19 January - 1 February 2015
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Eugenie Bouchard

Before Eugenie Bouchard steps on court for her much anticipated quarterfinal with Ana Ivanovic, she might want to have a quiet word with the former French Open champion; she may like to ask her what all this winning and fame business is like.

Because if Ivanovic’s career is anything to go by, it is not nearly as easy as it looks.

It was six long years ago that Ivanovic claimed her place at the top of the heap by winning at Roland Garros. At the time, she was just 20 and was a promising talent who had shown her potential by reaching the final here just six months before.

But in the space of those two weeks in Paris, she was catapulted to fame and fortune as the new, glamorous Grand Slam title champion and world No.1. And was it fun? Was it hell as like.

With success comes expectation. On the way up, those with obvious talent are expected to do well but when they fail, they are cut a little slack: they are young, they are inexperienced, their time will come.

But once they have won a big title, there is no room for manoeuvre: if you won once, why can’t you do it again? Was that first major a fluke? Are you just a 'one slam wonder'?

From being on top of the world, Ivanovic started the long, slow slide back down the pecking order – that’s the trouble with being No.1: the only place to go from there is down.

The nerves kicked in as she found her every move highlighted by the glare of the media spotlight and the results failed to materialise. Coaches came and coaches went and still nothing worked. A succession of injuries did not help and as one problem was compounded by another, the effusive, bright and likeable Ivanovic looked troubled and browbeaten.

This is not what being a Grand Slam title winner was supposed to feel like.

“It's very hard, because for me, I'm still a little bit shy,” Ivanovic explained. “So for me it was very overwhelming with all the success and attention I got. I kind of wanted to get away from it a little bit.  And then when I was away, I didn't want that. I wanted to still work hard.      

“But then I was in a little bit, you know, not the best place, you know, in my mind. But you just keep fighting because this is what I love to do and this is what I'm best at. You know, I still am so young and I deserve better chance and better shot at it.”

In six years, she had only managed to reach one Grand Slam quarterfinal (at the US Open two years ago) and when she got there, she was flattened by Serena Williams. It could hardly be described a resurgence for the Serb but it was, at least, a glimmer of hope. But since then, nothing. Well, nothing until this month.

With a new coaching set up behind her, all of whom are fellow Serbs, she feels happier, more confident and more relaxed. They have worked her hard but just the simple fact of being around her countrymen and speaking her own language makes life so much easier.

And week by week, month by month, the self-belief has returned and the free-hitting, forehand-pounding Ana has returned to reach another quarterfinal.     

“I have now a Serbian team with me,” she said. “I'm really happy with the way everything is going, and we did work very hard in the offseason. I spent two weeks here in Melbourne training before I went down to Auckland.            

“But, you know, just really worked hard in the gym and on the court just trying to get lots of consistency and belief, you know. And I really feel that the team that I have now it's really behind me and they believe in me. I went through the tough times when maybe I doubt; they don't. That means a lot to me.”

Ivanovic has plenty of support around these parts – she has relatives in nearby Mentone and when she was younger, she used to spend Christmas with them – and she has often said that Melbourne is her favourite city. That guarantees her the undying support of the crowd and she is now “Aussie Ana”, the newly-adopted daughter of the Melbourne Park patrons.

That love will be tested, though, in Tuesday’s showdown. Bouchard is in much the same position Ivanovic was all those years ago: young, talented, good looking (a quick straw poll of m’colleagues reveal that Genie is, officially, “a babe”) and on the way up.

No matter that she knocked out Casey Dellacqua to reach her first major quarterfinal, there is a large chunk of the RLA crowd who have spent the past eight days dreaming of Genie. Called the “Genie Army”, they gave the locals a run for their money as the patriotic Melburnians cheered on Casey and the Army got behind their girl. It all got quite raucous out there.

“They were trying to rival her little group of people,” Bouchard said of her new fans. “Obviously the whole stadium was for her more. I got a gift again today. It's a kookaburra. I'm getting the full range of the Australian animals. Now I have three. Just looking hopefully in two days I can add to my collection.”

But just in case Australia tries to claim Bouchard as one of their own, the Brits have presented their case for adopting the Canadian: she is great mates with Britain’s Laura Robson and shares the same coach (Nick Saviano) and she won the Wimbledon junior title in 2012 and the Wimbledon girls’ doubles title in 2011 and 2012. That’s good enough for us.

At Wimbledon last year, Bouchard ended Ivanovic’s run in the second round, a result that was the precursor to the Serb parting company with Nigel Sears, her then coach. That win, obviously, has given the 19-year-old confidence before this encounter and with the enthusiasm of youth, she cannot see a cloud in the sky.

“I think I played well in that match at Wimbledon,” Bouchard said. “I'm going to talk to my coach and talk about tactical things to do against her. But I'm feeling confident.  I feel like I'm playing well.  But it's going to be a battle. I'm just going to try to be aggressive, and I know she will, too, so I'll be ready for that.

“I'm excited, yeah. We're at a Grand Slam. I'm just so happy to be playing, looking forward to playing another match. Just really happy to be here and excited to play my next match, hopefully play well.”

But as Ivanovic knows only too well, Bouchard should be careful what she wishes for – when you are young and just making your way in the world, success is not always quite what it seems. Maybe Genie ought to have that chat with Ana, win or lose.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015
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