In the fourth WTA match of her fledgling career, a young Eugenie Bouchard faced world No.10 Andrea Petkovic in Toronto.
“I remember it being a really big occasion for me at the time,” the 20-year-old said of the 2011 showdown. “It was my first wild card into the main draw at the Rogers Cup – it was a big deal for me.
“I remember it was really close at the beginning, I stayed with her. In the end she kind of overpowered me a bit – but I learned a lot from that match.”
In the three years that followed the German’s 6-2, 6-2 victory, Bouchard has swiftly risen from the ranks of first-round cannon fodder to battle-hardened gunslinger. After semi-final appearances in Melbourne and Paris already in 2014, she has rightly earned her place on the shortlist of contenders for the Ladies’ Singles title this year.
Petkovic, who has come out on top in all three of their previous meetings, now stands between Bouchard and a maiden appearance in the second week at Wimbledon after the No.13 seed booked her spot in the third round with an imperious 7-5, 6-1 win over Spain’s Silvia Soler-Espinosa.
Bouchard came through a tough encounter with former quarter-finalist Daniela Hantuchova in the first round, but while the Slovakian’s game is a tricky proposition on grass Soler-Espinosa was always going to pose less of a threat. The world No.75 was bidding to go beyond the second round for the first time but found herself outgunned and outclassed by the 20-year-old, who looked a natural on grass during the 66-minute contest.
Keen to dictate the play from the outset, Bouchard initially struggled to deal with Soler-Espinosa’s defensive slices, negating her 13 winners with 14 unforced errors and giving up two breaks of serve. Soler Espinosa could not take advantage, however, as Bouchard punished her floated second serve at every opportunity to keep herself in front on the scoreboard.
“Of course the goal is to always start as well as I can,” Bouchard said. “Sometimes that doesn't happen and you have to kind of figure a way out of it. I was just really trying to go for my shots. She got a lot of balls back and would hit a few good slices – it just took me a little bit of time to get used to that. Once I did, I was ready for it and was able to move forward on her balls.”
With the first set put to rest, Bouchard relaxed and played some sparkling tennis. Soler-Espinosa simply couldn’t match up to the Canadian in full flow as another 11 winners helped her wrap up the second set in 22 minutes.
“I think it was important for me to try to close out some points at the net when I could because she was getting a few balls back, to really go for my shots a little bit more,” Bouchard continued. “You know, when I was stepping in and being aggressive I felt really in control. That's always my goal.
“Even though it was a little close in the first set, I still felt I was very close to playing well. So I wasn't too worried – I knew it would click after a few points or games, however long it took.”
While Bouchard has gone from strength to strength since arriving on the WTA tour, the past three years have been a rollercoaster for Petkovic. The 26-year-old considered quitting the sport in 2013 as she recovered from a serious knee injury but is enjoying a renaissance in 2014, culminating in her own run to the semi-finals at Roland Garros.
“I think Genie prefers grass more to clay, I would say, by her game,” said Petkovic, who came back from a set down to beat Bouchard on the clay of Charleston. “I prefer clay to grass. I know it's going to be really, really tough and a lot will depend on the serve, how well I move after the serve, because she returns so aggressively.”
For Bouchard, Toronto and Charleston are nothing but a memory – to be learned from, not dwelled on. “We've both come a long ways since then,” Bouchard added. “I'm not going to think about that  match or even the one in Charleston. It's a new match on Saturday.”
20:08It brings me no pleasure but it's time to bring the curtain down for another year. Seemed somehow appropriate to leave the last word to Roger Federer. Thanks a billion for reading. What a fortnight, what a final, fast forward to 2015 please...
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