On her improbable run to the Wimbledon final, Eugenie Bouchard didn’t drop a set until the closing match.
Here at the U.S. Open, she is playing a more dangerous – and, let’s admit it – more palpitating game.
Bouchard advanced to the Round of 16 Saturday night after a nearly three-hour slapping contest with Barbora Zahlavova Strycova.
This was, by turns, a match Bouchard had in the bag, had the bag sewed up, had the bag thrown over her shoulder on the way back to the locker room, dropped the bag, the bag popped open, everything spilled out of the bag and, in the very last minutes, managed to shovel it all back in the bag.
“I felt like we had to put on a show,” Bouchard said immediately after the 6-2, 6-7, 6-4 victory.
In swirling conditions that made life tough for both players, neither a particularly hard hitter, opportunities see-sawed back and forth the entire night.
After being broken in her first service game, Bouchard completely dominated the initial set.
How dominating? The sort of dominating where an idiot writer feels so sure of the result, he begins fleshing out a completed story and thinks about making late dinner reservations in Manhattan. That sort of dominating.
Zahlavova Strycova, a spasmodic, shrieking, delightfully unhinged Czech, looked like she might just lie down on the court and wait until they dragged her off.
But in the second set, she began to poke holes in Bouchard’s game. Unforced errors piled up for the Canadian. The bad Bouchard we’d grown to fear during the hard-court season emerged. You were beginning to get a premonition. It wasn’t good.
The key game came mid-way through the third set. Trailing 3-2 on her own serve, Bouchard fell behind 15-40. Until that point in the match, Zahlavova Strycova had converted all her break chances.
This time, Bouchard beat back three of them with vicious cross-court volleys and won the game. Zahlavova Strycova would surrender another break and fade meekly. As it ended, the Czech slumped in her chair, red-eyed. She was very close to becoming the latest to bump a top-8 seed from this tournament, and will rightly feel like she blew the chance.
As of Saturday, only Bouchard (no. 7), Maria Sharapova (no. 5) and Serena Williams (no. 1) remain from that elite group.
If her game still looks shaky, Bouchard’s draw is shaping up like a dream. The woman who beat her at Wimbledon, Petra Kvitova, was upset earlier in the day.
Bouchard will face Russian Ekaterina Makarova on Monday. The Russian won the only meeting between the two, but that was last year. Bouchard was a completely different player then.
If Bouchard advances, she will not face a top-15 player until the semis at the earliest (though that would likely be Williams).
Bouchard hasn’t looked particularly sharp, but she’s survived, which is more than most of the top women can say here.
Based purely on attrition, she is now one of the favourites to win this tournament.