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Interesting Tennis, Winning Tennis

By Giri Nathan

I don’t have many thoughts while in Florida. Perhaps this is why tennis champions are honed here—too hot to get too in your head. But I have been thinking about popularity, watching the crowds flock at the Miami Open. Some players win a lot while not playing interesting tennis. Many players play interesting tennis while not winning a lot. When these two qualities happen to coincide—interesting, winning—people latch on and seem to never let go. That’s also why there are far too many of these newsletters written about a select few players. I believe that any topic, and so any tennis player, can be made interesting with enough curiosity and patience. (Please accept this testimony from someone who has composed a blog post focused on Kevin Anderson’s backhand.) But surely some players make that task way easier than others. Bianca Andreescu hit the WTA playing immediately interesting tennis, and she immediately won a lot. Even though she has not won as much in the years since, I keep wondering if it’s going to happen again. I don’t need any inbox archivists informing me that this exact check-in comes around once a year. (And yes, once it was even during Miami.) Like Charlie Brown, admiring the stippling on the familiar old football lying before him, here I am, typing it out: I think it’s happening again for Bianca!

I am far from the only tennis fan invested in the Andreescu cause (remember, Canada exists). But I might have the simplest reason for it: If you dominate the professional game while hitting frequent forehand slices, you have won my loyalty for life. I will sit here on my stoop, streaming these matches via criminally buggy apps, until I can see it again. Now Andreescu is about to reenter the top 30 for the first time since October 2021. That was when she took an indefinite leave from the tour for her mental health. She returned six months later, with lots of points to make up, and has since climbed about 90 ranking spots in an understated fashion. There have been statement wins here and there, but mostly she has lost to her top peers, racking up a 5–11 record against top 20 players in that stretch. That alone doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence. Neither does her flagging first serve. But her ground game is beginning to look the way it used to. That jarringly inventive tennis of hers was gone for a long time, as if she’d lost the conviction to pull it off, but she is finding her drop shots and change of pace again. In Indian Wells she spent two hours meeting world No. 1 Iga Swiatek at eye level before fading away in a second-set tiebreak. Everyone loses to Iga, but not everyone makes her work—a good loss.

Bibi murders forehands during practice at Indian Wells. (David Bartholow)
Bibi murders forehands during practice at Indian Wells. (David Bartholow)

On Wednesday in Miami she defeated Emma Raducanu in three sets, an excellent first-round matchup between two injury-bedeviled teenage U.S. Open champs who were born in Toronto with Romanian heritage. They seesawed through a 21-minute, 10-deuce game in the second set. In it were several passages of vintage Bibi; from that racquet sprung both junk and power. She also looks quicker than she did last year. But she will not have a moment to catch her breath. Her second-round match on Friday against Maria Sakkari should bring back some vivid memories. These two have played twice before, both in 2021, both following a basic template: super tense, two tiebreaks, one 6–3 set. In the U.S. Open, the match went Maria’s way. In Miami, it went Bianca’s, and that was the last time that she assembled a truly spectacular run at a tournament, advancing to the final only to retire with injury. She has not strung together five match wins in a row since then. Can she do it here? A vastly upgraded version of Maria Sakkari says no. But I wouldn’t have written all this if I didn’t believe in a little bit of yes.

Above: Bianca Andreescu after her victory over an identically attired Emma Raducanu in Miami. (Getty)