New star eager to court success

Personality

New star eager to court success

Eugenie Bouchard showed she has made big strides with a remarkable run Down Under

The first month of the year only just got over but Canadian teenager Eugenie Bouchard is already looking for new goals for 2014 after breaking a ranking milestone. The 19-year-old rose from 31st to a career-high 19th thanks to her run to the semifinals of the Australian Open.

"Early at the beginning of the year I said as a ranking goal I wanted to be in the top 20 so I have accomplished that," said Bouchard, who came to Melbourne after a season of steady improvement that earned her the WTA Newcomer of the Year award. "So now I need to change my goals, of course it’s all about consistency as well and staying in the top 20 and getting to a certain level and staying there."

Having dispatched former world number one Ana Ivanovic with some powerful hitting in the quarterfinals, the former junior Wimbledon champion struggled to a straight sets defeat to eventual champion Li Na in the last four. Undeterred, the tall blonde-haired right-hander said the experience of reaching a first Grand Slam semi had been invaluable. 

"Yeah I had a good experience at the Australian Open this year, I played really well and am happy with how it went but of course I'm never happy when I lose a match so disappointed with that but really happy to get the experience," she said. "I'd never played a tournament longer than a week before so still being in the same tournament 10 days after it started was new to me and really interesting so I hope I can experience that many more times.

"It gave me more self confidence and showed me that I belong at the top level and that I can play against great players and play well and keep my composure on big courts as well. I played three matches on Rod Laver and it was such a good experience."

While many are surprised by just how quickly her success has come, Bouchard, who said she tries to act like she has “been there before” on the biggest stages of the sport, is not one of them. “I do try to walk around like I belong there, and play like I belong, and every time I walk on the court I believe I can win,” she said. "I think that’s really important, to have that self-confidence.

“Off the court, I think I’m not cocky, I’m pretty humble, and I don’t want to act like I’ve been there when I haven’t. But when little things come, like winning some matches at Slams, I just try to take it in stride. Because I expect a lot from myself. So when it does happen, it’s like OK, I knew I could do this, and now let’s go to the next thing.”

Though many of the teenagers competing in junior events believe they have outgrown the junior circuit before their eligibility is up, Bouchard stayed and took advantage of the opportunity for high-pressure competition. After playing her first junior Grand Slam at age 14, she eventually won the girls’ title at Wimbledon in 2012 when she was 18, an age at which most players compete only in professional events.

But having allowed her talent to fully ripen before moving beyond the junior ranks, Bouchard has made a near-seamless transition to the professional ranks, a model of patience that could serve as a template for other young players.

Bouchard has employed a coach in Nick Saviano who serves as a link between her junior and senior success. Saviano has helped develop the games of other emerging young talents, like the American Sloane Stephens and the Briton Laura Robson, but it was Bouchard with whom Saviano decided to travel on the tour, having previously turned down several offers from players over the years.

For Saviano, Bouchard’s willingness and ability to learn was a deciding factor. “She can process information very quickly, and she applies it,” Saviano said of Bouchard, who first worked with her when she was 12. “She’s a very good athlete, she has good focus, and she has other factors. She feels comfortable on a big stage, which helps.”

Saviano believes that Bouchard is capable of raising her game to a level where simply playing her own game can be enough to beat anyone.

“She’ll make tactical adjustments, and so on, but it’s more about her developing her skills and being able to impose her skills on other people as opposed to constantly reacting to everyone else,” he said. “When you watch Nadal or Federer or Serena Williams or Sharapova, they make little adjustments, but basically you’re seeing them impose their game on other people, and that’s the mentality I want you to see from her.”

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