MELBOURNE – If you have your own army, you can move mountains - and even win a tennis match on a hot day when you're feeling a little sluggish.
With the help of a self-help group calling themselves "Genie's Army," Montrealer Eugenie Bouchard overcame a slow start to advance to the Australian Open's second round with a 7-5, 6-1 victory over Chinese wild-card Hao Chen Tang Monday.
"It's always tough to play the first round of any tournament, especially a Grand Slam, so happy I got through that," said Bouchard, who appreciated the support from her young male fans and the atmosphere they brought to distant Court 15 – about as far away as you can get from the stadium court at the Australian Open, Rod Laver Arena, and still actually be on the grounds.
"There was a decent seating section on the side. It's out of my control. It was a first-round amtch, so i can't really expect anything," Bouchard added. "Hopefully I'll be on a good court in my next round. But it was a good court in the end."
The Army – who came prepared with T-shirts spelling out Bouchard's first name (with a sixth fellow pulling up the rear as the exclamation point), songs with a Genie theme, and plenty of technical advice from the sidelines – weren't even Canadian even though Bouchard did also have the support of some true Canucks.
The Army men were like many in the 19-year-old's growing legion of fans – local lads who, in their own words, "think she's hot, mate."
The day was hot, too. And in the first set, with her less-accomplished opponent cracking the ball and the sun cracking atop her head, Bouchard was multiplying the unforced errors and seeking brief respite after nearly every point in the narrow, foot-wide crack near the court's back fence that offered the only available shade.
Tang served for the first set. But then Bouchard got going. And once she won the first set, there was no stopping her.
Suddenly, the heat that had her bellying up to the fence for the better part of an hour no longer was a problem.
Amazing how often that's the case, isn't it?
"I didn't underestimate her at all. She was coming up with good shots. I wasn't surprised. I was expecting a tough match and it was definitely tough," Bouchard said. "I obviously didn't play at the level I wanted to. but I got through it, I fought, and I got better in the second set."
Bouchard stayed and autographed all of the boys' shirts and posed for pics with them.
The Army got so excited about the Canadian, they even stopped by fellow Canadian Vasek Pospisil's first-round match later in the day.
The boys were definitely smitten, thus guaranteeing Bouchard would carry over her cheering section into her second-round match against French veteran Virginie Razzano – another player she has never met on court, but one against whom she has at least practiced.
"See you Wednesday," Genie's Army said.
Related story: Vasek Pospisil advances to the second round in Australia