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Dream of Genie still alive despite Centre Court humbling

Eugenie Bouchard after the Ladies' Singles Final
by Dan Imhoff
Saturday 5 July 2014

The Genie Juggernaut may have suffered a serious reality check on tennis’s grandest stage on Saturday, but the wheels are still in motion.

Surging to a career-high of No.7 in the world following her run to the Wimbledon final, Eugenie Bouchard is now the highest-ranked Canadian women’s player in history.

And with few points to defend heading to this year’s US Open, the 20-year-old can make greater leaps still. Thereafter the real test begins.

Bouchard goes from being the underdog with nothing to lose to a woman bearing huge expectations.

A fourth straight semi-final finish or better at the slams is realistically on the cards at Flushing Meadows and after reaching her maiden Grand Slam final in just her sixth major appearance, the odds are that she is closing in on that breakthrough.

The blonde ponytail and cover-girl good looks, combined with a fearless determination and relentless ball-striking, make the Quebecer a marketer’s dream.

On the eve of The Championships, she inked a three-year endorsement deal with Coca-Cola Canada. Her marketability will only soar after this past fortnight.

And so flows “the next Sharapova” moniker. Best keep the hype in check though.

Despite her deep runs at each of this year’s slams, Bouchard realises she still has a way to go before she is knocking off the biggest names in the game.

The most notable players she has defeated in Grand Slam play are Ana Ivanovic and Angelique Kerber, and while she pushed eventual champion Maria Sharapova to three sets in Paris, she was soundly walloped by Li Na in Melbourne and now Kvitova at Wimbledon.

Still, no need to let the 6-3, 6-0 scoreline get her down. Seven-time major winner Venus Williams was bagelled in her loss to Martina Hingis on her Grand Slam final debut. Williams in turn inflicted a bagel in seven-time slam winner Justine Henin’s first final at a major (granted the Belgian did take a set).

Anointing her as the next Sharapova remains premature. At the same age, the Russian had won two Grand Slam titles, reached the final of another and six more slam semi-finals.

The greater physicality of the women’s game and the subsequent disappearance of teenage Grand Slam champions makes this a slightly skewed statistic, but much like the cool head the young Canadian manages to maintain on the court, she is not getting too carried away with the comparisons.

Bouchard is forging her own path and whether that means she is six months or six years off holding aloft a Grand Slam trophy remains to be seen.

“I am very motivated to win a Grand Slam. It's been a lifelong dream of mine. I feel like I've taken steps in the right direction to achieve that. This year I've been close in every slam, so I'm just going to keep going,” she said.

“It was a big moment walking out onto Centre Court for a final. I have that experience now. I know what it feels like. I hope I can walk out to many more finals. That's the goal... I never want to be satisfied.”

Her surging popularity at home will best be measured next month when the Rogers Cup – a Masters series event – rolls around again.

“I’m going to spend a lot of time on my couch. That’s the first goal,” Bouchard said. “Besides that, the tournament is also in Montreal once every two years, so the last time I played I just came off winning the juniors here, which was good for me at the time.”

Where some players need reassurance from their team that they truly belong in the upper echelon, Bouchard does not. The young Canadian already has the belief that she belongs in the Grand Slam-winning mix. And that is half the battle when taking the next step from being a fearless talent to bona fide champion.

Few would dare to bet against the Genie Juggernaut gathering momentum again.

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