For a little over 49 minutes, Australia believed. Casey Dellacqua, the girl from Perth, led Eugenie Bouchard, the WTA’s new poster girl, by a set at Rod Laver Arena. With the crowd firmly in her corner, Dellacqua had snatched the opening set in a tie-break, one set away from her first major quarter-final, the last Australian singles player standing.
But Bouchard has proven herself quite quickly to be the real deal. Admittedly, she has not had the toughest of draws in what is her first Australian Open, having steered clear of any other seeds so far. But her lack of experience at this level might have been impediment enough, especially on Melbourne Park’s centre court with the crowd against her. It was not to be. Defeating the Australian wild card 6-7(5) 6-2 6-0, Bouchard became the first Canadian to reach a Grand Slam quarter-final since Patricia Hy-Boulais at the US Open in 1992.
In cool but blustery conditions, it was the 30th seed who manufactured the first break point opportunity, but Dellacqua, revelling in Australia’s biggest stage, flipped the momentum, staving it off, and breaking to lead 3-1. Bouchard dug in and grabbed it back for 4-4 in the first, and the pair went toe to toe into a tie-break. Again, Dellacqua went up first, Bouchard stole the mini-break back, but then squandered it with errors. Up 6-4 with two set points, Dellacqua hung tough, and another forehand unforced error from Bouchard gave her the set.
But as the wind died and the conditions steadied, Bouchard bucked herself up. Putting a little extra pop on her groundstrokes, which shortened Dellacqua’s responses, she began to use her mid-court forehand to full effect, opening up the court and burying the ball away. Breaking serve in the third game, she reeled through the rest. Dellacqua was allowed just one more game, at 1-5 in the second, and one she had to work hard for.
Wrapping up the match in an hour and 43 minutes, Bouchard is into her first Grand Slam quarter-final, a mouth-watering meeting, for photographers at least, with Ana Ivanovic.
“I felt the first set, it was a bit shaky. I feel like I still served well in the first. I made a few too many unforced errors, wasn't being aggressive enough.
“Then in the second and third, I really just, you know, stepped in more and really controlled the points. And that worked really well.
“Just really happy to be here and excited to play my next match, hopefully play well.”
But Bouchard, clutching the Kookaburra gifted to her from Genie's Army, her band of local supporters, knows Ivanovic won’t make life easy.
“She beat Serena so she's playing really well. We're in the quarters now, so she deserves to be there. No one's going to give it to me, so it's going to be a good match.”
Dellacqua meanwhile was disappointed but realistic.
“I'd probably say that the best player tonight won, and that was Eugenie. She played the best tennis in the end. She played really well,” Dellacqua said.
“I did what I could out there; tried to create some scoreboard pressure. Tried to hold court position. But she was really playing well tonight.”
Still, there are plenty of positives for the 28-year-old, who reached three doubles Grand Slam finals last year with Ash Barty, but has made the decision that singles is still important, too. She will re-enter the world’s top 100 as a result of her three wins here in Melbourne, the product of gritty determination and no small amount of hard work.
“About three months ago, after US Open, you know, I remember having a conversation with my coach in Tokyo. I qualified there, but I was (ranked) 180,” Dellacqua explained.
“It was just a matter of like, Do I want to continue to like really work hard and play singles? I said, Yeah, I really do want to play singles. I don't want to travel on the tour and just be a doubles player. I want to play singles. I had to get physically better if I wanted to play both. I had to spend the time on the court working on my singles game. So that's what I did. Now only three months later, I'll be back inside 100.
“As you get older, you enjoy your tennis a lot more, you appreciate what you can do, you're healthy, you get out there and enjoy it.
“That's exactly how I feel. I enjoy tennis. I started playing because I love it and I'm motivated.”
So, as Dellacqua goes back to the practice court and home to her son, it is Bouchard, with Canada and Genie’s Army behind her, who will be playing a major quarter-final at the age of 19.
“I love tennis,” she said. “It's my life. So thinking about tennis all the time is kind of what I do.”
That’s a great place to be.