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Rising stars Halep and Bouchard on fast track to top

by Vivienne Christie
Wednesday 2 July 2014

One high has followed another for Simona Halep and Eugenie Bouchard in 2014. A first Grand Slam final for the increasingly influential Halep; early career titles for the rapidly improving Bouchard.

Boosted by a remarkable consistency – they are the only two women to progress to the quarter-finals of all three Grand Slams this season – there are also personal best rankings and a powerful ambition to keep building on them.

Now a bigger high beckons when those two women face off for a place in Saturday’s final. Considering the form that each woman has shown at The Championships so far, it’s certain to be a spirited contest.

Halep was the victor of their only other encounter, in the fourth round of Indian Wells earlier this year, which took three intense sets to complete. Much has changed since then, Halep peaking at world No. 3 last month and Bouchard steadily gaining in confidence as she surges towards the world’s top 10.

“Here it's different because it's grass court. A big difference between matches,” Halep pointed out. “I learned from that match that I have to keep fighting till the end. At that moment I won, so we'll see tomorrow what will happen.”

Fighting spirit is something the Romanian is proving to possess in bountiful supply. Having dropped just one set, against qualifier Lesia Tsurenko in the second round, she worked hard for a smooth transition against Sabine Lisicki in the quarter-finals, winning 11 consecutive games to record a 6-4, 6-0 victory against in just 57 minutes.

Still, the Romanian is right to be cautious given the smooth progress her younger opponent has experienced so far. Spending an average of one hour and 32 minutes on court in four successive straight-sets wins to reach the quarter-finals, Bouchard was ruthless as she despatched Angelique Kerber, who had upset Maria Sharapova the previous day, in just over an hour.

With confidence high, she’s determined to maintain that same hard-hitting momentum in the semi-final. “We had a good match at Indian Wells. I felt like I had chances, was really close, and just lost that one,” Bouchard said. “I learned, you know, a little bit about her game. I think she's playing really well. So I'm going to be ready for that - really just try to go for it and take my chances. You know, leave it all out on the court. It's the semis, so I'm going to expect the toughest match ever.”

While neither player has progressed this far in the women’s draw at Wimbledon, it’s unlikely that either will be intimidated by the occasion. Halep is fresh from being runner-up at Roland Garros, where she featured in one of the highest quality Grand Slam women’s finals in recent tennis memory, losing in three tight sets to Sharapova.

“I have more experience and more confidence in myself,” Halep said. “I played really well here, match by match and day to day. In French Open was clay court, so I had more experience on clay court. Here was the grass. Last year I didn't win many matches. But now I'm here and I just want to be happy because it's my best result here.

For Bouchard, her best was her victory in the 2012 girls’ event, when she defeated Elena Svitolina in the final, which adds the element of experience to one of the biggest occasions of her career. The first Canadian to win a singles title at a Grand Slam further announced her arrival by upsetting Ana Ivanovic in the second round of the main draw in 2013.

It’s a happy memory for the ambitious 20-year-old. “Winning the junior title was still I think to this day my proudest accomplishment in my career. It really kind of propelled me into the pro circuit. You know, I'm very proud of that,” she said.

“Even last year I felt that I belonged, so I don't feel like it's a surprise that I'm doing even better this year. But definitely happy to have some success at Wimbledon. I love this tournament.”

Already, there are new milestone for Halep and Bouchard to celebrate after superb outings in SW19. In three previous appearances, Halep has not advanced beyond the second round. Should she win against Bouchard, she’d progress all the way to world No. 2. Following her win against Kerber, Bouchard assured her arrival in the world’s top 10.

But neither, you suspect, is dwelling on those peaks, with the focus instead on the chance to move another step closer to the ultimate high of a Wimbledon victory.

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