Bianca Andreescu didn’t defeat Iga Swiatek at Indian Wells on Monday evening, but she walked away from her encounter with the World No. 1 knowing that she belonged on the court with the best player in women’s tennis. That’s no small thing, and it could be the genesis of a new and spectacular period in both Andreescu’s career and the life of the WTA Tour.
We have said it a lot here at Tennis With An Accent, both in written articles and on our podcasts and Twitter Spaces live shows: The WTA is in a good place, but if it wants to get to a great place, an even better position in the global sports ecosystem, it needs a rivalry which catches fire and gains the public’s full attention.
Martina versus Chris. Martina versus Steffi. Steffi versus Monica. The Williams Sisters. Venus versus Davenport. Serena versus Henin. Serena versus Azarenka for a few brief years. Matchups which gain that “must-see” label are nectar for the tennis lover’s soul. Sure, the tennis junkie in all of us loves the Round-of-64 matchup between Cornet and Putintseva, or a first-round match between Samsonova and Teichmann, but it’s undeniable that having a big-stage rivalry which captures the public imagination gives women’s tennis something extra special, something we talk about 40 years after the fact the way we still talk about Navratilova and Evert.
Iga Swiatek might meet Aryna Sabalenka in the Indian Wells final. Monday’s losses by Ons Jabeur and Daria Kasatkina (two top-8 seeds) reinforce how difficult it is and has been for top-10 players to consistently make the end stages of the biggest events on tour. However, there are hardly any guarantees we will get that 1-versus-2 showdown. Swiatek and Sabalenka didn’t meet in Melbourne after facing each other in the U.S. Open semifinals. We’re still looking for that WTA rivalry in which two players can regularly be found meeting each other in big moments during the tennis season, year after year.
Monday’s Swiatek-Andreescu match gave us a tantalizing glimpse at what is possible if the Canadian can stay healthy.
At 6-3 and 2-0, this match felt over, or at least, most people watching the competition surely felt it was just about done and dusted. That’s not a knock on Andreescu. It’s a credit to Swiatek, whose loss to Elena Rybakina in Melbourne this past January has been rendered as a minor discussion point due to her subsequent weeks of good play this winter. Swiatek hasn’t suffered any severe decline. She will still be hard-pressed to replicate her full body of results from 2022, but the No. 1-level presence is still there. She is not going to fall off the map. She will stick around, by all indications.
How the rest of the tour responds to her is the real question. Getting special competitors into the ring, players who have the capacity to mentally reset and not back down in the face of Swiatek’s arsenal, is something women’s tennis can use right now. Fans certainly want to see Swiatek get challenged.
Andreescu was up for the battle on Monday.
She turned that set-and-break deficit into a 4-2 second-set lead. Yes, Swiatek battled back, but Andreescu made the World No. 1 earn that match in a second-set tiebreaker. Andreescu lost, but we saw the competitive chops which marked her epic 2019 season, a year which transformed the face of Canadian tennis and gave fresh belief to a lot of players on tour, very much including Leylah Fernandez, who reached the U.S. Open final two years later.
Andreescu’s ability to stand up to Swiatek is a building block for an injury-interrupted career which — if it can simply find some measure of stability — shows clear signs of being able to return to the very top tier of the sport. We’re not predicting this will happen, but we are saying the possibility is right there in front of Bibi.
More Swiatek-Andreescu matches in 2023, particularly at the majors? Yes, please. It would be a great thing for the global community of tennis fans.