It was undoubtedly the biggest moment of Eugenie Bouchard’s tennis career, but the stoic 19-year-old didn’t waste a minute celebrating.
Bouchard created must-see television Monday at the Australian Open, upsetting a former world No. 1 to become the first Canadian singles player to advance to a Grand Slam semi-final since 1984.
The WTA’s 2013 newcomer of the year just acted like she’d been there before, like being the talk of Melbourne was expected. In reality, she didn’t even make it through qualifying at this tournament a year ago.
“She was happy, but very matter-of-fact after the win. Not excited, but immediately getting ready for the next match against Li Na,” said Tennis Canada women’s national coach Sylvain Bruneau, part of Bouchard’s team in Melbourne. “Her on-court demeanour has been so calm, strong and powerful and she’s sending a very good message here in Australia. She was very business as usual.”
It was nothing but the usual post-match routine for the rising tennis star from the Montreal suburb of Westmount, Que.: press conference, stretching, treatments, ice bath, food and rest.
A week ago, Bouchard’s first match was on Court 15, the most remote corner of Melbourne Park. Now, she’s the buzz of the tournament, with an army of rollicking red-and-white-T-shirt-wearing fans following her every step.
“She is a huge story here, without a doubt,” Bruneau said. “We’ve heard it from a lot of coaches, who notice her huge improvement. We hear it from all the TV analysts here, and the papers. She was the youngest in the quarters, and now the youngest in the semis, and she has people really excited in the sport.”
Bouchard is the second Canadian in history to reach the semi-finals at a Slam, following in the footsteps of Carling Bassett, who did so at the 1984 U.S Open. More than 1.6 million Canadians watched Monday’s historic win over 14th-seeded Ana Ivanovic on TV.
The 5-7, 7-5, 6-2 comeback victory by the 30th-seeded Canadian prompted legendary Grand Slam champion and Tennis Channel commentator Martina Navratilova to call Bouchard “technically as sound as she can be” and a “potential future No. 1.”
Navratilova’s great rival, Chris Evert, now an ESPN analyst, said Bouchard had poise “you can’t teach, you’re born with it.”
The Canadian will play No. 4 seed Li of China on Wednesday, and must keep the same cool, matter-of-fact poise if she wants to dictate points with her aggressive game, as she did against Ivanovic.
“It’s something I’ve been doing since I was five years old, and working my whole life for and sacrificing a lot of things for,” Bouchard said after her quarter-final win. “So it’s not exactly a surprise. I always expect myself to do well.”
In addition to Bruneau, Bouchard has by her side long-time personal coach Nick Saviano, a well-known American with an academy in Florida who has worked with the likes of Sloane Stephens and Jennifer Capriati.
Rarely does he agree to leave his academy and go on tour with players, but Bouchard convinced him to hit the road with her.
“I sure as heck wouldn’t be travelling anywhere with her if I didn’t know for certain how serious she was and how badly she wants success,” Saviano told The Globe and Mail during a recent interview at his academy in Plantation, Fla.
Having Saviano on the road has already paid dividends in Melbourne.
“He finally decided to travel because he believes she can win Grand Slams and make the top 10,” Tennis Canada vice-president of high-performance athlete development Louis Borfiga said. “Think of where she could be at 24, 25. There are great signs for her future.”
Borfiga says Bouchard’s impressive transition from the junior ranks less than 24 months ago, to succeeding on the WTA Tour is also largely thanks to coaching help she received during that time from former French player Nathalie Tauziat, who was once a world No. 3.
“That experience and advice from someone who has been there has paid off for her,” Borfiga said.
For the first time, Bouchard has her own dedicated hitting partner in Australia, something many of the tour’s top players have. Tennis Canada hired former Australian ATP player Joe Sirianni (who used act as Ivanovic’s hitting partner) for a one-month trial.
The work helps Bouchard prepare for the hardest-hitting women on the tour and lets her focus on her own needs during in-tournament practices, rather than hitting with other players.
“It seems to be a nice team approach happening here in this tournament,” Bruneau said.