“She has a very bright future.”
That’s the consensus surrounding Eugenie Bouchard, the 19-year-old Canadian who has sprung to prominence at this year’s Australian Open with her career-defining run to the women’s semi-finals.
The Canadian played without a shred of nerves, or at least it appeared that way, as she took down former world No.1 and former Australian Open finalist Ana Ivanovic in her first Grand Slam quarter-final, her easy style and composed demeanour proving that you don’t need to paint lines and crush winners to win big.
“She’s a very good athlete, she has good focus, and she has other factors. She feels comfortable on a big stage, which helps,” her coach, Nick Saviano told the New York Times.
“When you watch Nadal or Federer or Serena Williams or Sharapova, they make little adjustments, but basically you’re seeing them impose their game on other people, and that’s the mentality I want you to see from her,” he said, having first come across Bouchard at the age of 12.
Ivanovic, her victim, echoed Saviano’s thoughts almost exactly. “She’s a very aggressive player. It’s sometimes very hard to read her game. There is no really patterns like with other players you have. She’s a great mover.”
Seemingly with all the attributes to become the perfect package, Bouchard’s catapult into the spotlight, rapid though it has been, hasn’t quite come completely out of the blue. Since winning junior Wimbledon at the age of 18, and reaching her first senior WTA quarter-final a few weeks later, she has gained plaudits for her seamless transition to the senior game.
Reaching five more WTA quarter-finals in 2013, with two wins over top ten players Sam Stosur and Jelena Jankovic among them, Bouchard broke inside the top 100 world rankings and then the top 50 within a year.
“She has a technically sound game and she constructs points well,” Martina Navratilova said last summer, when she beat Ivanovic at Wimbledon. “I don’t want to say a star is born but we have seen a potential Grand Slam champion here.”
Picking up the WTA’s 2013 Newcomer of the Year award and already emblazoned across much of the tour's 'Strong is Beautiful' marketing, she quickly had her fellow players paying attention. But that doesn’t bother her.
“If there’s pressure, that’s great – I love playing in big moments and in pressure situations,” Bouchard said last year.
“She plays some really good tennis,” commented Casey Dellacqua, whom Bouchard beat in the third round in Melbourne. “When she's on, her serve is great. She holds court position amazing. She's mentally tough. Somebody her age, she's pretty composed.”
But there is a big difference between WTA tournaments and Grand Slams.
“For me, I was kind of shy about it,” Ivanovic said, commenting on being in a similar situation to Bouchard when she first broke through. “Some people love the fame. They embrace it.”
Bouchard is certainly one of those. But whether she can rise to the occasion in the same way when she meets Li Na, a former finalist, a Grand Slam champion, in the semi-finals on Wednesday remains to be seen.
Li has that same quality that Saviano is seeking, that ability to stamp herself on a match before her opponent has realized what's happening. Will Bouchard be able to stay as cool when handling the full force of Li's attack?
Ivanovic thinks she can.
“She’s definitely brave. She has nothing to lose.”
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