When she becomes the first Canadian to play in a singles Grand Slam final on Saturday, Genie Bouchard will meet a Wimbledon champion in Petra Kvitova, an opponent she has faced just once before – in perhaps a forgettable match for many – at last year's Rogers Cup.
The Montrealer was at the time last August the face few were just starting to recognize. She was ranked No. 58 in the world, and her picture was popping up on Rogers Cup posters, the lone Canadian face in some Rogers Cup posters beside superstars Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka. Then-unseeded Bouchard trotted through an impressive first-round win over Alisa Kleybanova, and then was to face the No.6-seeded Kvitova of the Czech Republic.
The Grand Slam champ took it to the 19-year-old in Toronto, beating her 6-3, 6-2. But Bouchard left telling Toronto media that day that she felt she could play with the top girls. A year later, after making three Grand Slam semi-finals in the span of six months, and now breaking through with a win over world No. 3 Simona Halepin the Wimbledon semi-finals, the world can see what she meant.
Kvitova is a 24-year-old lefty with a wicked serve and 11 career WTA singles titles to her name, none of them yet this season. She has had some great results on the lawns of the All-England Club, losing to Serena Williams in the final there in 2010, beating Maria Sharapova to win it in 2011, then making it to the last two quarterfinals.
Kvitova took out fellow Czech and friend Lucie Safarova 7-6, 6-1 in Thursday's earlier semi-final to set up the final with Bouchard.
"I am just emotional from this match," said Kvitova afterward. "I have two days before the final to focus but I know how it feels to lift that trophy so I will try my best to do it again."
When the Czech player last hoisted the Wimbledon prize, her run included a remarkable number of aces and winners, heavy groundstrokes and high-risk aggressive play that paid off. That 2011 season was Kvitova's breakout time – compare that to the barn-storming Bouchard is doing right now.
While this is Bouchard's first run to a Grand Slam final, she has compiled a hearty load of experience already in 2014, much of it on centre courts of slams. She is the only woman to make the final four of all three Slams so far this season.
Bouchard has yet to drop a set at Wimbledon, while Kvitova has lost just one – a 7-5 tie-breaker to Venus Williams in a third round, three-set slug-fest.
The Canadian loves the grass at Wimbledon – she won junior titles in both singles and doubles there at the All-England club just a few years ago. When she arrived to practice before this tournament began two weeks ago, Bouchard Tweeted out a selfie, lying on one of the grass courts with the caption "I'm so happy". Her ability to take the ball early and control court positioning and dictate the pace of the match seems to make her game sing on the grass. Her poise and razor-sharp focus at such a young age makes her very comfortable playing on centre stage.
"It's very exciting, it's what I've worked so long for," said Bouchard after her semi-final win Thursday. "It's not a surprise to me, I expect good results like this … My job is not done, I want to go one step further, so I'm going to focus now and enjoy it after."
When she becomes the first Canadian to play in a singles Grand Slam final Saturday, Genie Bouchard will meet a Wimbledon champion in Petra Kvitova, an opponent she faced at last year's Rogers Cup and lost 6-3, 6-2. But a lot has happened in a year. Who do you think will win?
Photos: Pavel Golovkin/The Associated Press (Federer), Ben Curtis/The Associated Press (Raonic)