A historic run at the Australian Open just got even bigger for rising 19-year-old Canadian tennis star Eugenie Bouchard.
Bouchard has become just the second Canadian in history to reach the semi-finals of a Grand Slam after winning a thrilling three-set marathon 5-7, 7-5, 6-2 over former World No. 1 Ana Ivanovic. The native of Westmount, Que., seeded in a Grand Slam for the first time in her budding career – 30 in Melbourne – has earned a semi-final matchup with No. 4 seeded Chinese star Li Na.
She went into the night with history already in her back pocket -- the first Canadian since Patricia Hy-Boulais at the 1992 U.S. Open to play in the quarters of a Grand Slam. Now, rolling to the semis, she follows in the footsteps of Carling Bassett, who was the last Canadian to make a semi-final at the 1984 U.S. Open.
During the broadcast, legendary tennis star Martina Navratilova remarked on the teen’s lack of nerves as she soared to a 1-0 lead to open the match. She raved about the Canadian’s perfect form on the kick-serve and her monster potential. Online, tweets about the match came from all corners of the world, noting the newcomer’s savvy, her gutsy style and dramatic burst onto the tennis scene. Tennis pioneer Billie Jean King sent Bouchard a Tweet of congratulations. Even NBA star Dirk Nowitzki tweeted about what an intriguing, hard-fought match was unfolding.
A dramatic rematch
The last time these two players met, an unseeded Bouchard needed just 62 minutes to pummel then 12-ranked Ivanovic 6-2, 6-2 on Centre Court at Wimbledon last year as her breakout 2013 season was beginning to take shape. This dramatic three-setter Down Under was nothing like that.
To get to this point, Ivanovic had outlasted the homegrown Aussie star Samantha Stosur, and then stared down 17-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams and toppled her too. Ivanovic is no stranger to adversity – the 6-foot; 26-year-old Serbian won the 2008 French Open and had been a finalist at the Australian Open in ’08 before slowly slipping as low as No. 65 in the world over the next few seasons because of inconsistent play. However, this tournament has proven Ivanovic was prepared to fight.
Bouchard was playing with both youthful energy and composure beyond her age, appearing in the main draw of the Australian Open for the first time. Just a year ago, she had lost out in qualifiers to kick off her first full season on the senior WTA Tour. She had begun last season ranked 147th in the world, and finished it at No.32, good enough to be named the Tour’s Newcomer of the Year. Due to a number of upsets in her quarter of the bracket, she had yet to face a seeded opponent through four matches in Australia. Her first one didn’t disappoint.
Down double break point and on the verge of going down 2-1 in the first set, Bouchard took a high-risk shot right down the sideline to stave off the break. She won four straight points to take the game and go up 2-1 herself. But the battle ensued with Ivanovic gradually taking control and eventually the first set.
But Bouchard didn’t play conservatively to open the second set like one playing not to lose. She aggressively chased big overhand smashes and controlled points with her signature style – taking the ball early and turning up the pace to make her opponent feel rushed about the court. The Canadian took a sudden and commanding 4-1 lead, but left the door open slightly for Ivanovic to creep back in before grabbing back the second set
Her coach Nick Saviano looked on, a man who has coached many big-name pros at his South Florida academy but rarely would agree to travel on Tour with any one player, until now, with this determined young rising star that had traveled South to learn from him since she was 12, signalling she was ready to be an impact player on the WTA Tour.
The Canadian turned it up in the third – dictating, smashing and leaving the unforced errors to Ivanovic instead. She remained composed until the final point was decided, and then she let loose and finally looked like a teen in celebration, her arms tossed up with a gleeful scream and then that exuberant smile.
Bouchard will get Na on Thursday in Melbourne (Wednesday in Canada), the former French Open champion and twice an Australian Open finalist. Na and Bouchard met once back in 2012, when Bouchard was a youngster getting some experience at the Rogers Cup in Montreal. Na beat her 6-4, 6-4.