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Teenager Bianca Andreescu advances to Paribas Open final with victory over Elina Svitolina

Teenager Bianca Andreescu advances to Paribas Open final with victory over Elina Svitolina
Bianca Andreescu celebrates her win over Elina Svitolina during the semifinals of the BNP Paribas Open at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. (Matthew Stockman / Getty Images)

Her thigh was cramping and her strength was ebbing. Bianca Andreescu had squandered a match point in the ninth game of the third set of her BNP Paribas Open semifinal against Elina Svitolina on Friday night, and then a second and a third chance eluded her in the 10th game. By the time that game went to deuce for the fourth time, pain had become as menacing a foe for the 18-year-old Canadian as was the persistent Svitolina.

Andreescu, who massaged her leg during changeovers and often grimaced in pain while she was on the court, gained the advantage by pulling off another of her trademark drop shots. The next point was a baseline rally that, mercifully for Andreescu, ended when sixth-seeded Svitolina hit a forehand into the net. Andreescu’s joy overtook her discomfort as the impact of her 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 victory began to register, and it was a lot to take in.

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The two-hour, 12-minute triumph was the biggest in a career whose trajectory is soaring and can take another leap forward if she prevails in Sunday’s final. Andreescu, a wild-card entrant here, will face No. 8 Angelique Kerber, who ended Swiss standout Belinda Bencic’s 12-match winning streak with a 6-4, 6-2 decision. “I’m really looking forward to a tough battle,” Kerber, who overcame an early break by Bencic in the second set Friday, said of facing Andreescu. “She’s a great player and I know I’ll have to play my best tennis.”

Andreescu ranked 60th in the world before this tournament but climbed to 33rd by getting this far and would be No. 24 if she wins Sunday. “I’m actually shaking right now. It’s just so incredible,” she said after taking an ice bath to recover from cramps she believed were induced by stress. “I’m honestly speechless.”

But only for a moment. She’s engaging and funny and open, and the sports world soon will know and appreciate that. “It was a crazy match, a roller coaster,” said Andreescu, who was born in Canada but lived in her parents’ homeland of Romania for part of her childhood before the family settled in the Toronto area. “In the third set I kept my composure.”

She went down two service breaks in the first set but regrouped to win the next six games and clinched the set with a forehand to the far corner. She broke Svitolina’s serve to win the first game of the second set, but Svitolina soon seized control. Andreescu calmed down in the third set and went for her shots, breaking Svitolina for 4-3 and letting out a primal scream. “I’m really happy I pulled through,” she said.

Svitolina acknowledged she had missed her chances and said she was hampered by pain in her knee. She also was upset by an incident at the hotel where she and boyfriend Gael Monfils, a star on the men’s tour, were staying.

On Thursday night she tweeted an image of two animated and frightened bunny-like creatures with the comment, “Our faces when 4 policeman break into our hotel room and point guns at us and scream ‘Hands Up,’” and added a scared-face emoji. “In the end, everything was sorted. So we were fine,” she said. “But still was lots of stress …. it’s not something that happens to you every day.”

Andreescu’s buildup to this tournament included a title at the Challenger Series event in Newport Beach in January. On Friday she recorded her fifth win over a top-20 player in her career, a total that includes her victories at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden over No. 18 Qiang Wang in the round of 16 and No. 20 Garbine Muguruza in a 6-0, 6-1 rout in the quarterfinals. She has won 27 matches this season at all levels, the most of any player this year.

Andreescu’s advance has been as refreshing as it is impressive. Younger women are pushing their elders and contending for titles, bringing with them energy and intriguing personalities. The biggest names here exited early: Naomi Osaka, the world No. 1 and defending tournament champion, was eliminated by Bencic in the round of 16. No. 2 Simona Halep was upset in the round of 16 by Czech teenager Marketa Vondrousova, 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams had to retire due to illness midway through her second match, and her older sister Venus Williams did well to reach the quarterfinals but lost to Kerber.

Osaka, 21, zoomed to the head of the next generation by winning last year’s U.S. Open and this year’s Australian Open, while Andreescu, Vondrousova and other youngsters bring new and welcome elements to the mix. Kerber, incidentally, is 31.

Andreescu was respectful toward Kerber, calling her “a great fighter.” But Andreescu has shown so far she’s no slouch there, either.

Good for her, and good for tennis.

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