Tennis star Eugenie Bouchard named CP’s female athlete of the year

The Eh Game

One day after male tennis counterpart Milos Raonic won the Lionel Conacher Award as the Canadian Press's male athlete of the year, Montrealer Genie Bouchard has done the same on the women's side.

The 19-year-old has won the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award as CP's female athlete of the year, as voted on by sports broadcasters and editor across the country.

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And, as with Raonic, the vote wasn't close; Bouchard received 45 per cent, well ahead of fellow nominees Dominique Maltais (snowboarding) and Christine Nesbitt (speedskating), who both received 11 per cent.

"It just shows how much hard work I've put in this year that I've had good results. It makes me more proud of my year," Bouchard told CP.

Her combination of talent, ambition and good looks (and her ability to communicate in both of Canada's official languages) have garnered her a lot of attention in an individual sport whose seemingly endless season keeps it in the spotlight most of the year.

Those opportunities are far more rare on the women's side, where the majority of Canada's best athletes compete in Olympic sports that only get their just due every four years.

But while the field on the women's side is somewhat narrower, that takes little away from Bouchard's achievements on the tennis court this year, essentially her rookie season on the WTA Tour.

That also applies to Raonic, who triumphed over a more diverse field. His efforts in the international Davis Cup competition - especially at home in Vancouver the last two years against Spain and Italy - vaulted the Canadian men's game into a position as a rising world tennis power.

Both Bouchard and Raonic are appealing performers in their own way. And their concurrent rise in a sport that has global reach – and isn't hockey – has helped their achievements to be recognized by the members of the sports media across the country who voted for them in such overwhelming numbers.

It's always been bit of a cliché that the way to get an entire country to catch tennis fever is to have one or two (or preferably more) players make noise at the top level of the game.

It certainly worked in countries like Sweden, where the Bjorn Borg phenomenon in the 1970s gave rise to an entire generation of top players (Stefan Edberg, Mats Wilander, to Anders Jarryd to name but a few).

But that was an age ago. These days, there are so many more options and distractions for kids – not to mention the cost of playing tennis hasn't allowed it to become a sport anyone can play. But the rise of Raonic and Bouchard can help Tennis Canada's efforts to grow the sport far more than any expensive national training program or cute commercial.

The best part is, they're just getting started.

Bouchard will play her first ever Fed Cup tie (the women's equivalent of the Davis Cup) against Serbia in February, in Montreal.

Other than a couple of appearances in the Rogers Cup tournament, which alternates between Toronto and Montreal, she has not yet had the same opportunity Raonic has had to shine at home and wave the flag. She told me last week that she "has no idea what it will be like," to compete for Canada on home soil.

Here's an Eh Game piece from last week that previews Bouchard's 2014 season.

She's the fourth female tennis player to win the award; fellow Montrealer Aleksandra Wozniak won it in 2009; Carling Bassett-Seguso and Helen Kelesi each won it twice in the 1980s.

Bouchard doesn't turn 20 until February. The way she's going, there's a pretty good chance she'll improve on that.

As it happens, the newly-crowned king and queen of Canadian sports will be teaming up together Saturday in their first joint appearance for Canada at the exhibition Hopman Cup event in Perth, Australia - a country vs. country competition that consists of one men's singles and one women's singles match, with a mixed-doubles match as a tiebreak.

Even though it's only an exhibition, the matches will be broadcast on Sportsnet One, beginning at 4:30 a.m. ET Saturday. That speaks volumes about how the sport is gradually finding its way into the collective Canadian sports consciousness - even during hockey season.

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Stephanie Myles has written about everything from Major League Baseball, to wheelchair rugby, to tiddly winks over the last two decades. You can usually find her on a tennis court somewhere. More tennis musings can be found at opencourt.ca.

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