Earlier this month, Canadians were glued to their TVs watching Genie Bouchard’s French Open semi-final against Maria Sharapova on the same day Milos Raonic faced Novak Djokovic in the quarters in Paris. Beginning next week, the two Canadians could find themselves in more star-studded matchups as both Bouchard and Raonic contend in two of the most intriguing brackets at Wimbledon.
Bouchard, the only woman to reach the semis at both Grand Slams of 2014, is in the same quarter of the draw as both Sharapova and Serena Williams. With a good start, Raonic could face a quarter-final matchup with No. 2-ranked Rafael Nadal, who is fresh off his victory in Paris.
Seeded 13th, Bouchard could meet top-seeded powerhouse Williams – a five-time champion on the grass at Wimbledon and the current world No.1 – in the round of 16. The winner of that possible matchup is likely to then face Sharapova, the women’s French Open champ.
The 20-year-old native of Westmount, Que., opens competition Tuesday against world No. 35 Daniela Hantuchova. It will be the first-ever meeting between the two, and isn’t likely to be a first-round cakewalk. Hantuchova, a 31-year-old Slovak, has six career titles to her name.
Despite a surprising second-round exit from Roland Garros, Williams is favoured to win her 18th Grand Slam title at the All-England Club. Bouchard has faced Williams just once before, last summer, when the Canadian won the first set in Cincinnati before falling to the player with the most thundering serve and groundstrokes in women’s tennis.
“The women’s draw will go as Serena goes, and it’s not an awful time to get Serena in a draw, because I don’t think she’s playing at quite the same confidence level she had at other Wimbledons,” said ESPN analyst Pam Shriver, reached en route to London. “It’s quite amazing what Genie has done, to be the only woman to get to the final four of both Slams. She’s getting a comfort level at majors that’s very impressive.”
But if Bouchard is to make the round of 16, the 20-year-old might first have to tangle with another intriguing opponent in round 3: 20th-seeded Andrea Petkovic of Germany, also a semi-finalist in Paris earlier this month.
Bouchard has played just one match on grass since she was last in the spotlight, battling Sharapova on clay and taking the first set before the veteran stole the next two along with the Canadian’s chance to play in her first Grand Slam final.
Bouchard tweeted a recent photo of herself lying on Wimbledon’s lush green grass, along with the caption “so happy.” She has had several shining moments there.
“Genie is very good on grass, she loves it, and she’s hitting the ball really well here right now,” said Sylvain Bruneau, captain of Canada’s Federation Cup team and part of Bouchard’s coaching circle at Wimbledon. “She won junior Wimbledon here, a junior doubles title here, and as a pro she beat Ana Ivanovic here on centre court last year. She has some very good memories at the All-England Club, and she’s very happy and confident when she’s here.”
Eighth-seeded Raonic gets a first-round matchup with Matthew Ebden on Tuesday. Raonic, a native of Thornhill, Ont., won his only meeting with the Australian, a player currently ranked No. 86 in the world. This interesting segment of the draw is full of upset-minded players such as Philipp Kohlschreiber, Ivo Karlovic, Gaël Monfils, Richard Gasquet, Kei Nishikori and Raonic’s possible second-round opponent, Jack Sock. The No. 75-ranked Sock beat Raonic last year in Memphis.
“It’s the most fascinating quarter, because it wouldn’t surprise me for about a dozen players in that quarter to get to a semi,” said ESPN analyst Darren Cahill, reached by phone in England. “And Nadal may be the obvious favourite, but he threw the kitchen sink and everything he had out there to win that French Open title, so we can’t be sure where his energy is at the moment.”
Raonic has a 3-3 record on the lawns of Wimbledon and has yet to make it past the round of 64. He suffered a gruesome fall on the grass during his second-round matchup in 2011, which resulted in a hip injury. He needed surgery and several months of rehabilitation.
“The biggest hurdle for him to overcome is feeling comfortable moving on grass, and that incident that happened a few years ago at Wimbledon would be tough to shake off for anybody – let alone for a guy of his tall stature. And it’s the most unpredictable surface,” said Cahill. “Over time, he’s going to become a great grass player and someone with a chance of winning this title, but I’m not sure where he is just yet psychologically with trusting his movement on grass. His serve is going to be a big factor here, and he has a huge forehand and great court sense. But you ultimately need to move well on this surface, and I think that’s the biggest question mark for him at Wimbledon.”
Eight Canadians in total have spots in Wimbledon’s main draw.
Vancouver’s Vasek Pospisil is the No. 31 men’s seed – in the quarter with Djokovic and Andy Murray. In the first round, he will face Dutch veteran Robin Haase. Frank Dancevic of Niagara Falls, Ont., is also in Raonic’s quarter and first meets 20th-seeded Karlovic.
Toronto’s Sharon Fichman is in Bouchard’s quarter, and if she gets past Timea Bacsinszky, Sharapova looms in the second round. Aleksandra Wozniak of Blainville, Que., plays 10th seed Dominika Cibulkova.
Gabriela Dabrowski (Ottawa) and Daniel Nestor (Toronto) will compete in doubles along with Bouchard, Fichman and Pospisil.
“Canada is leading the next generation in men’s and women’s tennis,” said Shriver. “And we’re seeing that next generation pushing forward right now.”