Eugenie Bouchard generated more hits on ausopen.com on Tuesday, after her big win over Ana Ivanovic, than either Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal.
A 2012 Wimbledon junior champion, the 19-year-old Canadian will now be inside the top-20 in next week’s new WTA rankings. She plays Li Na in Thursday afternoon’s semifinals.
What’s most noticeable about Bouchard is that she views her success as simply a matter of course. It’s as if she were a student who does her homework and automatically expects to get a good grade.
Of course, it ain’t that easy in tennis – thousands of Eugenie Bouchards fall by the wayside every year.
“It’s something I’ve been doing since I was five years old, working my whole life for and sacrificing a lot of things for,” said Bouchard, sounding almost detached about everything – including joining Carling Bassett (US Open 1984) as the only Canadian to reach a Grand Slam semifinal.
“So it’s not exactly a surprise. I always expect myself to do well.”
Bouchard, who went to Saviano High Performance Tennis (SHPT) in Plantation, Florida at 12 years old, was not the anointed one as a youngster.
“All I remember is Genie not looking that great but always working incredibly hard,” recalled SHPT director Nick Saviano. “We always had to start moving her up courts because she’d start beating people. I only remember her work ethic, passion and enthusiasm.”
Li, 31, is also a driven competitor. Two years ago she hired Carlos Rodriguez, longtime former coach of Justine Henin. He’s a tennis Svengali, and his mind games with Li seem to be working. In the third round, she saved a match point in a perilous 1-6 7-6(2) 6-3 win over Lucie Safarova.
When she rebounded 6-2 6-0 over Ekaterina Makarova in the next round, Li spoke about how displeased Rodriguez had been with her narrow escape against Safarova. “I really make Carlos sad two days ago after the match. You can look in his face, really unhappy. At least today I make him feel much better.”
She has continued her superb form, beating Flavia Pennetta 6-2 6-2 in Tuesday’s quarterfinals. At the 2012 Canadian Open in Montreal, Li beat Bouchard 6-4 6-4 in their only previous match-up.
Thursday’s second women’s singles semifinal pits No. 5 seed Agnieszka Radwanska, fresh off her upset of two-time defending champion Victoria Azarenka, against No. 20 Dominika Cibulkova. Radwanska leads their head-to-head 5-1.
Thursday’s men’s semifinal matches No. 7 seed Tomas Berdych, who ousted third seed David Ferrer, against No. 8 Stanislas Wawrinka, who upset three-time defending champion Novak Djokovic.
Wawrinka holds an 8-5 career advantage and has won their three most recent meetings. But Berdych beat him a year ago in Davis Cup in four sets and, with Radek Stepanek, won the doubles over him and Marco Chiudinelli in a monster 24-22 fifth set.
The TV ratings should be good in Switzerland with Roger Federer showcased on Wednesday night and Wawrinka 24 hours later.
In Canada, Bouchard’s win over Ivanovic drew 1.6 million viewers, more than the average National Hockey League weeknight game. But that’s still about 100 times fewer than the estimated 116 million Chinese who watched Li win the 2011 French Open.
But numbers can be misleading. Maybe an anecdotal example better explains Bouchard’s rocketing popularity. After her win Tuesday, a 17-year-old Melbourne boy texted his mother at work: “EUGENIE!!!”
TOM’S INTREPID TIPS
Li vs Bouchard
Li has been on a mission since saving match point in her third-round match. Bouchard is always on a mission, but Li’s experience tells. Li in three.
Radwanska vs Cibulkova
Radwanska uses her crafty tennis to defuse a red-hot Cibulkova, who has lost fewer than four games in three of her last four matches. Radwanska in two.
Berdych vs Wawrinka
Berdych has the better pedigree of these two 28-year-olds, and against Wawrinka, he can smell his second Grand Slam final after Wimbledon in 2010. Berdych in four.