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