Given Australia’s lack of successful female players, the crowds here at the Australian Open have been adopting overseas talent for several years now. Kim Clijsters and Ana Ivanovic have been known as “Aussie Kim” and “Aussie Ana”, courtesy of their Australian boyfriends, and the Melbourne public have a new darling this year.
A growing group of supporters who call themselves the “Genie Army” have rallied behind Eugenie Bouchard, who rewarded them by winning a place in the semi-finals. The 19-year-old Canadian did it, moreover, at the expense of Ivanovic, winning 5-7, 7-5, 6-2 just 48 hours after the former French Open champion had created the shock of the tournament by knocking out Serena Williams.
The rise of Bouchard, who is a good friend of Laura Robson and shares the British No 1’s coach in Florida, has been a spectacular one. At the end of last year she was named newcomer of 2013 on the women’s tour, though her talent had been apparent previously at the Wimbledon junior tournament, where she won the girls’ doubles in 2011 and the doubles and singles in 2012.
Bouchard started last year ranked No 147 in the world and lost in the second round of qualifying here. On her debut in the main draw she has become the first Canadian to reach the semi-finals at the year’s opening Grand Slam event, an achievement which will lift her from No 31 in the world rankings and into the top 20. She is the first Canadian woman to reach a Grand Slam semi-final since Carling Bassett made the last four at the 1984 US Open.
A bold shot-maker who likes to take the ball early, Bouchard is not short on confidence. Asked if she was prepared for all the attention her achievements here have attracted, she said: “It’s not a huge surprise to me because I always believe in my skills. It’s not really sudden or anything like that. I just want to keep going.”
Tall, blonde and glamorous, Bouchard was an obvious contender for the crowd here to adopt. The Genie Army have taken to giving her a present of a toy animal at every match. “I have a koala, a kangaroo, a kookaburra and a wombat,” she said with a smile after her latest victory. “I will create luggage space. It’s worth it to take my wombat home.”
She added: “They’ve been supporting me from my first match. I was out on Court 15 for my first round. They were there with their T-shirts and everything.
“They’ve been a really good support team. They’re great. They come up with these songs. I’m going to fly them to all my tournaments with me.”
In Thursday’s semi-finals Bouchard will take on 31-year-old Li Na, who maintained her excellent record here by beating Italy’s Flavia Pennetta 6-2, 6-2. Li has finished runner-up here twice, to Clijsters in 2011 and to Victoria Azarenka last year.
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