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Bianca Andreescu rallies to beat Jessica Pegula and win the Oracle Challenger Series

Bianca Andreescu needed to breathe. Not the choppy pants she took as she rushed up the steps, away from the tennis court after a 6-0 first-set loss — she needed deep breaths. Inhale for four seconds, exhale for six. Once she reached the bathroom she did just that.

Andreescu meditates every morning, after games and in between points, if she isn’t breathing too hard. She found she plays her best tennis when she lives in the moment, and in the finals match at the Oracle Challenger Series in Newport Beach, her first-set performance was far from her best.

“I just tried to calm myself down,” Andreescu said, “because I was getting really annoyed at myself.”

Her opponent, 24-year-old American Jessica Pegula, used hard diagonal drives and well-placed drop shots to pressure Andreescu. And when 18-year-old Andreescu could manage a strong swing, most of her shots landed in the net or out of bounds. In the final game of the set, she double-faulted three times.

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But once Andreescu caught her breath, she returned to defeat Pegula 6-4, 6-2 in the final two sets, winning the Oracle Challenger Series on Sunday. Taylor Fritz, a 21-year-old from Southern California, won the men’s title for the second straight year to earn a top-40 ranking for the first time in his career. He served 16 aces to defeat Brayden Schnur 7-6, 6-4.

It was Andreescu’s first time winning a tournament title at the tour level, securing her a career-high No. 68 ranking — her first time in the top100 — to become the top-ranked Canadian player.

“Today, a lot didn’t work for me, but I just tried and pushed myself right until the end,” Andreescu said. “And if you have to win scrappy, you got to win scrappy.”

Andreescu scored zero points in the first game of the second set, but the momentum shifted soon after. She tied the set at two when she slammed a serve that bounced off Pegula’s racket but fell short of the net.

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Andreescu pumped her fist and shouted: “Let’s go.”

More points ended with triumphant shouts as Andreescu’s comeback stretched on. In the final set, she remained calm by stepping into the shade between points and wiping her hands on a towel. She won the match with an overhead slam, then sank into a crouch before rising to wave at the crowd.

Andreescu’s success comes after a rocky 2018. In a tournament in April, she left the court in a wheelchair with severe cramps. Back pain forced her to drop out of a tournament in July. Her back injury, coupled with various other injuries, including a stress fracture in her foot, and knee and groin pain, have sidelined her for months at a time.

But she also has learned her limits — when to push herself and when to rest.

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“I think it’s actually helped me get to where I am right now,” she said of the injuries.

This has been Andreescu’s best year yet. She defeated Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki to reach the finals of the ASB Classic. She crushed No. 76 Eugenie Bouchard in the quarterfinals of the Oracle Challenger Series and defeated No. 67 Tatjana Maria in three sets in the semifinals.

Her goal entering the season was to earn a spot in the main draw of the French Open without having to play in the qualifying draw. She’s already done that.

“Now I’m gonna sit down with my coach and look for new goals,” she said.

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But first, she kissed her silver trophy and relished the comeback win. On Sunday, Andreescu calmed herself down when it mattered, and in the down-to-the-wire contest, that was enough.

“These are the matches I live for,” Andreescu said. “I think these are the ones that mean the most.”

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blake.richardson@latimes.com

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