Wimbledon 2014: Eugenie Bouchard continues Canada’s rise with ruthless victory over Simona Halep
The Canadian will face 2011 champion Petra Kvitova in the final
This Wimbledon is shaping up to be the year the Maple Leaf flowered. After Milos Raonic became the first Canadian man to reach a Grand Slam semi-final in more than a century, Eugenie Bouchard became the first female Canuck ever to reach a final.
The 20-year-old beat Romania’s Simona Halep 7-6, 6-2 on Centre Court to book a place in Saturday’s women’s single final against the 2011 winner Petra Kvitova. The Czech will be favourite but Bouchard is very self-possessed and will certainly not be overawed.
Having lost in the semi-finals of the Australian and French Opens this year, Bouchard was asked if she was relieved to have finally made the final. She replied: “I wouldn’t use the word ‘relief,’ but I’m happy to get to my first Grand Slam final. It’s very exciting. It’s what I’ve worked so long for, but it’s not like a surprise to me. I expect good results like this. So for me, I was like, OK, good. It’s a step in the right direction. I get to play in the final. I still have another match, so it’s not a full celebration yet. My job is not done.”
Fired by this sense of destiny, Bouchard, who was junior Wimbledon champion in 2012, has progressed from 66th in the world 12 months ago to 13th at the start of this tournament. She is already guaranteed to be No 8 after Wimbledon, matching the previous Canadian best achieved by Carling Bassett in 1985.
Bouchard has been impressive at this tournament, defeating four seeded players, and may well have brushed Halep aside anyway, but it helped that her opponent was hindered by an ankle injury suffered at the end of the fourth game.
Halep, normally a highly effective mover on court, had strapping applied and played on, but she could not twist and turn as smartly as normal. Sport at this level is ruthless and Bouchard immediately began aiming for the corners, working Halep’s injured joint.
“It was difficult to continue because I twisted my ankle,” Halep said. “ I felt a big pain in the moment. It was better with the tape but still I couldn’t push any more in my leg. My first serve was really bad after that.”
As Halep was already playing with strapping on her thigh and other ankle, and suffering from “muscle contractions”, the injury made the first-set tie-break hugely significant. With the Romanian leading, all points being won against service, a spectator sitting in the sunshine on the hottest day of the year so far fainted in the heat. She was sat opposite the umpire Kader Nouni, who suddenly jumped from his chair, ran across the court, to the surprise of the players, and alerted the stewards. There was a lengthy delay while the woman received treatment then was helped from the court.
Bouchard dropped the next point but, with the aid of a fortuitous net cord, recovered to take the break 7-5. The wounded Halep, faced with needing to win another two sets to reach the final, lost heart. “I couldn’t believe any more I could finish the match in the right way for me, I lost energy,” she admitted.
She did not, however, go tamely, saving five match points. The first of these was controversial. As Halep served, with the score 1-5, 15-40, Bouchard stepped away distracted by a shout from the crowd. Nouni ruled that, as she had not said anything, and by then he was looking at Halep, the point stood.
Bouchard seemed rattled and Halep held her service game. But the Canadian regrouped and took the next game, and the match. “I felt we should have replayed the point, I took it as a challenge,” she said later, the same phrase she used for the interrupted tie-break.
Halep’s injury was unfortunate because the match featured two of the new faces of the women’s game, the two who have won most matches on tour this year. Despite her handicap, however, the first set was absorbing and full of good tennis. Though they are baseliners, who hit low, hard, sweeping groundstrokes, the pair both mixed in plenty of drop shots and lobs, even if their volleying was less convincing.
Billie Jean King the eminence grise of the women’s game, was approving. “They are better than we were. Every generation gets better,” she said. “They will make women’s tennis shine for the next five to 10 years.”
It is clear Bouchard will not allow much to interrupt her tennis. The Montreal resident’s focus on her career was evident in the post-match press conference when she was asked about Justin Bieber, who she has previously said she hoped would notice her. Not any more, it seems. “He’s kind of been in trouble recently, so I’m not associated with that at the moment. But if he cleans up his image...”
Bouchard’s progress will be greeted with happiness in British tennis circles. The Lawn Tennis Association’s chief executive, Michael Downey, was poached from his role as the head of Tennis Canada last year and the rise of Bouchard and Raonic suggests his policies work. Also on the horizon is Filip Pelio, who made it a Canadian double with Bouchard when he won the junior boys’ title in 2012.
“They must be doing something right in the north,” said John McEnroe, adding that the Americans, who did not have a player through to the last 16 of either singles competition here, need to take a look at their neighbours.
13 E Bouchard (Can) bt 3 S Halep (Rom) 7-6 6-2
2 Aces 1
3 Double-faults 5
74% First serve pts won 54%
110mph Fastest serve 106mph
33% Break points won 50%
20 Winners 13
23 Unforced errors 23
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