For the second year in succession a young blonde with telegenic looks, a charming smile, big serve and booming groundstrokes has reached her maiden grand slam at Wimbledon. As with Sabine Lisicki last summer Eugenie Bouchard has swiftly become the darling of the television lens and, aided by a vague connection to the Royal Family, the British media.
For Lisicki reaching the final was as good as it got. She crumbled in the spotlight losing to Marion Bartoli in 81 painful minutes. Troubled by illness and injury she has since struggled in the slams, only once reaching the last eight, at Wimbledon this year.
Bouchard seems to be made of sterner stuff. Mature beyond her 20 years, so focused she even avoids making friends on tour, no one expects her to be anything but competitive today. Moreover, unlike her opponent Petra Kvitova, who found it difficult to cope with winning here in 2011, if Bouchard is the one holding the Venus Rosewater Dish this afternoon she will not be bowled over by the subsequent whirlwind.
Canada’s first grand slam finalist was named after Princess Eugenie, daughter of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson, by her Royalist parents, but said the people she admire are those who emerge from a life of struggle, not privilege.
Oprah Winfrey was, she said, the guest she would most like to see watching her play from the Royal Box today explaining of the American television presenter and entrepreneur, “I think her story is really special. She came from nothing and built herself up to this huge empire and the richest woman in the world. I love stories like that. Justin Bieber is another. I just love the story of making yourself into something. I would love to hear about her experiences and all those kinds of things.
“I can identify with these stories. I’ve worked really hard in my life. I appreciate other people who have done the same and have these amazing dreams and actually work hard and go out and achieve them. Especially when they come from really humble beginnings and have this positive attitude on life. Whatever they earn, they’ve truly earned it.”
Bouchard has not, however, come from the broken streets of Compton, Los Angeles, like the Williams sisters, or the impoverished background of many Eastern European players. She hails from Westmount, an affluent suburb of Montreal, and her parents were wealthy enough to pay for her to have individual tennis lessons from an early age. While Maria Sharapova went to learn in Florida on her own, at 12, Bouchard’s family found the funds to ensure they accompanied her.
However, it takes a special personality to maintain the inner drive needed to succeed when there are softer options and there is no doubting Bouchard has worked extremely hard from an early age. Indeed, the thought occurs that behind the winsome smile is a steely interior which may be harder to like. She and Britain’s Laura Robson used to be best friends, so much so Bouchard would stay at the Robson family house, but they are barely, if at all, on speaking terms now. Bouchard, who was then ranked well below Robson but has since outstripped her, would not explain why.
Not that Robson is alone. Kvitova said she is glad she has friends on the circuit but Bouchard has said she does not cultivate them as she does not want to compete with friends for titles and money.
Of her own rise she said: “I started playing tennis at five years old. It was my dream to become a professional tennis player. Since I was nine I dreamt of winning a Grand Slam. It’s been a long time in the making, for it to finally come together, all the hard work, the talent I know I have, the effort I put in. It’s not an overnight thing.”
It rarely is, but the last step to major success can come suddenly and is not always easy to deal with. Kvitova admits she struggled to adapt to her new status as a champion after 2011. “It was wonderful to win, but I wasn’t really used to the attention after that. It was everywhere. It was a big surprise for me that I was in the newspapers and everything. It was not easy. I needed to change a little bit myself. It took a lot of energy from me.”
Bouchard is already on the front of the papers, in Britain, Canada and elsewhere. She does not give the impression it bothers her. “I focus on the tennis,” she said. “Whatever comes with it I take in my stride. It’s part of the job.”
Bouchard is the form player, Kvitova more experienced and marginally better server. Picking a winner is difficult, but whoever it is will have to work harder to win than Bartoli did last year.