19 January - 1 February 2015
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Eugenie Bouchard
It’s all taking off for Eugenie Bouchard. The new poster girl for the women’s tour after a storming 2013 for which she was named ‘WTA newcomer of the year’, the Canadian came into 2014 as a player to watch - and has shown why in Melbourne with a run to the semifinals.
The photogenic 19-year-old is rapidly making the transformation from player to star player, and even to plain old star.
A recent appearance on the cover of a leading Canadian news magazine as one of its ‘newsmakers of the year’ in 2013 reflects the growing interest in a player who just 12 months ago was yet to trouble the world’s top 100 rankings.
‘Genie’ as she’s known universally, shares the cover with fellow countryman Justin Bieber, as you might expect and fair enough too, but level billing with Miley Cyrus and Michelle Obama takes the recognition factor into a whole new domain.
She’s still flying under the radar in tennis terms but in all probability that’s about to change, and very quickly. Bieber, just four days younger than Genie, has captivated the Canadian and North American public for much of the past three years before surprisingly announcing his retirement at the tail end of last year.
Which means there’s a slot open in the public affection for Genie, whether she wants it or not. It helps of course if you’re a very good player, but it’s not always an essential. 
History shows an enduring media and public interest, bordering on the obsessive at times, with the more glamorous newcomers to the women’s game from ‘gorgeous’ Gussie Moran way back to Anna Kournikova and Maria Sharapova of late.
And the tall twin (she also has two other siblings) from Montreal falls very much into that category - 100,000 Facebook followers indicative of the depth of public interest for a player still only the game’s 31st best player.
The looks may catch the eye but it’s the speed of the rise that has propelled Genie high into the public awareness.
A junior Wimbledon win - the girls' title in 2012 - set the ball rolling. But it's been since April last year that the pace truly picked up. A breakthrough into the top 100 arrived when she overcame Sam Stosur and Laura Robson in South Carolina, and she's yet to let up - Ana Ivanovic in the second round at Wimbledon is perhaps her most well-known scalp to-date. 
Tellingly her record in the Grand Slam tournaments is already sound. She has now played in the main singles draw of all the big four tournaments and is yet to lose a first round match, a declaration of intent and belonging at the higher end of the game that will be only boosted by her first seeding at a major - at Australian Open 2014.
The debut WTA singles title is yet to come (she lost to Stosur in her first final in Osaka last October) but a couple of wins in the Hopman Cup this year and Federation Cup exposure with Canada will only aid the future big occasions. 
But for the moment her feet are firmly on the ground.

“I put enough pressure on myself and that's really the only kind of pressure I want to focus on,” she says. “I can't really control other players' results and my ranking so much, so I just want to focus on improving and playing the best I can in every tournament.

"If there's pressure, that's great, I love playing in big moments and in pressure moments.”

It’s a sensible and probably the most pragmatic outlook to take. More wins and titles will only fuel the public awareness and interest that goes with the territory.

She may be pushing Justin Bieber for attention in her own country but globally is still seated some way back in the stalls. 

But that will all change if she can replicate her 2013 performances this year. It’s really just a matter of when, not if.

Bouchard will take on Li Na in her maiden Grand Slam semifinal on Thursday.  

Wednesday, 18 February 2015
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