreescu might not be one of the top players. But she is arguably the most in-form. And that confidence oozes out of every shot she hits. She’s liking the way she’s playing, with tactical variety. She’s thoroughly bought into it as a successful way to win a lot of tennis matches. And the results reflect that.

The 50-60 section of the WTA Tour rankings is pretty jam-packed, so Andreescu won’t be making a huge leap up with this third-round effort – or even a round-of-16 result, should she defeat Voegele.

But if you win this many matches, the ranking will take care of itself sooner rather than later.

A long way in 12 months

A year ago, during this second week of the BNP Paribas Open, Andreescu’s ranking had dropped, and she lost in the second round of a $25,000 ITF Circuit event in Japan to Dejana Radanovic of Serbia.

(We’d tell you what their rankings were at the time. Unfortunately, that information is currently unavailable on the WTA Tour’s website. Rinse. Repeat).

The next few months of 2018 were full of ups and downs and back issues. But this season has been a revelation for both Andreescu and her fellow 18-year-old Canadian on the men’s side, Félix Auger-Aliassime.

Auger-Aliassime through to face Tsitsipas

Andreescu said she would “200 per cent” be watching Saturday morning when Auger-Aliassime takes on Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece.

Auger-Aliassime, Djere among Indian Wells WCs

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – The hard yards put in by 23-year-old Laslo Djere and 18-year-old Félix Auger-Aliassime down on the Brazilian red clay did not go unnoticed by the powers-that-be at the BNP Paribas Open.

Both received wild cards into the tournament’s main draw, which begins Wednesday.

For Auger-Aliassime, who was just outside the top 100 at the entry deadline for qualifying, it means he’ll have some wiggle room.

Eliminated Friday night in the quarterfinals by Djere, he’ll have at least four days to travel from Brazil, and quickly get acclimated to the dry air and the slow, gritty hard courts in the desert.

(Screenshot: TennisTV)

Bonus for Djere

For Djere, who had not even entered the qualifying and is still alive in San Paulo after winning the Rio 500 event last week over Auger-Aliassime in the final, it’s bonus time. 

Ranked No. 92 at the main-draw deadline, he’d still be about 10 spots out of making the main draw. without the wild card, the alternative would have been to just go back to Europe.

Both, by their current career-high rankings, would easily have made it in. No doubt that weighed in the balance.

Auger-Aliassime qualified for the BNP Paribas Open a year ago, and beat countryman Vasek Pospisil in the first round before losing to Milos Raonic. This year, he has a wild card straight into the main draw. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Opelka, Young and Donaldson are in

The other players on the men’s side who received wild cards include Reilly Opelka, Donald Young (currently ranked No. 214) and Jared Donaldson.

Donaldson is currently ranked No. 129. But he’s just returned from a six-month injury layoff. Opelka, whose ranking is at a career-high No. 58 after his first career title at the New York Open, would have made it in easily with that ranking. But he earned his way in with his efforts in the Oracle Challenger Series.

Young, who was a semifinalist at the Newport Beach Challenger during the second week of the Australian Open, also earned his wild card that way.


Anisimova, Vickery and Andreescu straight in

On the women’s side, six Americans received main-draw wild cards. 

Among them are 17-year-old Amanda Anisimova, who reached the fourth round at the Australian Open. But Anisimova hasn’t played much since then. Her only match was a retirement after seven games of the first set against Varvara Flink of Russia in the first round of Acapulco this week.

Sachia Vickery, Jennifer Brady (who is in the semis of the Oracle Challenger on site this week), Taylor Townsend and Madison Brengle are the other American recipients. 

Jennifer Brady is still alive in the Oracle Challenger. But now, she won’t have to play the qualies in the main event. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Jessica Pegula clinched one of the Oracle Series wild cards, and will make her second career appearance after qualifying all the way back in 2012, when she had just turned 18.

Another player who has had a great 2019 and whose current ranking would have allowed her to easily make the main draw is Canadian Bianca Andreescu.

The 18-year-old, currently ranked No. 71, is in the semifinals of the Acapulco WTA Tour event this week after being one of the last to make the main draw. She upset No. 4 seed Mihaela Buzarnescu and No. 7 seed Saisai Zheng and will face No. 5 seed Sofia Kenin Friday night. 

Andreescu won the Oracle Challenger in Newport Beach last month. But as she’s not an American, she’s not eligible for the wild-card challenge.

Another wild card will go to the second-place finisher in the Oracle Challenger Series, still up for grabs.

Qualifying wild cards

For the women: Francesca Di Lorenzo, Allie Kiick and Catherine McNally received passes into the qualifying. Also in is Ashley Kratzer, the winner of the pre-qualifying tournament.

As well, 16-year-old Zoe Kruger of South Africa, who trains at the IMG Academy and is coached by Thomas Hogstedt, received a qualifying wild card. Hogtstedt and Indian wells tournament director Tommy Haas are very close; Hogstedt used to coach him. It’s all in who you know, sometimes.

There is one more women’s qualifying wild card to be announced.

Young Caty McNally, seen here Thursday during a third-round loss to Viktorija Golubic at the Oracle Challenger, will play the Indian Wells qualies. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

For the men, Americans Christopher Eubanks, Marcos Giron, Mitchell Krueger and J.J. Wolf are into the qualifying. Evan Song, who won the pre-qualifying tournament, also receives a qualifying wild card.

Two match wins are needed to make the main draw.

The qualifying begins Monday, and the first-round main draw matches (the top 32 players have byes) begin Wednesday.


Jubilant Andreescu posts 1st Slam win

MELBOURNE, Australia – However many Grand Slam matches Canadian Bianca Andreescu wins in a career that’s still in its infancy, she’ll always remember this one.

It is the first, of course – her maiden Grand Slam main-draw victory.

But it was the way she did it that will remain engraved somewhere in her tennis psyche.

It’ll be a resource she can draw upon in the future. When she thinks she’s in a situation that seems hopeless, she’ll now know that there’s always hope.

The 7-6 (7), 6-7 (0), 6-3 victory over 16-year-old American Whitney Osuigwe took two hours and 46 minutes on a stifling hot day during which several male players had to retire.

Andreescu was struggling with cramps in her calfs, which required some treatment in the second set. Her back was acting up again, requiring a medical timeout after she broke Osuigwe to take the lead in the third set.

But the fight in the player overcame the challenges.

“All I can say is that it’s one of the toughest matches I’ve ever played and I’m so, so, SO happy I pulled through,” Andreescu said afterward. “I have no idea how I won today. My body was a mess – especially after the first set. I just fought.”

Hello, top 100

At a career high No. 106 in the WTA Tour rankings coming into the match, the victory will tick off another box.

Andreescu will break into the top 100 for the first time. In fact, she’ll be inside the top 90.

She was in shock when she heard that. 

“No way. Oh my God,” she said. “I don’t know what to say. I’m just so happy.”

There’s more work to be done. On Thursday, Andreescu will meet No. 13 Anastasia Sevastova of Latvia for a spot in the third round.