Eugenie Bouchard continued her dream start to 2014 when she rallied to beat No. 14 seed Ana Ivanovic, 5-7, 7-5, 6-2, in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open on Tuesday.
For Bouchard, known simply as “Genie” to her friends and growing army of fans, the victory places her in her first Grand Slam semifinal, where she’ll face two-time Aussie Open finalist, French Open champion and fourth-ranked Li Na.
Is this remarkable run a flash in the pan, or is the 19-year-old Canadian the real deal?
It’s absolutely for real. Not only that, but you could see it coming.
Bouchard turned pro in 2009, a year she finished ranked outside the top 1,000 in the world. By the end of 2010, she had earned 11 match victories in seven ITF events and one WTA Tour qualifying event. Prize money totaling just $4,169 sounds modest, but the points that came with the paycheck helped catapult her more than 500 places up the rankings to 538.
A year later, Bouchard went 24-16 overall and moved up to No. 302 in the world after winning two ITF titles and reaching the main draw of three WTA tournaments. In 2012, she made it to the quarterfinals of Washington, won four more ITF singles titles and won the junior championship at Wimbledon. It's the typical type of career progression you see on the tour, but success here isn't always necessarily indicative of future stardom.
However, the middle of the WTA season is typically when the hard-court season gets into full swing once the European clay-court season is in the books. Bouchard is at her best on the fast, hard courts, and it comes as little surprise that it was here that she started to make a name for herself that summer. She started peaking at exactly the right time.
She beat her first top-100 player when she edged Olga Govortsova in Washington (where she went on to lose to Sloane Stephens) and she followed that with a win over No. 56 Shahar Peer in her hometown of Montreal. Two weeks later, she recorded victories over Melinda Czink (No. 90) and Galina Voskoboeva (No. 79) in Dallas, and by the end of the middle of fall she had collected consecutive trophies in Saguenay and Toronto, two indoor hard-court events in Canada.
If 2012 served as an appetizer, 2013 was the main course.
Bouchard made it to the second round of Roland Garros and the U.S. Open, and the third round of Wimbledon. For a player starting the year so far down the rankings that she needed to enter the qualifying tournament just to try to get into the main draw of a Grand Slam, that's a huge accomplishment. Bouchard jumped from No. 114 to No. 95 to break into the top 100 in early April, and she cracked the top 50 just five months later when she rose to No. 46 following a semifinal run at Quebec City.
By now, the ITF events were a thing of the past. WTA Tour events and Grand Slam tournaments typically mean two things: bigger prize purses and more ranking points on offer. Bouchard lapped up both.
She won more than $6,500 for making the second qualifying round at the Australian Open; 46 points for her loss to Sara Errani in the round of 16 in Acapulco; 50 more points and another $13,750 in Miami and 132 points and almost $17,000 two weeks later in Charleston.
Then things went from strength to strength: $43,000 at the French Open, more than $98,000 at SW19 in June, a little over $52,000 in New York and almost $50,000 in Tokyo. In total, a pair of top-20 victories, 1,539 ranking points and $386,188.
Bouchard ended 2013 ranked No. 32 in the world, all but assuring she would be seeded at the 2014 Australian Open. She moved up one spot to No. 31 after Sydney, and she was named the 30th seed in Melbourne when American Jamie Hampton withdrew with a hip injury.
Bouchard has already earned 780 points and $540,000 by making it to the semifinals. That’s in the bank. A win over Li on Thursday will make her an instant millionaire, earn her 1,300 points and put her on the brink of a spot inside the top 16.
It’s a career-making, life-changing tournament already.
An appearance in the finals seems like a long way off because it would be foolish to overlook Li. But at this point, just how much of a surprise would it actually be?
This tournament has been anything but ordinary.
Bouchard defeated Virginie Razzano in the second round, Lauren Davies in the third round and Casey Dellacqua in the round of 16. Right there you can check several boxes. In order: beating a former top 16 player in a Grand Slam, avoiding the upset against a fellow up-and-coming teen and eliminating the hometown crowd favorite from the tournament under the lights of Rod Laver Arena.
With her victory over Ivanovic, you can add even more things to her rapidly growing list of achievements, including beating a former Grand Slam champion, beating a former world No. 1 and becoming the first Canadian woman to ever make the semifinals at the Australian Open.
Looking ahead one more step, Li is not unbeatable. No. 27 Sorana Cirstea beat her in Toronto in August, No. 36 Elena Vesnina defeated her in straight sets at Eastbourne in June, No. 67 Bethanie Mattek-Sands upset her at the French Open and lucky loser and No. 62-ranked Madison Keys sent her packing in the first round in Madrid in May.
Bouchard is riding an emotional high and handling this new pressure beautifully well. She’s striking the ball aggressively from both wings, absorbing powerful ground strokes from the baseline and showing a fearless approach by coming to the net and taking balls early.
She’s athletic and strong-minded, competitive and likable. Already an overnight darling, she’s on the cusp of becoming a household name, much like Sloane Stephens did when she made her deep run 12 months ago.
Of course, Stephens’ story isn’t too dissimilar to Bouchard’s—a top 100 spot in the same year she made it to the third round of a major, a top 50 ranking the following season, a Grand Slam semifinal. Both are energetic, powerful right-handers who defeated a champion as a teenager. Both are without coaches. Both have star-studded futures.
Regardless of the outcome on Thursday, Bouchard has made her mark on one of the biggest stages in tennis. It’s good for the competition and great for the game, just as Stephens' emergence was.
I said less than a week ago that a final here without Williams would be terrible. I was wrong. Just like when eclectic Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli shocked the tennis world at Wimbledon, a final with Bouchard might be the best thing to happen to the women's tour in a long, long time.
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