Photo Credit to: Tennis Canada
Eugenie Bouchard is nothing if not exceedingly ambitious. She is also constantly striving to improve and has said endless variations of, “I want to do better and to do more,” which she actually did say on Thursday following her 6-2, 6-4 loss to No. 4 seed Li Na in the Australian Open semifinals.
But there was one moment after the match when the driven Bouchard finally seemed to actually give herself a pat on the back – well maybe half a pat. She was asked if she had exceeded her expectations considering that she was down a set point in the opening set of her first match against Chinese wild card Tang Hao Chen. “I wouldn’t say I exceeded my expectations,” she answered, “but I’m happy with how I did.”
It’s hard to remember the last time a young player has been this motivated and single-minded about being a champion. Over the past decade, probably her idol Maria Sharapova and Justine Henin would come to mind.
In the semifinal on Thursday, played under hot but pleasant conditions in Rod Laver Arena, Li began playing hyper-aggressive and super-well. She hit a backhand winner on the very first point and broke Bouchard’s serve to love with two more winners and an un-returnable backhand.
In my notes, she didn’t make a real unforced error until the fourth game – by then it was 3-0 on the way to 5-0 in 14 minutes.
Bouchard was tentative and discombobulated but she won two games before the first set ended 6-2 for Li in 28 minutes.
But from 5-0 down, Bouchard began timing the ball much better, and showed how she can stay in rallies with one of the very best ground-strokers in the world. She went up 2-0 in the second set but Li got back on serve to 2-all and basically edged her way ahead, finally winning the set 6-4 after a bunch of good rallies.
Bouchard showed some vulnerability on the second serve, but her game stood up well against the in-form 31-year-old Chinese.
Li said afterward about Bouchard, “she’s young. She hit the ball well. I think, for sure, she can be a very good player.”
If there was one stat that stands out, it would be that Bouchard won just 18 per cent of second serve points – Li won 41 per cent. Another was that Bouchard only made 45 per cent of first serves to 61 per cent for Li.
“I think she played really well,” Bouchard said about Li. “You have to give her credit. All of her ground strokes were like a foot from the baseline and she was very consistent. Even her serves were really solid.
“I felt she didn’t give me much breathing space, much room to do what I wanted to do on court. I tried to put on pressure but she just played too good at moments.”
There were enough times in the 86-minute match when Bouchard was able to pressure Li for her to know that, if she continues to progress, the sky is the limit.
Listen HERE for two-time US Open champion Tracy Austin’s assessment of Bouchard.
When asked if she thought her success would change her life and get her more endorsements, Bouchard replied, “I guess you could ask my agent, we’ll see.”
There was a story in The Age in Melbourne on Thursday about Bouchard’s marketability. That agent Bouchard referred to is Sam Duvall of Lagardere Unlimited. He was quoted in The Age piece as saying about Bouchard, “I think she has the ability to be more marketable than Maria (Sharapova). She speaks two languages where the four grand slams are played.”
Duvall is on the extreme left in this picture of Bouchard’s friends seats during the semifinal. “Maria was Genie’s idol when she was younger, but now they’re competitors. But if Maria is the bar, Genie has the ability to exceed that bar. She has to perform on the court to do that, and Genie knows that. Maria has won four slams. Her (Bouchard’s) marketability, if she performs, I have to say is better than anyone on tour. She is the total package. It’s unbelievable how focused this girl is.”
Duvall said that Bouchard’s sponsors include Rogers, Pinty’s, Tourna Grip, Babolat and Tennis Canada.
So, Bouchard’s 2014 Australian adventure comes to an end. She won two matches (Stosur and Pennetta by retirement) and lost one (A. Radwanska) at Hopman Cup in Perth and then was beaten in the first round in Sydney – 6-4, 6-3 by No. 48-ranked Bethanie Mattek-Sands in a poor performance. That may actually have helped her going into Melbourne Park by keeping her slightly under the radar.
Bouchard’s next tournament is scheduled to be Dubai the week of February 17.
Tennis Canada Original Full Article can be found by clicking here.