Photo Credit: Andy Lyons/Getty
Written by: Dave Zarum
***Sportsnet magazine’s 2013 Awards issue hits newsstands today. And, to nobody’s surprise, 19-year old tennis star Eugenie Bouchard was named Breakout Athlete of the Year. In her first full year on the WTA tour, the native of Westmount, Que., was named the tour’s Newcomer of the Year and jumped 112 spots in the world rankings, finishing an eventful season at No. 32—the highest-ranked teenager on the planet. We recently caught up with Bouchard at the Tennis Canada’s headquarters in Toronto.***
Sportsnet: Tennis in Canada has taken such huge leaps forward in recent years, and in 2013 especially. To what degree has that helped or played a part in your career to this point?
Eugenie Bouchard: I started playing at five years old. I trained at a club right off Champlain Bridge [in Montreal], and I was there from basically five until 12. It’s this massive club with 20 indoor courts, the biggest of its kind in North America. As I got older I was on the court more and more, I was playing a lot and started missing school. Then when I turned 12 I moved to Florida and started training there until 15.
I came back [to Montreal] because the National Training Centre had opened, and that was really a breakthrough for Canadian tennis. When I was younger we were doing everything independently—training, travelling. It was definitely tougher. I started training there the second year it opened [in 2008]. There was a group of us, and we were able to have the same coach both in training and on the road, which was huge because it meant we could keep progressing while on the road. And financially, it allowed us to travel to the Australian Open and all of these junior tournaments that you needed to get out of Canada to play in. That was important. Just to play the Junior Slams and be there to experience that environment, to be having breakfast and two tables away it’s like, “There’s Rafa!” You got a chance to see what a tennis player’s life is like.
SN: Are there differences in the way you train in Florida versus Canada? It’s kind of like the Mecca of tennis.
EB: Yeah, in North America it is, for sure. My coach, Nick Saviano, has an academy in Plantation, and I still train there. Tennis being an outdoor sport, we’re able to train outdoors year-round. Also, just the variety of players helps as well. I think that might be a problem you run into in Canada—you hit with the same group of people. The reality is, every player is different. Players are brought into Florida from all over the world. Definitely in South America they have more clay so their players tend to have clay-court games—they stand farther back for spin and things like that. Canadians and North Americans tend to hit flatter and harder. I grew up on indoor, so I try to take the point early, play aggressive with shorter points.
SN: You seem incredibly confident and aggressive against some of the best players in the world. Where does that sense of comfort come from?
EB: It is self-confidence, I guess, but I don’t really think about it. People say, “You’re so driven and focused.” I guess it comes naturally for me. It’s always been my dream to be a professional, so I’m not surprised to be here. I know it’s what I’m meant to do and to me it’s my job. I go out on the court and it doesn’t matter who’s on the other side—you respect everyone but you don’t put them on a pedestal.
SN: Has that always been your mindset? Is that how you approached the game when you were, say, eight?
EB: Definitely not! [laughs] It’s something that comes with experience. And I’ll still hopefully be even better next year. And this year being my first year on the tour, getting to experience things like walking out to centre court at the French Open to face Maria Sharapova or centre court at Wimbledon to play Ana Ivanovic, those are moments I’ll look back on my whole life, and they help me gain that experience. Next time I can think, ‘I’ve been here, done that.’ Of course it will always be nervous and exciting, but that experience just helps me handle it better.
To view the full interview, please go to Sportsnet