MELBOURNE – She’s Canadian. She’s still a teenager.
And Genie Bouchard is in the semi-finals of the Australian Open.
The 19-year-old from Westmount, Que. will meet Li Na of China Thursday for a spot in the final. And the biggest reason she’ll be there is because there’s nothing adolescent about her ambition, her confidence and, most especially, her poise under pressure.
Bouchard showcased all of that on Rod Laver Arena Tuesday in a 5-7, 7-5, 6-2 victory over former No. 1 Ana Ivanovic, the No. 14 seed who had been having a resurgent 2014.
Bouchard and Ivanovic basically try to do the same things: serve well, dictate play, use their big forehands and come to the net to finish off a few points if the opportunity is there.
But after a bit of a shaky start by both, Bouchard was bolder in the big moments, seizing the day in a way her more experienced opponent could not.
“I think the matches I had last year on the big courts, like the centre courts, like (Maria) Sharapova at the French Open, Ivanovic at Wimbledon, just being on those big stages gave me a lot of experience,” said Bouchard, whose slightly wavering voice during her on-court interview after the victory was the only outward betrayal of her seeming calm. “Now walking out on centre court in Australia, I feel like I've been here before. I've been able to perform on big stages as well. It gives me that extra confidence,” she added.
Ivanovic had been dealing with one leg issue throughout the tournament and needed an off-court medical time out for the other leg, which she took after recuperating an early service break midway through the second set.
Even that didn’t bother Bouchard, who had been up 4-1 in the set only to fall back to 4-3. “I was just really trying to think about what I had to do better. I think that time, it was fine for me just to regroup. I broke right away after, so it was okay,” she said.
Ivanovic came out a little undercooked, two days after her big win over world No. 1 Serena Williams in the fourth round.
She tried an extra dose of fist pumps and “Ajde!’s early on to try to get herself going. And she did have some hot patches.
But that service toss – always an indicator of something with Ivanovic, if not at least the potential for something, when it goes off – started to waver towards the end of the second set. And her aggressiveness dropped a notch even as Bouchard’s went up a notch, or two.
Maybe even three.
“I felt like, you know, my game kind of got a bit better as the match went on. I feel like in the first set I was close, but I was kind of missing shots just by a little bit, hitting the tape of the net, just a bit out,” Bouchard said. “I felt like my game was there and I just needed to relax a little bit and play.”
Bouchard had beaten Ivanovic at Wimbledon last summer. But Ivanovic had been playing a lot better the last few weeks, like the vintage 2008 Ivanovic.
It turned out Bouchard was still good enough.
“I think she has very bright future in front of her. She's very aggressive player. It's sometimes very hard to read her game. There are no really patterns like with other players you have. She's a great mover,” said Ivanovic, who said she was emotionally a little flat after expending a lot of those emotions in earlier victories over Samantha Stosur and Williams. “She's a tough opponent and she's been playing really well. … But even though despite the fact I didn't play my best, today I felt I still had chances. I didn't quite use them well, wasn't aggressive enough, had way too many errors."
Bouchard will now meet Li. And again, she will play a top opponent that she’s met before on a big stage.
In this case, it was the centre court at the Rogers Cup in Montreal, just a 15-minute drive from her family’s home and the site of the national training centre where she has spent time the last 4-5 years.
“We had a close match. But it was one of my first bigger matches,” Bouchard said of that one. “I know she’s very solid, very good from the back.”
That was in Aug. 2012, and since then the Chinese star has added quite a bit to her game, including a lot more net play, since she began working with former Justine Henin coach Carlos Rodriguez.
But Bouchard also is a more complete player. She was still really a kid then, less than a month removed from her junior Wimbledon title and still taking her fledgling steps on the pro circuit.
She lost 6-4, 6-4 that night after a three-hour rain delay and said afterwards that she had to work on being more aggressive, and coming to the net more.
"I thought I did okay when I could control the point off my serve or with a good first return, but when she controlled the point, she was tough," Bouchard said then.
She has worked on those things, with great results. But controlling the points will remain the big focus on Thursday, when the two meet again.