About 20 minutes before Montreal’s Eugenie Bouchard was scheduled to play her second-round match at Wimbledon against Serbia’s Ana Ivanovic, the former French Open champion, Bouchard received the news. Their match would be shifted to venerable Centre Court after No. 2 seed Victoria Azarenka withdrew because of injury.
“I didn’t even have time to get nervous or anything,” Bouchard said. “I was just really happy and excited.”
Bouchard took happiness and excitement to an even higher level 62 minutes later when she knocked off Ivanovic in straight sets, 6-3, 6-3, becoming the first Canadian woman since Maureen Drake in 2002 to advance to the third round of the world’s most prestigious tennis tournament.
There’s something about Wimbledon that brings out the best in the 19-year-old Bouchard. Last summer, she was the first Canadian to win the Wimbledon junior women’s title with a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Elina Svitolina of Ukraine. That match took place in front of a big crowd on Court 1, and according to Bouchard, helped her prepare for the match against Ivanovic.
“But of course, nothing can compare to Centre Court at Wimbledon,” Bouchard said. “It’s the temple of tennis. I just went out there. I know I can play with those top girls. I was just trying to go for it and play my game and realized I didn’t have anything to lose. And that’s what I did.”
So much of tennis at the highest level is all in the mind – trying to control nerves, and winning the points that matter with the match on the line. Bouchard had broken Ivanovic four times already when she had a chance to serve it out in the second set and had a brief moment of jitters, losing that game. Then she turned right around and broke Ivanovic again in the next game to close the match out.
Once upon a time, Ivanovic was the world’s No. 1 player, but she has been plagued by inconsistencies the last couple of seasons, capable of playing at a high level some days and vulnerable at other times. Bouchard took advantage of Ivanovic’s lapses in confidence, playing a fearless brand of tennis that perhaps just comes with youth.
There is a sense that a new generation of women’s players is about to emerge internationally, including rising British star Laura Robson, who is especially popular during the Wimbledon fortnight. Bouchard and Robson are close friends; Bouchard actually stayed at Robson’s house last year when she won the junior Wimbledon title. This year, Bouchard is staying in a hotel, accompanied by her mother, her twin sister and her younger brother.
A few weeks ago, Bouchard played Russia’s Maria Sharapova on Centre Court at the French Open and lost in straight sets, but acknowledged it was a valuable learning experience, even if the surfaces were dramatically different.
“I was like, ‘I’ve done this before, no big deal,’” Bouchard said. “For sure, the more time I get on these big courts helps me in my future matches. I definitely was calm and felt I could do this. It worked out.”
The bottom half of the women’s draw is wide open after Azarenka withdrew and Sharapova, the No. 3 seed, lost Wednesday, following No. 5 Sara Errani and No. 9 Caroline Wozniaki to the sidelines. The highest remaining seed is No. 8 Petra Kvitova, the reigning Rogers Cup champion. Bouchard can book a date with Kvitova in the fourth round, but first needs to get past the No. 19 seed, Carla Suarez Navarro, who won over Croatia’s Mirjana Lucic-Baroni 1-6, 6-3, 6-3.
Bouchard, ranked No. 66 in the world but moving up after these two wins, had previously defeated another Grand Slam champion, former U.S. Open winner Samantha Stosur, in April at the Family Circle Cup. And although Bouchard was aware that there had been a number of upsets in the tournament, she was adopting the one-match-at-a-time mantra.
“I haven’t looked at the draw at all,” Bouchard said. “My next match is going to be a real challenge, and I won’t be on Centre Court. It’ll be a little bit of a different atmosphere, but I’m going to go out there and try my best and hopefully play as well as I can.”
There was a time more than two decades ago when whatever success Canada had internationally in tennis came mainly from its women’s players – Carling Bassett, Helen Kelesi, Patricia Hy and others. More recently, thanks to the emergence of Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil, it has been the men showing the way – a berth in the Davis Cup semi-finals, a top-20 ranking for Raonic.
Pospisil took the men’s No. 20 seed, Russia’s Mikhail Youzhny, to the distance Wednesday before losing the match in a heart-breaker, 6-4 in the fifth set. Youzhny won 165 total points to 156 for Pospisil, but the difference was just two of them – Youzhny converting on four of his seven service-break opportunities, Pospisil on just two-of-seven. The margins really are that fine.
After so much recent success with the Canadian men, could we be seeing similar progress on the women’s side?
“Hopefully,” Bouchard said. “That’s the plan. I want to be the best I can be. With my country behind me, that’s an honour and that’s cool. I want to be really good, and I have a long road to get there.”