MELBOURNE – A possibility became reality at the Australian Open Sunday night, when a teenager from Westmount, Que. became the first Canadian in more than 20 years to reach a singles quarterfinal at a Grand Slam tournament.
Just 19, Genie Bouchard has long been touted as one to watch in the future. But after a 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-0 over veteran Aussie wild card Casey Dellacqua Sunday night booked her a date in the Australian Open quarterfinals against Ana Ivanovic, it seems the future might be right now.
She is the first Canadian since Patricia Hy-Boulais to accomplish that (Hy-Boulais, whose coach and husband Yves Boulais has been here in Melbourne coaching American Alison Riske, did it at the U.S. Open in 1992).
“I think I was a little bit nervous in the first set, but I was able to calm myself down and really just focus on how to play, what to do doing the points,” Bouchard said. “I think once I really started just being more aggressive, that’s what my game is. So I just felt more confident on the court.”
There was a lot to take in during the first set, her first in the cavernous Rod Laver Arena.
There were the dimensions of the space around the court, and a glare from the sun coming in through the opening in the roof at one end. There were the coolest conditions Bouchard has played in during her four matches this week. There was a pro-Aussie crowd that dwarfed her now-famous cheering section, the Genie Army (with seats right behind Bouchard’s support team, they gave it everything they had and even added a few new signs that chronicled their journey).
There was a gusty wind that blew more aggressively from one side of the court. There was the fact that her opponent was a leftie.
And there certainly were nerves, from both players. For both, it was a huge opportunity.
The fact that neither played particularly well, but Bouchard still had opportunities to win the first set, had to make the Canadian think it was just a matter of cleaning up her act.
The wind died down some after that set, which helped. And Bouchard did exactly that;
once she got on top of Dellacqua’s fairly average serve – especially her second serve – and stopped donating points, the 28-year-old Aussie no longer had any answers; she went down in a blaze of errors.
“She plays some really good tennis. When she’s on, her serve is great. She holds court position amazing. She’s mentally tough. For somebody her age, she’s pretty composed,” Dellacqua said. “I’ve seen her play some great tennis through the juniors. But sometimes translating that into the seniors is tough.
“She’s done it with a breeze.”
Some of the numbers on the match are a bit misleading. The average serve speed for the two, on both first and second serves, is nearly identical. Yet Bouchard’s is by far the more powerful weapon.
The numbers also show that Bouchard won 10 of 12 points when she came to the net. But it seemed she ventured there more often than that.
Perhaps that’s because when she wasn’t actually there, she was threatening to be there.
Bouchard was tentative in the forecourt at first; when she didn’t put the first volley away, she would backpedal towards the baseline and often ended up on the losing end.
But slowly, she took over that part of the court at as well.
Bouchard did a lot of things Sunday night that she didn’t do through her first three rounds. The opponent wasn’t necessarily that much better than the first three, but the occasion certainly was bigger.
And Bouchard stepped it up as though she’s been progressing through the second week of major tournaments all her life.
She served consistently harder than she had all tournament – topping out at 180 km/h on one of her six aces. She came to the net a lot more. And she changed the direction of the ball with her groundstrokes more than she had all week.
A lot more.
All those things are difficult to do. But Bouchard executed them during the biggest match of her young career.
She also made three challenges that resulted in calls overturned in her favour. That's good work.
You might think a player is prepared to take those steps forward as they rise in the rankings. But you can’t know for sure until they’re actually in those situations.
It’s both a blessing and a curse to have a draw like the one Bouchard got here. If you get a tough draw, you can sort of just let it all hang out.
If you get a draw that provides a terrific opportunity, one in which you are the favorite all through the first week – it’s a different kind of pressure.
Bouchard handled that pressure, and ran with the opportunity.
And instead of facing world No. 1 Serena Williams in Tuesday’s quarterfinal, she instead
gets No. 14 seed Ana Ivanovic, who upset a less-than-100 per cent Williams earlier in the day.
Ivanovic played like the Ivanovic of old (for her, that means vintage 2008), even if it’s hard to gauge exactly how good she needed to be with Williams saying afterwards she had seriously considered withdrawing before the match.
The Serb has had a very good year so far, winning a warmup event in New Zealand before she came to Melbourne, defeating Aussie Sam Stosur in the third round, and now beating Williams. It has been a confidence builder, and Ivanovic is a different player when she’s confident.
The two have some history; Bouchard defeated Ivanovic at Wimbledon, on the famed Centre Court, last year.
“I think I played well in that match. But it’s going to be a battle,” Bouchard said. “I’m just going to try to be aggressive, and I know she will, too, so I’ll be ready for that.”
But first, Bouchard has more tennis to play.
She has a third-round women’s doubles match Monday with partner Vera Dushevina against No. 6 seeds Cara Black and Sania Mirza.
Then, she makes her mixed doubles debut with Aussie partner Sam Groth, who lost in singles to Canadian Vasek Pospisil in the first round.