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.

The Unlikely Eight look for Wimbledon SF spots

WIMBLEDON – The women’s game is unpredictable these days.

That’s a reality, although the reasons for it depend on your point of view.

It could be parity, and a general rise in overall level that makes more upsets possible. It could also be a corollary to that – that there are numerous very good players, without many true champions in the game at the moment.

With the absence of an indisputable champion in Serena Williams for close to a year and a half, the contrast with the rest of the field is stark.

Perhaps so many of the women wanted to win Wimbledon so badly, their nerves got the better of them, in some cases.

Whatever the reason, and it’s probably a combination of a few factors, here we are.

Draw doesn’t shake out as planned

Here is what the women’s singles quarterfinals looked like on paper, when the draw came out.

We bear in mind that Williams, seeded No. 25, was always a dangerous wild card. Victoria Azarenka, another former No. 1 who has Grand Slam titles on her resumé, also looked to do some damage.

unlikely

But with the top 10 seeds all long gone – many in shocking fashion – here are the matchups Tuesday.

There were injury concerns with Williams after the French Open, where she pulled out before a scheduled match against Maria Sharapova with a pectoral injury. But as she has played her way into form during the fortnight, who would bet against her reaching the final now?

But first, a stern test against an inscrutable opponent in the Italian Giorgi.

Williams is 3-0 against Giorgi. Their last meeting came in the first round of the 2016 Australian Open. Since then, Giorgi has fallen down the rankings and picked herself right back up.

She plays the same game against everyone she plays. So Williams knows what she’s going to get.

Unseeded Cibulkova lets racket do the talking

unlikely

There was a fair bit of pushback from Cibulkova before the tournament.

Wimbledon’s decision to award Williams a seed meant Cibulkova, who would have been seeded No. 32, ended up unseeded and therefore vulnerable to a tough early draw.

The Slovak ended up with a friendly draw – in terms of the seeds she faced. Cibulkova defeated No. 22 Johanna Konta, who has been struggling. Then she upset No. 15 Elise Mertens, who was never really considered a serious contender and also has been struggling some in 2016.

No. 1 seed Simona Halep was eliminated by Hsieh Su-Wei. And then Cibulkova defeated Hsieh.

Now, she faces 2017 French Open champ Jelena Ostapenko.

The Latvian had the “worst” happen in Paris, where she lost in the first round in defense of her title. But with that rather heavy rock having fallen off her back, she is having a great Wimbledon.

“In this tournament, she seems to be in the right mood. Yeah, she’s playing aggressive. She’s playing with no fear. She just going for it,” Cibulkova said of Ostapenko.

Williams – Ostapenko final?

Despite all the bigger names in the women’s game (other than Williams) being out long ago, there is one rather appealing potential final matchup that could still happen.

unlikely
Serena v Ostapenko in the final? Could happen.

And that is with no disrespect meant to the others, all fine players but with much lower profiles with the more casual tennis and sports fans.

Ostapenko has had a good draw: wild card Katy Dunne, Kirsten Flipkens, qualifier Vitalia Diatchenko (who upset Maria Sharapova), and Aliaksandra Sasnovich (who upset Petra Kvitova in the first round)

The way has, in part, been cleared for her. And she has taken full advantage of it.

Can you picture a Serena vs. Ostapenko women’s singles final?

They have never met; Ostapenko’s rise came while Williams was off on maternity leave.

It would be a heck of an introduction on Saturday.

Of course, that likely means the final will be Cibulkova vs. Julia Goerges.

Because that’s the kind of Wimbledon it’s been.

On National Puppy Day, a celebration of tennis dogs

KEY BISCAYNE – More than anywhere, you’ll see them at the just-completed BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.

Tennis dogs – all over the place. With all the green space, and the fact that players often rent condos rather than a hotel room when they’re in the desert, they let the dogs out (woof, woof).

Not since the 1980s, when Arantxa Sanchez Vicario had Roland Garros and Martina Navratilova had several, including K.D. (for Killer Dog) have there been this many dogs on Tour.

And so, in honour of National Puppy Day (yes, that’s actually a thing), we present: Harold Reginald Williams, Loewik Zverev and Spajky and Woody Cibulkova.

In the desert, Dominika Cibulkova and Alexander Zverev actually bonded over their doggies on the practice court.

With the family Zverev a cohesive unit, Mom seems to be charged with doggie care.

As for Harold, he knows what’s up. He sits in the shade during practice periods, then catches a few rays during water breaks – but never inside the lines.

And when Mama Venus takes out her handy backpack and opens it up, Harold leaps up and jumps right in. It’s the ultimate tennis pet trick.

“Day one. He’s a smart guy,” Williams told Tennis.Life about the leaping Harold trick. “When I first got him, he was in the bag. That’s, like, his safe spot. If he’s in the bag, he knows he’s getting to go. He’ll definitely get in.”

Tennis dogs are something else. Do any of you know a single dog face-to-face with a tennis ball who doesn’t go chasing it around? There are probably as many tennis balls used for that purpose as for their intended purposes. Not tennis dogs, though; they might have 100 balls on the practice court but they completely ignore them all.

We don’t want to neglect two of the more veteran Next-Gen tennis doggies:

Chip Williams…

… and Bruno Wozniacki.

Williams’ doggie backpack is low-key compared to what seems to be the tennis dog accessory of choice these days, the Louis Vuitton doggie carrier.

Only $2,940 US, (plus taxes, shipping, handling, whatever else is involved).