The future is bright for Eugenie Bouchard. That’s the takeaway with a side of fries from this year’s Australian Open.
“I feel like I belong in the top levels of the game,” Bouchard said. “Even though I was playing matches, I felt I was getting better as the matches went on, which is a good thing. For sure I’ll walk away with confidence.”
True, she was beaten, and soundly beaten, by Li Na in her first Grand Slam singles semifinal. It was not quite as close as the 6-2 6-4 scoreline might suggest.
“I wouldn’t say I exceeded my expectations,” Bouchard said. “But I’m happy with how I did. I’ve been working hard my whole life to do this, play at grand slams and do well. So I’m just going to go back to the practice courts and keep working hard.
Trailing 0-5 in the first as Li, sound of mind and full of focus, completely dominated the baseline exchanges, Bouchard’s errors were forced rather than unforced, the former finalist overwhelming her with her depth, pace and angles from the back. But the 19-year-old battled back to 2-5, even saving a set point. It was delaying the somewhat inevitable.
“I was kind of just letting her do all these winners side to side. It wasn’t really my game,” Bouchard said. “I just tried to get into the rallies more, try to step in a little bit more and try to put more pressure on her because she was just putting a lot of pressure on me.”
In the second set, Bouchard flipped the switch from facing break points to holding break points. And following them through. Leading 2-0, she suddenly stood a lot taller on Rod Laver’s large Arena. The breaks flip-flopped between the pair for a little while before Li made the crucial break before holding for 5-3. Bouchard served to stay in the match, and did so with verve. But she couldn’t break Li at the death. The last point of the match was an exemplary summary of the situation – both players scrabbling around the baseline until Li stepped into the court and rifled a winner, her 35th.
“I think she played really well, you have to give her credit,” Bouchard said of her opponent. “I felt like she didn’t give me much breathing space, much room to do what I want to do on the court.”
More important than the fact Bouchard battled is that she kept her head. There were no histrionics, no racquet-head banging. And it is for those reasons, her temperament in defeat and her willingness to learn and move on, that she will be back at this big stage again. And next time, she might win.
“It’s just kind of my job,” Bouchard said. “It just feels normal.”
Bouchard was let down by her serve on Thursday. She missed the easy rhythm and power of delivery which had been so effective against Ana Ivanovic in her seminal quarterfinal performance. But against Li, from being a weapon, it became a liability. She got just 45 per cent of her first serves in, and of those 23, won just 13. On her second serve, she won just five of 28. Credit is due, naturally, to Li’s relentless returning. She made 80 per cent of them, winning 33. But she was helped, no doubt, by the fact the Bouchard delivery wasn’t quite firing at full throttle.
“I came out and I wasn’t quite playing very well,” Bouchard admitted. “I was missing shots by a little bit here and there. She really took it to me at the beginning.
“I’m proud of how I’ve improved as a player. But I’m never satisfied with losing. I always want to go further and do better. Sometimes you have to learn.”
This Canadian teenager has learned a lot this fortnight. Now let’s see what she does with it.