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Mighty Bouch, the Grace Kelly of women's tennis

Eugenie Bouchard prepares to serve
by Kate Battersby
Friday 4 July 2014

Here is what is important about Eugenie Bouchard.

Forget all the easy headline stuff about “Princess” Eugenie (on the now-famous basis that she was named after the Queen’s grand-daughter by her royalist mother) or the profoundly unimaginative “new Maria Sharapova” tag (earned because Bouchard is blonde, plays tennis and... er, that’s it). What sets this charismatic 20-year-old apart is her almost eerie level of self-possession, both on the tennis court and off it.

To watch her in a press conference addressing scores of the world’s media ahead of the women’s final at Wimbledon is to see composure redefined. She is an utter stranger to the fidget or the giggle. Even Sharapova – whom Bouchard fan-worshipped for much of her teens – never matched (and, at 27, still does not) the Canadian’s eloquence or steadiness of gaze.

Her star quality is less that of a Royal Highness than a specific Serene Highness – Grace Kelly comes to mind. Alfred Hitchcock would have signed her as the next cool blonde star of his latest opus without hesitation. Eugenie Bouchard has more poise that the most poised person on Poised Day on Planet Poised.

If all that sounds like breathless fan prattle, actually it could hardly be more relevant to her game. Every last scrap of Bouchard’s self-possession – which (whisper it) might be a tad off-putting in the average 20-year-old – translates to devastating effect on the tennis court.

At Roland Garros a month ago, television cameras preceded Bouchard and Maria Sharapova as they walked along the under-court corridors on their way to Philippe Chatrier Court for their French Open semi-final. The face of Sharapova, the old hand, was set in grim concentration the moment she left the locker room; but Bouchard was all easy relaxation, acknowledging well-wishers with a smile and a wave.

You might think that was why she lost the match; but actually it seemed to suit her. She eased her way to the first set, and could have won the match in two. Only Sharapova’s signature competitive resources saw her through, but her reaction left no doubt that she knew she had been a prize fight. It required no expertise at all to understand that Bouchard’s first Grand Slam final could not be very far away. And so it has turned out.

In that match she was the youngest Roland Garros semi-finalist in five years. Now she has become the first Canadian in history to reach a Grand Slam final. She is the youngest Slam finalist since Caroline Wozniacki, then 19, was runner-up to Kim Clijsters at the 2009 US Open; and she is bidding to become the youngest Slam winner since Sharapova triumphed at Flushing Meadows in 2006 when she too was 19.

It is only two years since Bouchard won junior Wimbledon. If she lifts the Venus Rosewater Dish on Saturday, she will be the fastest ever to make the transition to the ultimate prize.

Yet to drop a set in her six matches this Fortnight, she has dismissed four seeds (No.20 Andrea Petkovic, No.25 Alize Cornet, No.9 Angelique Kerber and No.3 Simona Halep), all older and more experienced. It feels somehow surprising that her win over Halep was her first over a top five opponent in six attempts.

Likewise, it is almost a pity that Cornet did her the great favour of defeating Serena Williams in the third round, as Bouchard was seeded to face the 17-time Grand Slam champion in the last 16. That would have been intriguing, with Serena apparently not in the optimum mental frame of mind this Wimbledon and Bouchard’s potential really flowering.

This is where there are some parallels with her opponent in the final, Petra Kvitova, in the sense that the Czech is an unpredictable performer. Moreover, as with Serena, Bouchard has played her just once before, on a north American hard court last year.

For the record, Serena needed three sets in Cincinnati, while Kvitova saw off the Canadian for the loss of just five games on Bouchard’s domestic turf in Toronto. Hands up those forecasting an exact repeat of the latter result on the Centre Court on Saturday. Anyone?

If Kvitova does produce all she is capable of, and Bouchard’s hitherto impregnable poise remains intact, the final should be a feast. This much we know: if Kvitova triumphs, then it will be the third successive Slam where only the title winner has been capable of defeating Bouchard.

Furthermore, next Monday she will become the highest-ranked Canadian woman of all time. As the victor, the No.6 spot will be hers and even as the runner-up she will be No.7, outdoing Carling Basset’s occupancy of the No.8 slot 29 years ago.

For Basset, that was the zenith. Plainly Bouchard can scale greater heights. The future is waiting for her, and tennis can hardly wait to see it.

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