Calgary Herald




LONDON— Eugenie Bouchard played as though she had been winning big trophies in legendary venues her entire life when she won the junior girls’ title here two years ago.

She was 18, going on 18 ½, which by girls’ tennis standards is almost like an overage junior hockey player. She was experience­d for her peer group, arguably the best player in the girls’ draw, and she executed.

Fast forward two short years, and Bouchard is in the final of the Wimbledon ladies’ event — the big one, the one for grown-ups — at age 20. She is the first Canadian women’s singles player to compete in a Grand Slam final.

That is an entirely different level of trophy.

After her 7-6 (5), 6-2 victory over No. 3 seed Simona Halep of Romania in Thursday’s semifinal, the 20-yearold from Montreal will walk out onto Centre Court promptly at 7 a.m. Saturday to face 2011 champion Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic in a final few would have predicted at the start of the Championsh­ips.

But one thing hasn’t changed. Bouchard didn’t surprise herself then. And she didn’t surprise herself Thursday.

“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, you know,” she said. “I’m just proud of myself for today’s effort.”

By reaching the final, Bouchard should check in at No. 7 in Monday’s new WTA rankings list. That is yet another historical first; the previous high was No. 8, by Carling Bassett back in 1985.

Bassett, now Bassett-Seguso and the mother of five, is 46 now. She was 17 when she hit No. 8, which wasn’t all that unusual back in that era but is unheard of today.

That Bouchard has reached it at age 20 is already impressive. If she beats Kvitova and wins Wimbledon, she will be No. 6 in the world. Bassett-Seguso reached one Grand Slam semifinal; Bouchard has reached three this year alone.

The tennis on Thursday was, as Bouchard admitted, pretty up-anddown.

The crowd contained pockets of support for both players, but the match itself wasn’t a crowdpleas­er.

However, it was a model of decorum much of the way; both women were fairly composed, histrionic-free — and mercifully, grunt-free.

But Halep was diminished physically. She already had a comprehens­ive wrap on her right quad, a fixture throughout the tournament. In the fourth game of the match against Bouchard, after she had broken her serve to take a 2-1 head, she twisted her ankle and had to take an injury timeout at 2-2 to have it taped.

“Yeah, it was difficult to continue because I twisted my ankle and was very hard. I felt a big pain in the moment, but then was better with the tape,” said Halep, who along with Bouchard has made at least the quarter-finals or better of all three Grand Slam tournament­s this season, with only the U.S. Open remaining. They are the only two to do so.

“But still I couldn’t push any more in my leg. My first serve was really bad after that. Yeah, it was difficult to continue with another injury,” she added.

Bouchard’s path to Saturday’s final has been part serendipit­y, part execution, and a big part belief.

She had a brutally difficult draw on paper, after reaching the third round a year ago in her pro debut.

If form held, she would run into No. 1 seed Serena Williams in the fourth round. It didn’t happen; Williams was defeated by Alize Cornet of France.

It appeared she was destined for a rematch with No. 5 seed Maria Sharapova in the quarter-finals; the two met in the semifinals of the French Open just a few weeks ago. It didn’t happen; Angelique Kerber upset Sharapova, and then Bouchard trounced Kerber in the quarter-finals.

But you can only beat the player on the other side of the court and as Bouchard so often points out, she only worries about what’s under her control.

Some of those out-of-her-hands moments occurred during the match. First, there was Halep’s injury timeout. Then, there was a four-minute stoppage in play after the first five points of the first-set tiebreaker, when a woman in the crowd appeared to faint in the hot sun.

And there was an odd situation on Bouchard’s first match point, when she led 5-1 in the second set. Someone screamed out as Halep threw up the ball to begin her serve.

“It had happened a few times already. This time I didn’t feel prepared to return. So I put my hand up. The umpire told me he heard it as well, but he just didn’t see my hand go up,” Bouchard said. “I felt like we should have replayed the point, but he said no, it was her point. I took it as a challenge and tried to keep going.”

If there was to be a moment when Halep turned it around, that was it. As it was, Bouchard needed five more match points to finally close it out. But it really did feel inevitable; Halep was offering little more than token resistance.

Maybe it was just meant to be, that this driven, ambitious, hardworkin­g Canadian should get to her first Grand Slam final here in the cathedral of tennis.

Many thought Bouchard’s junior Grand Slam title should have happened long before it did, and that there should have been more of them — this is the kind of pressure that gets heaped upon the game’s top prospects.

Perhaps that karma was evened out by the fact that the 20-year-old has reached her first Grand Slam final in the pro ranks somewhat ahead of schedule.

But if you ask Bouchard, she’ll say it’s right on schedule.

“I’ve been feeling good these whole two weeks. After doing well in the past few Slams, I’ve been believing since the beginning of the tournament that I can do really well,” she said. “You know, I’m just trying to take it one match at a time. It’s really important not to get ahead of it. But yeah, I totally feel like I belong, and I’m just so excited for the next match.”

 ?? Ben Curtis/The Associated Press ?? Eugenie makes a return to Simona Halep during the Canadian’s singles semifinal win at Wimbledon Thursday. She meets 2011 champion Petra Kvitova in the final Saturday.
Ben Curtis/The Associated Press Eugenie makes a return to Simona Halep during the Canadian’s singles semifinal win at Wimbledon Thursday. She meets 2011 champion Petra Kvitova in the final Saturday.
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