At the storied All-England Club in the world’s most prestigious tennis tournament, Canadian tennis history is being made by two ambitious youngsters who are becoming global superstars before our eyes.
No Canadian has ever won a Grand Slam singles title, and now on the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon, Genie Bouchard and Milos Raonic have given the nation its best chance. For the first time in any Grand Slam tennis tournament in the sport's history, two Canadian singles players have advanced to the semi-finals.
The world has taken notice of huge strides in Canadian tennis, and in no place is that more obvious than England, where Michael Downey now presides over the prestigious Lawn Tennis Association, lured from Tennis Canada last year for his success there. This week in London, Bouchard and Raonic have stolen the spotlight from usual stars like Britain’s Andy Murray and the American Serena Williams, who have both lost.
First Genie Bouchard cruised past Germany’s Angelique Kerber in Wednesday’s quarter-finals, 6-3, 6-4 to make her remarkable third straight Grand Slam semi of 2014. Then Milos Raonic advanced to his first final four at a Slam by surviving a dramatic tug-of-war with fiery 19-year-old Australian giant slayer Nick Kyrgios, 6-7, 6-2, 6-4, 7-6, one that had the crowd at the All-England Club standing in ovation.
Raonic, the No.8 seed, has earned a semi-final faceoff with seven-time Wimbledon champion and fourth-seeded Roger Federer on Friday. Bouchard, the No.13-seed in London, will face third-seeded Simona Halep of Romania on Thursday, also in the hunt for her first Grand Slam title after recently being the French Open runner-up.
After dusting Kerber in less than an hour at Roland Garros last month, No. 13-seeded Bouchard did it once again in a similar swift, business-like fashion. The 20-year-old Quebecer beat the No. 9 seed by doing what she does best – dictating the pace of the match, crushing forehands, and changing the ball’s direction on a dime, tallying 29 winners. Kerber didn’t have the same jump that she exhibited a day earlier while toppling Maria Sharapova in a two-and-a-half-hour slug fest.
“I’m excited to be in the semis, but I’m never satisfied,” Bouchard told reporters in London. “Results that come for me, in the back of my mind I expected them because I’ve put in so much time and effort, so I have the true belief that I deserve these results when I get them.”
Bouchard has made strong memories over the past few years at Wimbledon. She won singles and doubles titles as a junior at the All-England Club, and last year had one of her first big breakthrough moments when she upset Ana Ivanovic on centre court.
Two years later, she’s a serious contender for the pro title and even has a celebrity friend in her player box – Big Bang Theory actor Jim Parsons in her player both, who has invited the rising star to make a cameo on his show. It has happened so quickly for Bouchard.
She is only the second Canadian female singles pro in history to reach the semis at a Slam, following in the footsteps of Carling Bassett, who did so at the 1984 U.S. Open.
“I’ve always been a big supporter of Eugenie’s, but to say I would have predicted two years ago when she won junior Wimbledon that I could see her in this position as a pro at Wimbledon just two years later? No I couldn’t have predicted her rise would have been this fast,” said Sylvain Bruneau, captain of Canada’s Fed Cup team and part of Bouchard’s coaching circle at Wimbledon.
Bouchard and Halep have met just once, and it was a 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 win for the 22-year-old Romanian in the Round of 16 at Indian Wells back in March. Both youngsters are 15-2 in Grand Slam matches this year. But the Canadian is 0-2 in her semi-finals, losing to Li Na at the Australian Open and Sharapova at the French Open.
If Bouchard is to get past Halep, she would meet the winner of a semi-final between No.6-seeded Petra Kvitova and No. 23 Lucie Safarova. Kvitova is the only one among them to have won a slam. Bouchard, who began 2014 ranked No.31 and has risen quickly since, will jump inside the Top 10 as the result of this run. She will become the highest-ranked Canadian woman singles player ever, soaring to a possible No.8 when the next rankings come out.
Raonic becomes the first man in Open era to make the singles semi-finals at a Grand Slam. The last Canadian man to appear in a major final four was Williams Johnston at the 1923 US Championships, while the last to do it at Wimbledon was Robert Powell at Wimbledon back in 1908.
Raonic had faced the World No. 144 just once before -- a straight-sets win for the Canadian at Roland Garros last month. This match was far more strenuous, lasting four sets as the two men, both over 6-foot-4, traded powerful ground strokes. The emotional Aussie broke the native of Thornhill, Ont. just once. The Canadian blistered 39 aces on the day, at times frustrating the unseeded young Australian, who was left staring at moments in his return game.
This run has been redemption for the 23-year-old. It’s Raonic’s first venture past the second round at Wimbledon. His most memorable moment at the All-England club before this had been the gruesome hip injury he sustained back in 2011 on the grass, one which caused months of missed play and physiotherapy.
Raonic is 0-4 against Federer, the 17-time Grand Slam champion.