TEBBUTT: WIMBLEDON DREAMLAND
Eugenie Bouchard is the sensation of 2014 Wimbledon, making it to the final at 20 years old and in just the sixth Grand Slam event of her career.
It intrigues many that she can seem so calm in the cauldron of Centre Court, in the final stages of the greatest tennis tournament in the world.
The secret of her success is other-worldly tunnel vision regarding her goals and an unshakable sense that everything that’s happening was meant to be.
“You know, as I started playing more and more,” she said on Wednesday about her early years playing the sport, “I really had concrete dreams of winning a Grand Slam.”
Concrete is the operative word there. Unlike many young players who mouth those words, Bouchard truly believes them. That helps immeasurably because it means that, in the deepest recesses of her mind, all that is happening is nothing exceptional or unusual.
The mantra all through her progress since making the Australian Open semifinals in January has been a variation on “this is what I’ve expected, this is what I’ve worked for and I’m not satisfied with what I’ve accomplished so far.”
That theme was repeated on Thursday after her 7-6(5), 6-2 win over No. 3 seed Simona Halep of Romania in the semifinals in Centre Court. “For now, I’m not thinking about rewards or celebrations because I don’t deserve anything yet,” she said matter-of-factly. “I have another match.”
That match will be the Wimbledon final at 2 p.m. Saturday (9 am. EDT in Canada) and it will be against 2011 champion Petra Kvitova. With a victory, Bouchard will move up to No. 6 in the world. She’s already guaranteed a No. 7 ranking which surpasses the previous Canadian high of No. 8 held by Carling Bassett Seguso, formerly of Toronto.
There’s one reason Bouchard is favoured over Kvitova – she’s just plain tougher. The way she fearlessly goes for her shots, and makes them, is something that comes from a superior tennis talent. But equally it comes from the guileless innocence of a young player unencumbered by the doubts and deceptions that inevitably creep into careers as they play out with various life experiences inside and outside of tennis.
Petra Kvitova, 24, and Halep, 22, are not that much older than her but there’s a sense they understand Bouchard is in that golden early stage when she’s a true believer with blinkers on and an absolute belief in her ability.
It was remarkable to listen to Halep after she lost on Thursday, saying about Bouchard, “she is very focused. She’s tall when she stays close to the baseline. It’s like you see just her on court.”
That sounded eerily like the 5-foot-6 Halep viewed the 5-foot-10 Bouchard as larger-than-life, certainly as an intimidating presence across the net.
After the third round, Alizé Cornet remarked about how Bouchard flung herself into all her shots. That, at least, indicated that she observed and probably felt the energy and total commitment Bouchard puts into every ball.
No doubt Bouchard is in a bullet-proof period of her career when all is flowing and her self-belief is sky high.
But there’s much more than some sort of psychic energy, Bouchard has the all the shots, the savvy and the movement to defend her side of the court.
Before Thursday’s semifinal, 1999 champion Lindsay Davenport remarked on how low Bouchard gets to the ball. With the low bounce off Wimbledon’s grass, that’s a big asset because it enables her to put maximum power behind her shots.
Watching her against Halep, it was not only the bludgeoning of the ball that was impressive, there was also an uncanny ability to salvage difficult situations with balls that were floated back high and deep and landed near the baseline – immediately neutralizing the rally.
But they weren’t moonballs in the classic sense of the word, they were more like a temporary tactic, a brief truce between the heavy bombardments of her ground strokes.
The aggression – forehands and backhands powered cross-court and down-the-line – seems instinctual. She just knows where and when to hit her shots in the emerging – or barely emerging as in the case of her service returns – patterns of rallies.
And her serve is not on a par with a Serena Williams or a Sabine Lisicki in terms of brute speed or weight of shot, but it certainly compares in terms of her ability to use it to pull herself out of dicey situations.
And she has that essential quality all great athletes possess – a short memory and an ability to move ahead undeterred.
“I’m able not to worry about the distractions, especially when it’s out of my control,” she said Thursday. “I think what I do really well is I really don’t let it get to me or affect me. There are challenges everywhere in life, you know. I love being challenged and I love working hard to overcome something. I see it more in a positive way than a negative way.”
Here are the matches she has won on her way to the Wimbledon final:
R 128: beat Daniela Hantuchova 7-5, 7-5.
R 64: beat Silvia Soler-Espinosa 7-5, 6-1.
R 32: beat Andrea Petkovic 6-3, 6-4
R 16: beat Alizé Cornet 7-6(5), 7-5.
QF : beat Angelique Kerber 6-3, 6-4.
SF: beat Simona Halep 7-6(5), 6-2.
No totally one-sided slaughters, but no energy-depleting nail-biters either.
After she lost, Halep talked about a net cord that fell over against her when she led 4-2 in the first set tiebreak. She was still ahead 4-3 but would go on and lose the tiebreak.
About the second set when Bouchard dominated and she faded, Halep said that she was tired and found it hard to overcome losing the first set and having left ankle and right thigh injuries. Bottom line – Bouchard broke her spirit.
She also was anything but distraught in her post-match media conference – actually quite pleased with her run to the semifinal.
Bouchard would never let physical ails distract her after the disappointment of losing a first set. Nor would she have been satisfied with a result anything short of winning the title. At the French Open last month, she was still seething after losing to Maria Sharapova 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 in the semifinals. For her, there was no satisfaction in just getting close.
There were bigger fish to fry.
No one could have known that they would come so soon – at the very next Grand Slam.
No doubt her opponent in the final, Kvitova, is a rare talent with a huge serve and major-league weapons on the forehand and backhand sides that are so good they usually compensate for her shortcomings in the area of movement.
But it may be in the pit of the stomach – in the guts – that the 2014 Wimbledon women’s champion is decided. And that’s where Bouchard’s willpower is without equal at the moment.
And if that isn’t enough there’s a comparison with her idol Sharapova that may be an omen, even if Bouchard insisted on Thursday about the world-renowned Russian, “she’s a great champion. But also I’m my own person. I don’t want to be the next somebody else. I want to be my own individual person. I want to try to make history.”
A peek into the tennis history books shows that Sharapova made her Wimbledon breakthrough exactly 10 years ago in 2004. It also reveals that she was the No. 13 seed when she accomplished that feat.
There’s the set-up…so there’s no real need to note what seed Bouchard is at this year’s Wimbledon.
Is she destiny’s child with a determination that’s off the charts?
MILOS VS. ROGER
On Thursday, Milos Raonic went through an early afternoon practice session on Court 9 next to where junior Francoise Abanda was playing on Court 10 in the third round of the junior girls event.
His match-up against Roger Federer in Friday’s (second) semifinal on Centre Court could be a defining moment in his career.
He has never played on Centre Court and that is surely why he was taken by a club official down near the entrance to the court to watch as Petra Kvitova and Lucie Safarova played in Thursday’s first women’s semifinal. Raonic spent some time near the court, seemingly wanting to get to see things up close and get a feel for the place where in a little over 24 hours he would be playing the most important match of his life.
Raonic and Federer have played four times – but one of those really is probably irrelevant – the 2013 Australian Open round-of-16 encounter that Federer won 6-4, 7-6(4), 6-2. The day before Raonic began having a painful foot problem, wound up getting an MRI and other tests and was doubtful to even play the match. But it was a Grand Slam fourth round and he decided to have an injection in order to play. He did not perform at his best.
The other three matches were in 2012:
Federer bt. Raonic 6-7(4), 6-4, 7-6(3) quarters, Halle (grass)
Federer bt. Raonic 4-6, 7-5, 7-6(4) 2R, Madrid (clay)
Federer bt. Raonic 6-7(4), 6-2, 6-4 2R, Indian Wells (hard)
Raonic won the first set in all those matches and doing that on Friday would go a long way to securing himself a spot in the final. But he lost the opening set in his two previous Wimbledon matches this year to Kei Nishikori and Nick Kyrgios.
Both semifinalists have effective serves – with Federer winning 83 per cent of first serve points and 68 of second serve points so far at Wimbledon. Raonic is similar at 88 per cent of first serve points and 66 per cent of second serve points.
But the following is quite amazing and flatters both – Federer is 73/1 in service games won/lost. Raonic is 84/2.
Something has to give and it will probably depend on the return of serve. So far in the matches leading to the semifinals, Federer leads slightly with 33 per cent of points won returning first serves and 55 per cent returning second serves. Raonic is 29 per cent on first serves and 47 per cent on second serves.
The incalculable factor is that Raonic has raised his game a notch over the last couple of months while Federer seems to have regained some form from previous years after struggling on and off with a back issue in 2013.
“He’s got a big serve, clearly that’s what’s most visible when you see him play,” Federer said. “That’s the hardest to deal with. It keeps him in the match. It doesn’t matter almost how he plays the return game. He’s been serving very well this entire tournament.
“I’ve played him in some interesting places like Halle where we basically didn’t have any rallies whatsoever. I think it was 7-6 in the third. I played him in Madrid. I think it was even on the blue clay then where it was very difficult to manage his serve.
“Here, clearly on the grass with a serve like that, it’s never going to be an easy match.
“That’s where you then sort of go back to your own game and say, ‘I’ll take care of my own serves and see what I can do on the return. That’s my mindset right now.”
Raonic spoke on Wednesday about Federer’s serve and his own, saying, “I think very highly of my serve. I think very highly of his serve. But I’ve got to hope that my serve is better than his in that situation. I got to hope that my serve can get me through a lot of difficult situations in whatever sort of rises up.
“Magician – whatever you want to call Roger, he’s capable of doing so many things. He’s quick, he can hurt you. He can do pretty much anything he wants with the ball.
“I’m a bit more predictable, but I go about my job and I get my job done. It’s about trying to make him play on my terms rather than me playing on his.
“If I can do that, I can create the possibilities for myself.”
The possibilities aren’t endless, they’re about who manages holding and breaking serve better or, more likely, who has the steady hand and nerves to be the superior player in the almost inevitable nerve-wracking tiebreaks that will likely decide the match.
DOUBLES: POSPISIL IN / NESTOR OUT
Vasek Pospisil and partner Jack Sock advanced to the Wimbledon semifinals on Thursday with a 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(6), 6-4 win over second seeds Alexander Peya of Austria and Bruno Soares of Brazil.
They will not be facing Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic after the third seeds were ousted 3-6, 7-6(5), 6-3, 6-4 by the fifth-seeded Leander Paes of India and Radek Stepanek of Czech Republic.
“I was looking forward to playing him in the semis,” Pospisil said about his prospective match-up with his frequent Davis Cup doubles partner.
Pospisil and Sock were in an upbeat mood as they ate a post-match meal in the players’ restaurant.
‘We’ve been playing well all week,” Pospisil said, “we knew we had a chance to win if we’re playing like we’re playing. We’re one of those floating teams that I don’t think anybody wants to play against. Unseeded, we knew coming in that if we played well, anything could happen. We’re in the semis so we’re looking forward to the match tomorrow (against Paes and Stepanek).
“We have fun,” the 24-year-old Pospisil summed up about he and his 21-year-old American partner. “We get along really well, that’s the best part. We’re playing like beasts right now.”
Those words were accompanied by a big laugh from Pospisil.
Later Friday, Nestor and partner Kristina Mladenovic of France, the defending Wimbledon mixed doubles champions, were successful in reaching the semifinals. Seeded No. 5, they beat 13th seeds Bruno Soares of Brazil and Martina Hingis of Switzerland 6-4, 7-6(3).
They have an off day Friday before playing their next round on Saturday.
ABANDA LOSES WILD MATCH
Francoise Abanda appeared to have the first set of her third-round girls singles match with Marketa Vondrousova all sewed up when she led 6-0 in the first set tiebreak. But, semi-miraculously, the 15-year-old Czech won eight points in a row to take the opening set.
In the second set, Abanda survived a match point at 5-4 for Vondrousova and forced a third. But the hard-hitting lefthander proved too solid and the No. 7 seed from Montreal was eliminated in a match on Court 10.
Here’s a picture from before Wimbledon began. Andy Murray was in unfailingly good humour the last few days before the event began – here he is exchanging greetings with French player Jeremy Chardy (right) and his coach Magnus Tideman.