Canadian teenager Eugenie Bouchard is all set for the biggest match of her young career on Day 11 at the 2014 Australian Open, where the 30th-seeded dark horse will play world No. 4 and two-time Aussie Open finalist Li Na in the women's semifinals.
On the line: A berth in her first-ever Grand Slam final.
Bouchard has already made history at Melbourne Park this January, but she can begin a legacy with two more wins Down Under.
In Li, Bouchard faces her toughest challenge yet. The 31-year-old Chinese star has won a major title as recently as 2011 and has reached the Australian Open in two of the past three years.
In that spirit, let's take a closer look at Bouchard's keys to victory in her upcoming semifinal clash.
Bouchard has shown in recent victories over Ana Ivanovic and Casey Dellacqua that she's capable of fighting back from a set down to win a match. However, another slow start certainly wouldn't bode well against Li, who has won six consecutive sets of tennis going back to the third round.
Given how well both women are playing coming in, momentum will be hard to come by in this match, making the first set all the more vital.
That's not to say that Bouchard is sure to lose if she drops the opening set. If she's serving well and playing points aggressively in the first frame, she'll have plenty to be encouraged by heading into the second set.
Therefore, a fast start otherwise includes getting into her game plan quickly.
Capitalize on First Serve
While Bouchard struggled somewhat with her first serve in her opening-round victory, she's been impressive with her initial-serve ball ever since, winning 77 percent of those points in the third and fourth rounds and 67 percent in her quarterfinal triumph over Ivanovic.
Continuing to capitalize on the first serve will be crucial to Bouchard's chances against Li, who won 43 percent of her first-serve return points and 61 percent of her second-serve return points in the quarterfinals vs. Flavia Pennetta. Li is an exceptional returner and is sure to have a significant amount of success on Bouchard's serve throughout the match.
Therefore, putting a solid percentage of first serves (around 60 percent) in play and taking control of the point early will go a long way in determining whether Bouchard advances.
Controlled aggression is a key for any successful player on tour. But for Bouchard, a player who thrives on dictating the tempo of a match, it will be especially critical.
Bouchard was aggressive throughout her quarterfinal win over Ivanovic. Although she dropped the first set, she recorded more winners than the Serb. That pattern would continue over the next two sets, as she racked up 47 winners and saw her unforced error count drop through every set.
The Montreal native talked about her fearless style ahead of her matchup with Li, per CBC Sports:
I'm a really focused person, really driven. Off the court, I'm almost impatient in a way. On the court, I'm the same way. I really just want to play my game, be aggressive, take it to my opponent and not just wait around and wait for opportunities.
I think it's a good thing to take my chances when I'm on the court.
Bouchard clearly plays her best tennis when the point is developing quickly and she's able to play with her instincts instead of her head. The skill, footwork and athleticism are all there. Now, it's up to Bouchard to remain aggressive from the outset in order to spring another upset en route to the women's final.
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