TEBBUTT: LES GIRLS – EUGENIE & MARIA
It’s hard to imagine a more appropriate opponent for Eugenie Bouchard in a huge Grand Slam match than Maria Sharapova. Most people know Bouchard watched Sharapova win Wimbledon in 2004, had her picture taken with the Russian in Miami when she seven or eight years old and aspires to be all things Maria, including attaining international fame and fortune.
The two meet Thursday on Court Philippe Chatrier and one suspects that, win or lose, Bouchard will not have quite the same look of deference on her face that she has in the picture at the top here after Sharapova won 6-2, 6-4 in their second–round match at the 2013 French Open.
Sharapova vs. Bouchard, the longtime glamour girl of women’s tennis versus the amply ambitious upstart who aims for no less than all that her predecessor has accomplished on and off the court.
Both are attractive, both have ground strokes to die for, and both would almost die on the court before giving up. Both obsessed with winning and surely Sharapova, 27, sees a lot of her younger self in the 20-year-old from Montreal.
Each of them is saying the right things in the lead-up to their third encounter, their second in the sophisticated setting of tennis in the City of Light.
“It’s very exciting for me to play against such a champion,” Bouchard said on Tuesday. “I’ll put up a good fight on the court and we’ll see what happens.”
“This is the year she’s really broken through, especially at the Grand Slams – playing at a high level,” Sharapova noted about Bouchard. “Last year it was the second round, and this year we’re in the semifinals. It’s a great stage to be at for both of us.”
Tennis fans are familiar with Sharapova after following her in the decade since her breakthrough as a 17-year-old at Wimbledon in 2004.
As for Bouchard, she played her first tennis in Murray Park in posh Westmount near downtown Montreal, just a well-hit tennis ball from her home on the same street where former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney resides.
Right from the beginning she loved the sport and was driven to get better, something that she didn’t share with non-identical twin (three inches shorter) Beatrice.
Bouchard’s determination has been there right from the beginning. Recently, a coach who was involved with her when she was 11 recalled how she was always extremely receptive to learning more about how to improve her game. When coaches tried to get her and other young girls to introduce different tactics and strategies to their games, all the others, once they started playing actual games and being competitive, would forget and just play as they always had. But Bouchard was different. She would immediately do what the coaches had suggested, and was able to implement the changes right away in a competitive situation.
Not always the most obviously talented of the young girls coming up, Bouchard almost by sheer force of will, moved through the junior ranks, eventually highlighted by her junior title at Wimbledon in 2012.
She ended that year with a No. 144 WTA ranking and was No. 32 at the finish of 2013, with her most memorable match a 6-3, 6-3 win over Ana Ivanovic on Centre Court at Wimbledon.
This year, she made the Australian Open semifinals in January and won her first WTA title – in Nuremberg, Germany – the day before the French Open began.
Her progress, especially in an era when the very top players are between 25 and 32, has been exceptional – and most of that is down to her steel-trap competitive drive.
Here’s a list of the last nine Wimbledon Junior Champions with their current ranking in brackets.
2013: Belinda Bencic (80)
2012: Eugenie Bouchard (16)
2011: Ashleigh Barty (172)
2010: Kristyna Pliskova (118)
2009: Noppawan Lertcheewakarn (222)
2008: Laura Robson (83)
2007: Urszula Radwanska (79)
2006: Caroline Wozniacki (14)
2005: Agnieszka Radwanska (3)
When Bouchard defeated her 7-6(4), 2-6, 7-5 after trailing 4-1 in the third set in the quarter-finals on Tuesday, Carla Suarez Navarro said, “she (Bouchard) played the first five games in the (third) set in a totally different way compared to the way she played at the end of the match. At the beginning, she gave me the points. I almost had to do nothing. But then I was not showing enough courage on the court. Next time I’ll have more courage.”
Bouchard will never want for courage in those clutch situations in matches, and that she shares with Sharapova.
In terms of the essentials of the match-up, aside from nerves which are always paramount in any outcome, serve will be very important.
Bouchard’s first service percentage was as low as 47% in the first set – averaging out to 55% overall – against Suarez Navarro. That number should be 65 or better.
Sharapova’s first serve percentage was 61% overall in her 1-6, 7-5, 6-1 victory over Garbine Muguruza, but she only won 40% of her second serve points.
Bouchard was a manageable 50% on second serve points.
Since her shoulder surgery in 2008, Sharapova has been more vulnerable on her serve. If Bouchard can attack it, both first and second serves, then Sharapova could get a little shaky. Of course, the reverse also goes as well.
The dynamic of the match is in Bouchard’s favour – young and eager for a first Grand Slam triumph, she has less pressure on her than Sharapova, who has to be aware her shoulder ails could limit her opportunities for a second Roland Garros title – and a fifth overall to go with her career Grand Slam.
A year ago, Bouchard was ranked No. 77 when she played Sharapova. She is now No. 16.
Sharapova was No. 2 and is now No. 8.
Numbers don’t tell the whole story, but they certainly indicate Bouchard has the odds moving in her favour as compared to 12 months ago.
ABANDA ADVANCES IN JUNIORS
Francoise Abanda of Montreal reached the quarter-finals of the French Open junior girls event on Wednesday with a 7-5, 7-6(8) win over Isabelle Wallace of Great Britain. The match, an hour and 51 minutes long, was played before rain forced a long delay in the afternoon programme.
Afterward, Abanda had a chance to meet new Tennis Canada president Kelly Murumets (above).
“It was difficult with the rain and everything, and it was kind of cold,” Abanda said about the conditions on Court 6. “When you’re serving, the rain gets in your eyes – but it’s all part of the game. You have to handle the conditions and try to play at a decent level.”
Two years ago, Abanda, 17, was in the semifinals of the Wimbledon juniors with compatriot and fellow-Montrealer Eugenie Bouchard, who went on to win. Aged just 15 to Bouchard’s 18 at the time, Abanda was viewed as the more likely candidate for success in the professional ranks.
Then a shoulder injury intervened.
“I was hurt from the whole end of 2012 right until November 2013,” she explained. “There were some months when I couldn’t play and I didn’t train. I didn’t have the chance to improve my game. I’d practice for an hour and it would be unstable.
“So that didn’t help me. I fell behind. I can’t do anything about that now but at least I’m here and trying to do my best – maybe not to get back that time but to enjoy myself.”
The state of her fitness at the moment? – “I’m healthy, I’m not hurt,” she said.
In the quarter-finals she will play Paula Badosa Gibert, 16, from Spain.
PARIS POST CARD
This is a look in at an art shop on the boul. de Latour-Maubourg in Paris 7ieme. Inside you can see reproductions of some of Mohammed Ali’s boxing matches.
On the right is a famous poster from the Stanley Cup hockey riot in Vancouver in 2011.
Below is that poster in close-up.