Wimbledon loss whets Eugenie Bouchard’s appetite for a Grand Slam win

LONDON — The Globe and Mail

Eugenie Bouchard of Canada holds her runners-up trophy during the trophy ceremony after losing to Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic in the women's singles final match at the All England Lawn Tennis Championships in Wimbledon, London, Saturday, July 5, 2014. (Sang Tan/AP)

When the rain began shortly after her centre court loss in the Wimbledon final, Eugenie Bouchard found herself taking shelter in the engraving room alongside Centre Court, watching as they put someone else’s name – Petra Kvitova’s – on the champion’s trophy.

It was then – after a week when many had already prematurely crowned the 20-year-old Montrealer as the next queen of Wimbledon – that Bouchard realized her dream would have to wait for at least another year.

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Being made to watch the preparation of the prize she didn't win was “a little cruel,” Bouchard said, smiling despite it in her post-match press conference. But the experience further whetted her appetite for a Grand Slam win. “I was watching them work and wishing one day, dreaming that he’ll write my name on there.”

Bouchard shot to tennis superstardom this week with her on-court play and off-court composure during a breakout run at the hallowed All-England Lawn Tennis Association, becoming the first Canadian to qualify for a Grand Slam event in modern tennis history. By Saturday – with her namesake Princess Eugenie of York in attendance – the 13th seeded Bouchard had become the popular pick to win it all.

But the fairytale ending was denied by Kvitova of the Czech Republic, who won her second Wimbledon crown in four years with an overpowering performance.

Three years ago, Kvitova was the upstart who shocked the tennis world to capture Wimbledon with an upset win over Maria Sharapova. On Saturday, the 24-year-old Czech proved too big, too powerful and too experienced – this time – for Bouchard.

Kvitova, two inches taller and 20 pounds heavier than the lithe Canadian, took just 55 minutes to make it clear that tennis’s heir apparent still has a way to go before she can truly claim a place among the sport’s royalty, dispatching Bouchard 6-3, 6-0.

Bouchard – crowned “Princess Genie” here by a fawning British press – received the runner-up trophy from Prince Edward, and a loud ovation from the crowd, after the match. But she was left standing off to the side as a grinning Kvitova hoisted the champion’s Venus Rosewater Dish.

“It was really tough for me today, but I’m proud of how I played this whole tournament,” Bouchard said on court after the match. The crowd roared its approval when the interviewer predicted Bouchard would one day be a Wimbledon champ, but Bouchard seemed briefly mired in the disappointment of the moment.

“Yeah, I feel like [making the finals] is a step in the right direction. I’m not sure I deserve all your love today, but I really appreciate it.”

With roof on Centre Court open on a grey and cool day – the rains waited until after the match had been decided – Bouchard served first, and in the opening few minutes she looked to be at least Kvitova’s equal.

Bouchard quickly established her forehand, smashing crowd-pleasing volleys to one baseline then the other before sealing the opening game with a 102 mile-per-hour serve Kvitova couldn’t return.

But Kvitova’s own left-handed serve – slightly faster by the radar gun, clocking in at just over 110 miles per hour – created match-long headaches for Bouchard. Largely unheralded on the WTA tour despite her accomplishments (Kvitova seems uncomfortable speaking English and lacks the glamour of rivals like Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams and now Bouchard), the Czech clearly felt at home on the Wimbledon grass.

The third game of the first set proved a turning point. Bouchard missed three of her first serves, forcing her to slow down her second efforts and allowing Kvitova to tee up her returns and eventually break Bouchard’s serve. It would become the story of the match, with the Czech breaking the Canadian’s serve five times, and Bouchard holding her serve just twice.

The numbers told the same tale: Bouchard only got 61 per cent of her first serves in. And when she had to rely on her second serve, she won just 8 of a possible 22 points.

With Kvitova ahead 5-2 after just 25 minutes of play in the first set, and Bouchard struggling to find her rhythm, the crowd tried to rally their favourite with cries “C’mon Genie!”

Bouchard responded, briefly finding an answer to Kvitova’s serve and winning a break point of her own to put the final result back into question.

But Bouchard’s first serve failed her yet again after that, and Kvitova crushed her 82 and 84 mph second offerings to win yet another service break, and the first set. It was the first set Bouchard had lost after a flawless six-match run to the final, and it had taken just 32 minutes.

Kvitova began the second set on the attack from the outset, winning six consecutive points against a flustered Bouchard, grabbing quick a 2-0 lead. Bouchard’s shoulders slumped, and not even her supporters’ loud admonitions could reverse the course of the game. Afterwards, Kvitova described the match as one of the best she had ever played.

“I knew exactly how I had to play to beat her… I was very focused for every point,” the champion said, bubbling with excitement about her performance. “A few shots were really incredible. I couldn’t believe that I made [them] actually.”

Bouchard agreed. “Sometimes your opponent just plays better than you, and that’s what happened today.”

It was a tough ending to a glorious week, and Bouchard – who’s headed home to Montreal to rest and prepare for next month’s Rogers Cup in her home city – said she’ll try and focus on the positives of the experience. As a result of her appearance in the Wimbledon final, she rises from No. 13 to No. 7 on the WTA rankings, the highest a Canadian has ever placed.

“It was a big moment walking out onto Centre Court for a final. You know, I have that experience now. I know what it feels like,” Bouchard said. “I hope I can walk out to many more finals.”

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