Type Eugenie Bouchard into Google and many of the top hits will include the words ‘Justin Bieber’. Scroll down a little bit and you’ll find numerous business articles about the incredible marketing value of the blonde Canadian, with many predicting she can become as huge as former player Anna Kournikova, or current world No5 Maria Sharapova in terms of her brand reach.
Someone should tell Google though, that above all else, the 19-year-old is an incredibly talented tennis player, who has had a meteoric rise in the world of professional tennis that countless other young girls have strived for and failed to replicate.
Less than two years ago, Bouchard was crowned Wimbledon junior champion to become the first Canadian to ever win a singles Grand Slam title. Since then, she has risen from No305 in the WTA rankings to No19.
Her run to the Australian Open semi-finals last month, where she took out Serena Williams’ conqueror, ex-world No1 Ana Ivanovic, in the quarters, has helped her achieve that top 20 status. Many dubbed Bouchard’s success in Melbourne as a surprise but the Montreal native sees it as a natural progression in her budding career.
“Definitely I put myself into a different situation after something like that happens but at the same time – of course I’m happy with the result, but I’m not satisfied and I always want to do better,” Bouchard told Sport360° ahead of her trip to Dubai, where she’ll be competing in qualifying this Saturday.
“At the end of the day I still lost in the semi-finals. I want to do better in the next Slam, in the next tournaments.
“It’s not so much of a surprise to me because I’ve always believed in myself and I think it’s just a step in the journey and something that I’ve expected of myself.
“So I don’t see it as a huge thing, I just see it as a step in the process and something that I want to happen continuously. I’m going to try and work hard to keep it a regular thing.”
So while Bouchard may wish she dated Justin Bieber – which she embarrassingly admitted to in an on-court interview in Melbourne – that’s probably the only thing she shares with the remaining teenage girls of the world.
The way she carries herself on and off the court makes it impossible not to like her.
She manages to be confident in her ability without bordering on arrogance, and even though she had her own “Genie Army” rooting for her in Melbourne, dressed in Canadian colours and chanting throughout her matches, Bouchard has so far shown zero signs of developing into a diva.
Her rapid transition from the junior to the professional level is also testament to her maturity.
Grigor Dimitrov won the Wimbledon junior title in 2008 and only made it past the third round at a Grand Slam as a pro last month in Australia. Laura Robson won Wimbledon as a junior in 2008 and is yet to make it past the fourth round in any major as a pro.
When asked about how she adapted to so quickly to life on the WTA Tour as opposed to her time on the junior circuit, Bouchard said: “It’s definitely another level.
“I think the biggest change is the mental aspect of it and I think what helped me a lot was winning junior Wimbledon. It was the juniors but it just kind of gave me the confidence, like 'okay I can belong in this top level of the sport’.
“After winning that I started playing well in the pros straightaway. I won the $25k (tournaments) and did well in some WTAs. So I just kept going on this good path and then last year, 2013, was my first full year on the tour.
“I really saw what it was like to be a good tennis professional, playing week in week out against the best players in the world really made me have to become mentally tough. And I think I played a lot last year and I think that’s what helped me so much just becoming so mentally tough and just wanting it so much. I think those are the things that helped me.”
With her new place amongst the world’s elite, Bouchard can now play in the biggest tournaments on Tour, including the Premier level events in Doha and Dubai. She flew to Doha from Montreal straight after winning two points for Canada in the Fed Cup and, like a few other players, had to play her first round only a few hours after her arrival. Bouchard lost her Doha opener to Bethanie Mattek-Sands but refused to blame it on her tight schedule.
“It’s difficult,” she said when asked about the quick switch in time zones, continents and tournaments.
“It was not ideal preparation for sure. I might think twice about doing this kind of thing in the future from now on. But it’s in the past and I’m going to learn from it.
“At the same time I can’t use that as an excuse. I was still on the court and I feel like I’ve been playing well in Australia and in the Fed Cup so I’m disappointed. I had to kind of adapt really quickly and I didn’t do that well at all. Now I’m going to take a few days and really try to get ready and play in Dubai.”
Last year, America’s Sloane Stephens was in a similar position to Bouchard, having had a breakthrough Australian Open early in the year. Stephens lost in the first round in both Doha and Dubai and said it was difficult for her to adapt to playing in places like the Middle East, so far away from home and with a very different culture.
When asked whether she feels the same way, Bouchard said: “It is our job to travel the whole world so I think it’s good to just get used to it. It is different here but I’ve been to a bunch of different places. The first time I went to Japan, the first time I went to Asia, it was a culture shock. But I enjoy it and I just feel lucky that I get to visit so many amazing cities and places.”
Eugenie's rapid rise
Date of Birth: February 25, 1994
Birthplace: Montreal, Canada
Coach: Nick Saviano
WTA Ranking: 19
Became the first Canadian to win a Grand Slam singles title when she won Wimbledon juniors. Also won the doubles title for the second time in that tournament. Made her first WTA quarter-final in Washington DC.
Secured her first top 10 victory by defeating Sam Stosur (No9 at the time) in Charleston en route to the quarters. Reached the third round in the ladies’ singles tournament at Wimbledon. Made her first WTA final in Osaka (lost to Stosur 3-6, 7-5, 6-2) Was named the WTA Newcomer of the Year at the end of the season.
Became the first Canadian to reach the semi-finals of the Australian Open.
The return of Venus Williams to the Middle East events this season has been a great boost.
The American seven-time Grand Slam champion is playing the Qatar Open for the first time since 2008, and will be coming to Dubai next week for the first time since she defended her title in 2010.
A return to Indian Wells however does not appear to be happening anytime soon though as both Venus and her sister Serena continue to boycott the event since they were jeered by spectators during a controversial 2001 final in the Californian desert.
There were also reports that their father Richard was on the receiving end of some racial slurs.
Serena had hinted during the Australian Open last month that the movie ‘Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom’ about Nelson Mandela has inspired her to consider following his Truth and Reconciliation legacy but the world No1 announced a few days ago that “after careful consideration” she would not be returning to Indian Wells.
We asked Venus here in Doha whether she had pondered the matter herself, drawing inspiration from Mandela, but the 33-year-old claims she hasn’t considered it. “I really think she’s (Serena) given more thought to it. I haven’t given any thought at all to anything.”
When asked if she would think about it anytime soon, she added: “Well, if Serena thinks about it, we like to copy each other, but I haven’t given any thought at this point.”
Indecisive and defensive
Elsewhere, Caroline Wozniacki was very defensive when she was quizzed about her frequent coaching changeups (she recently fired Thomas Hodgstedt a mere three months after hiring him).
The Dane has long been coached by her father Piotr but she never seems to be able to find success with any outside help she attempts to bring in.
From Ricardo Sanchez to Thomas Johansson and now Hogstedt, they just never seem to stick. “I think I have had pretty good consistency (from a coaching side),” Wozniacki insisted.
Wrapping up warm
It’s been quite cold in Doha, and with the matches starting in the late afternoon and ending around midnight, the players have been playing in very difficult conditions – low temperatures and gusty desert winds.
That has forced the ladies to improvise when it comes to their outfits on court. Yesterday, Venus provided an excellent reason why I’m hoping the weather gets warmer soon…
Ana Ivanovic may have wanted to win in different circumstances on Tuesday but the Serb was still thrilled to advance to the second round of the Qatar Open, benefiting from a second set retirement by her opponent Daniela Hantuchova.
Ivanovic, who has now taken her 2014 record to an impressive 10 wins to just one loss, was down 3-5 in the opening set but earned a crucial break in the 10th game to level at 5-5 and ran away with the opening set with an inch perfect return winner.
One game into the second set, Hantuchova withdrew from the match, after having received treatment to her right knee from the trainer between sets.
Ivanovic said: “It’s never easy to finish like this and I really hope she gets better. I thought the first set was really competitive and I am happy I won that set.
“I didn’t have great success here in the past and I hope I can make a difference this year.”
Australian Open runner-up Dominika Cibulkova was also struck with bad luck as she was forced to retire from her first round match with Alisa Kleybanova due to gastro intestinal illness.
The 10th seeded Cibulkova, who lost both her Fed Cup singles matches last weekend to Germany’s Andrea Petkovic and Angelique Kerber, had the stronger start against Kleybanova, who has risen to No180 in the world since her return from cancer treatment, and broke the Russian for a 3-1 lead.
Cibulkova called for the trainer after the fifth game and was seen taking some pills. She then held for a 4-2 lead but Kleybanova broke back to level at 4-4 and, two games later, the world No13 threw in the towel.
“I was really looking forward to playing this week in Doha,” said Cibulkova. “Unfortunately I became very sick today and suddenly did not feel well. I wanted to give it a try and I did everything I could to try to play, but I could not continue.”
Klara Zakopalova, who played five sets on clay on Monday in the rain-postponed Fed Cup tie between Czech Republic and Spain in Seville, put in a monumental effort to beat Elina Svitolina (6-2, 6-4) less than 24 hours later. She takes on Ivanovic in round two.
Her compatriot Lucie Safarova also battled through similar circumstances to take out No16 seed Kirsten Flipkens 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 in 128 minutes.