NO-ONE can accuse Eugenie Bouchard of having an easy ride to the final. The Canadian had the toughest road to the last four, gauged by the ranking of her opponents; she had spent longer on court than the other three women who made it to yesterday’s semi-finals, and, at 20, she is the youngest player in the world top 20, and the least experienced of the last four.
But the more demanding the challenge, the more Bouchard rises to it. In Simona Halep, she was up against an opponent who had already reached a Grand Slam final this year and, as No 3 seed, has been on the verge of a big breakthrough for some time. Even so, Bouchard was too fast, too aggressive, and too clever for the Romanian, winning 7-6, 6-2 to keep up her record of not having dropped a set here.
Bouchard’s promise has been evident for some time – she won junior Wimbledon two years ago and reached the third round on her senior debut last year. This year, she reached the last four in both Australia and France and, when she showed her versatility by getting to the same stage here, she became the first woman in five years to reach the semis of the first three slams.
She clearly decided that it was time to go one step further because, against Halep, she played with irresistible, almost unfaltering self-belief.
There were minor distractions – a medical time-out for a Halep foot problem early in the first set, and a break for treatment to an ill spectator during the tie-break at the end of that set. But she handled those well, and only rarely looked rattled at other points.
Halep, on the other hand, was tentative too much of the time. She led that tiebreak 4-2, winning the first point after it resumed, but could not capitalise on that advantage. What the Romanian did best was offer resistance. She saved one set point superbly at the end of the first, and hung in gamely late in the second, saving five more match points. But that defiance was undone by her deficiencies in other quarters, notably her mobility, which appeared to be affected by the injury she has been carrying, and which saw her come on court with her left thigh heavily strapped. Add that to the twisted ankle she sustained in the fourth game, and it was plain that all was not well with Halep.
“It was difficult to continue because I twisted my ankle and I felt a big pain,” she said. “It was better with the tape, but still I couldn’t push any more in my leg. My first serve was really bad after that.“I lost my energy because I am a little bit tired also, but I’m really happy that I could play semi-final here – it’s my best result in Wimbledon.
“I cannot be sad now. I just want to enjoy this result and to look forward to play many more matches at the Grand Slams.
“After this tournament I can say that I have more confidence in myself that I can play also on grass good tennis. I feel good. I am happy.”
Not as happy as Bouchard, who now takes on 2011 winner Petra Kvitova in her bid to become only the fourth player in the open era to win Wimbledon while seeded outside the top ten. Maria Sharapova, Venus Williams and Marion Bartoli were the others and, even before she has played her first major final, the photogenic Bouchard is being widely seen as the new Sharapova – in both tennis and marketing terms.
The Russian was younger when she won here a decade ago, but the two share a down-to-earth confidence. “I’m happy to get to my first Grand Slam final – it’s very exciting,” said Bouchard, while succeeding in appearing somewhat unexcited. “It’s what I’ve worked so long for, you know. I’m just proud of myself for today’s effort.
“But, you know, it’s not like a surprise to me. I expect good results like this. It’s a step in the right direction. I get to play in the final. You know, I still have another match, so it’s not a full celebration yet. I want to go another step further. So I’m going to stay focused and enjoy it after.”
It is more than likely that she will stay focused afterwards as well. She has the ability to enjoy a long career, and she has the calm personality to ensure she does not get carried away by success. That calmness is just as crucial on court.
“I think I’m able to not worry about the distractions, especially when it’s out of my control,” she added. “Like someone in the crowd not feeling well is definitely out of my control. It happens once in a while.
“You know, I think what I do well is I really don’t let it get to me or affect me. You know what? There are challenges everywhere in life. I love being challenged and I love working hard to overcome something.
“I kind of see it like an opportunity like that. I see it more of in a positive way than a negative way.”
If Bouchard approaches tomorrow’s final in the same way, she has a good chance of victory.