There is no question who is the star of this year’s women’s Rogers Cup – Eugenie Bouchard.
An adoring crowd turned out to Uniprix Stadium on Sunday to salute the rising star from Westmount, Que., as she did media interviews, signed tennis balls and pictures and listened to a tribute chant from the Genie Army, a gaggle of fans who flew in from Australia to see her play in her hometown.
“I’m just really excited,” the 20-year-old said. “It’s going to be my first match since Wimbledon.
“I’m not going to be to hard on myself, but I’m going to give it my all and enjoy playing in front of my home crowd.”
As the fifth seed, Bouchard has a bye into the second round of the 56-woman event and will likely play her first match on Tuesday evening.
Bouchard’s last tournament was at the All England Club, where she became the first player on the WTA tour to reach the semi-finals of the year’s first three grand slam events since Dinara Safina in 2009.
Then she made a statement about the rapid progress of her game when she got to the final, only to lose in straight sets to Petra Kvitova. However, the performance put her into the top-10 in world rankings for the first time, at No. 7.
“I was disappointed to lose in the final,” she said. “I expect a lot from myself and I felt I could have done better, but it was a huge learning experience in the end.
“After a couple of days I was able to reflect. I felt I played a good two weeks and I was proud of that, for sure, but coming so close to achieving a dream just motivated me more. I’m really excited to finish the year strong. We’ll see what happens.”
She came out of Wimbledon with a sore right knee and had to withdraw from one tournament, but said it has healed and she’s ready for the Rogers Cup.
Playing at home for the first time since achieving the fame that comes from being a top-10 player means extra pressure and extra demands on her time from fans, friends and media. Happily, she has had three grand slams to at least somewhat get used to the attention and expectations.
She will try her best to keep a normal schedule, which means she won’t sleep in her old bed at home. “I’m in a hotel,” she said. “I just want to stay focused and play like a normal tournament.
“I’m always in hotels, so I’m just trying to keep the same routine. That’s where I feel the most comfortable.”
Bouchard, whose coach Nick Saviano is in town for the event, has come a long way since winning the junior girls title at Wimbledon in 2012. She served notice with a strong rookie season as a pro by being named WTA newcomer of the year.
She followed this season with an impressive run of wins that included her first WTA tournament victory in Germany just ahead of the French Open.
In Australia, she lost to Li Na, who will miss the Rogers Cup with an injury.
Former world No. 1 Maria Sharapova, whom Bouchard idolized as a teenager and whom she lost to in a French Open semifinal, has noticed the talented, attractive and personable newcomer’s rise.
“She’s been so incredibly successful at the grand slams this year,” Sharapova said. “It’s been a quick transition for her from the juniors to the pros.
“It’s always a difficult one, and she’s made that successfully. It’s great for me, at 27, to be in the middle of my career and see a younger generation coming up and doing so well in grand slams, yet I’m still facing opponents I faced when I was starting out as a teenager. Bigger challenges in bigger tournaments: she’s much more comfortable with those situations than she was a year or two ago.”
At the men’s Rogers Cup in Toronto, the player Bouchard lists as her favourite, Roger Federer, also lauded the Canadian.
“She seems like she works really hard, enjoys what she’s doing,” the Swiss ace said. “She’s got a great attitude on the court, in my opinion.
“She doesn’t fist-pump every point, which I can’t stand. She’s normal, you know? I’m happy she’s been successful and I hope she can keep that up and win the big ones now.”
Bouchard wants to keep the good results coming, both at the Rogers Cup and heading into the U.S. Open at the end of August, where she hopes to make at least a fourth Grand Slam semifinal in a row. The next hurdles are cracking the top five, and reaching the WTA finals in Singapore in October.
“After making the top 20, in the back of my head, I’m saying ‘let’s get to top 10,’ ” Bouchard said. “Now, the next step is top 5.
“It’s about slowly building. I don’t want to worry too much about specific ranking goals, but it’s motivating to see your number improve. I just want to be a better tennis player by the end of the year. I’m working hard and I think I can achieve that.”