The only person who didn’t seem impressed with what Eugenie Bouchard had just accomplished on Centre Court at Wimbledon was Eugenie Bouchard herself.
After the native of Westmount, Que., became the first Canadian tennis player in the Open era to make it to the singles final of a Grand Slam event – brushing aside third-seeded Simona Halep on Friday in yet another straight-sets win – the assembled media wanted to know why Ms. Bouchard hadn’t given so much as a yelp of joy after her big win.
The 20-year-old’s answer would be familiar to any hockey fan who has ever watched their team skate by the Clarence Campbell Bowl or the Prince of Wales Trophy without touching it because the Stanley Cup is the only silverware that matters. Ms. Bouchard’s not done yet. In her book – despite what she’s accomplished so far – she can only celebrate when she’s holding the Venus Rosewater Dish, the trophy that goes to the woman who wins it all at Wimbledon.
“I feel like my job is not done here, so there’s no need for a huge celebration. I’m still working. I still have another match,” she said of her muted reaction Thursday, which involved only a curt wave and a blown kiss after besting Ms. Halep. Afterwards, Ms. Bouchard put her head down and walked off Centre Court as though she were already contemplating the final.
That Ms. Bouchard’s name already hangs on the wall of champions here at the All-England Lawn Tennis Club probably helps her keep an even keel. Two years ago, a then 18-year-old “Genie” Bouchard won the Junior Wimbledon crown. She already knows she can win on tennis’s biggest stage.
Standing in the way of an even bigger triumph is sixth-seeded Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic. Ms. Kvitova, a 24-year-old left-hander, should be the favourite on Saturday, having won Wimbledon in 2011.
But Ms. Bouchard is the player everyone is talking about here, with her mix of 105 mile-per-hour serves and odd-angle returns that so often seem to catch her opponents heading in the wrong direction. With her declarative 7-6, 6-2 ousting of Ms. Halep, Ms. Bouchard remarkably arrives in the final without having lost a set in any of her six matches so far.
She may share the big stage with a fellow Canuck this weekend. Thornhill, Ont.’s Milos Raonic – the eighth seed in the men’s draw – plays his own historic semi-final on Friday against seven-time Wimbledon winner Roger Federer of Switzerland.
Before this week, no Canadian player had ever made it to a Grand Slam semifinal. That no longer seems like enough of an accomplishment.
Ms. Bouchard, in particular, looks set to quickly outgrow the parochial “first Canadian to do X” storyline and emerge as a global superstar. She spent much of her post-match news conference professionally fending off comparisons to Maria Sharapova and Anna Kournikova (she pointedly welcomed only the parallel to Ms. Sharapova, who unlike her glamourous but unsuccessful Russian compatriot has won five grand slams).
She also handled questions about her fitness regimen (“I wouldn’t say I do anything odd”), Justin Bieber (“I’m not associated with that”) and whom she’d like to see sitting in the Royal Box at Saturday’s final (“maybe Oprah”).
The cool and controlled performance in the press room felt like a continuation of the clinic she gave on Centre Court. The wiry, 5-foot-10 Ms. Bouchard was a woman on a mission Thursday. Her first serve was an ace that caught Ms. Halep flat-footed with its ferocity.
When Ms. Halep, who came into the match with her left thigh in a bandage, took to a chair in the shade for a medical break between the fourth and fifth games of the first set – with the contest locked at 2-2 – Ms. Bouchard bounced around in her corner like a prizefighter between rounds, returning invisible volleys with her racket.
After exchanging service breaks early, neither woman gave any more ground in the hour-long first set, which was eventually decided in a tiebreaker that took a bizarre turn when it was interrupted – with Ms. Halep leading 3-2 – so that medics could attend to a fan who collapsed in the 28C heat.
Ms. Bouchard flubbed the next point after the pause, barely getting her racket on a weak return, but rallied to win the next four points, taking a lead she wouldn’t relinquish in claiming the tiebreaker 7-5 and the first set 7-6.
Her braided gold hair whipping with each swing of her racket, Ms. Bouchard had all the momentum entering the second set, breaking Ms. Halep’s serve in the third game – aided by a critical double-fault by the Romanian – and then again in the fifth game. Ms. Halep seemed to lose strength as Ms. Bouchard gained it, appearing to slump and accept her fate in a second set that Ms. Bouchard won in just 34 minutes.
Ms. Bouchard seemed to struggle slightly with the pressure as she neared her goal, blowing six match points before finally ending the contest with a 99-mph ace that Ms. Halep backhanded meekly into the net.
The English crowd that had taken the young Quebecker’s side from the outset – occasional shouts of “Cmon Genie!” (and the occasional “I love you Genie!”) broke through the customary polite silence from somewhere in the shaded upper seats surrounding Centre Court – rose to its feet in appreciation after the match.
Ms. Halep said she’d been hobbled by “muscle pain” in her left leg, and hurt her ankle late in the first set. She admitted she lost motivation in the second set, in part because she couldn’t envision coming back to win two straight sets against Ms. Bouchard.
She predicted the Canadian could eventually be a world No. 1. “She hits very strong and she serves also very well. She has the game to be there [No. 1], I think.”
Ms. Halep had to deal with intense tabloid scrutiny this week, as Britain’s unrestrained press devoted pages of coverage to the “news” that she had breast-reduction surgery five years ago.
But by Thursday, Ms. Bouchard was the storyline. In the courtside photographers’ pit, only a handful of the three-dozen cameras were focused on Ms. Halep, even early in the match. By late in the second set, every single lens was trained on the emerging Canadian star.
So, will Ms. Bouchard finally let loose and properly celebrate if she wins the final on Saturday? “I’ll decide after match point,” she answered with her trademark calm. “Right now it’s a long ways away.”
Photos: Pavel Golovkin/The Associated Press (Federer), Ben Curtis/The Associated Press (Raonic)