Eugenie Bouchard spurs Canadian interest in tennis
19-year-old was first Canadian to reach semifinals of Grand Slam since 1984
It was an intense week at the Bouchard household as daughter Eugenie worked her way to the Australian Open semifinals.
"We were yelling like idiots," Mike Bouchard, the player's father, said Thursday of his daughter's stirring win over Ana Ivanovic in the quarter-finals, which made her the first Canadian to reach the semifinals of a Grand Slam tournament since Carling Bassett-Seguso in 1984.
It wasn't quite as frenzied at their Westmount, Que., home two nights later, when Bouchard bowed out with a 6-2, 6-4 loss to fourth-seeded Li Na of China in the semis.
Everyone's talking about Eugenie, and that's bound to be good for the sport.- Eugene Lapierre of Tennis Canada
"It was also exciting, but in the first set Li Na came out strong and Genie was a little nervous," he said. "I felt for her, but she came back well in the second set. Overall, it was an excellent tournament."
Bouchard stole the show in Melbourne, where a dozen or so local fans formed Genie's Army to cheer her on and toss her stuffed Australian animals after her wins.
Several commentators spoke of Bouchard, the 2012 Wimbledon junior girls champion, being the next big thing in women's tennis and a potential future Grand Slam tournament winner.
Already, her results are expected to move her from 31st into the top 20 in next week's rankings.
Stirring ticket sales
And it has stirred ticket sales for her next appearance on home turf. She will play for Canada against Serbia Feb. 8-9 in a Federation Cup tie at the Claude Robillard Centre in Montreal.
Eugene Lapierre of Tennis Canada, tournament director for the Montreal half of the Rogers Cup, said 500 to 600 tickets per day have been sold since Bouchard's win over Ivanovic. The 4,000-seat venue will likely be sold out. And ticket sales have picked up for the women's Rogers Cup at Uniprix Stadium next summer, which is rare in January.
"It will drag a lot of people out to come and watch her play," said Lapierre. "It will be interesting to see how she makes the switch from a Grand Slam and playing in a 20,000 seat stadium to the Claude Robillard here with 4,000. But it will be a lot of fun."
Canadian tennis has been on a high lately with Milos Raonic's rise into the top 10 in the world on the men's side and Vasek Pospisil also climbing in the rankings. Both made the Rogers Cup semifinals in Montreal last summer and led the Davis Cup team to a first-ever semifinal appearance.
"It's phenomenal what Eugenie has done," said Lapierre. "I wouldn't say she opened the gates for Canada. The boys started that last year.
"But it's a new era that's started with the sport of tennis in Canada. It'll be tremendous for the promotion of the game in Canada. That's our goal at Tennis Canada — to get more kids playing the game. Everyone's talking about Eugenie, and that's bound to be good for the sport."
Louis Borfiga, Tennis Canada's high performance director, said Bouchard could have a similar impact to Nadia Comaneci, the Romanian who drew slews of girls to try gymnastics after her stunning performance at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. Or the effect that Anna Kournikova and Maria Sharapova had on women's tennis in Russia.
"It will enlarge the pool of players and that will produce more very good players," said Borfiga. "That's the difference between Canada and countries like France and Spain — their pool of players is larger."
Mike Bouchard, an investment banker, is fine with having a daughter who may be seen as a role model for young players. He doesn't even mind that she is quickly becoming a celebrity.
"It's good for her," he said. "She's put in so much work and effort.
"If she can be an ambassador for tennis and help tennis grow in Canada, that's fantastic. If it becomes bigger than that — international stardom — good for her. She has a strong head. She's well grounded, and I think she'll be able to go through that unscathed."
Mike Bouchard knew he had a special daughter when Eugenie was a young child. When she was 12, the family the moved to Florida so she could learn at an academy run by Nick Saviano, who remains her coach.
She spent more than three years in Florida before returning to Montreal to work at the national tennis centre.
"It was difficult to find players at her own level to play against, and we also wanted to expose her to international coaching," said Mike Bouchard. "It takes a lot of dedication. Everyone in the family chipped in."
Eugenie has a fraternal twin sister Beatrice, an 18-year-old sister Charlotte and a 14-year-old brother William, so the move was a big commitment for all of them. It paid off when Bouchard became one of the world's top junior players and then made a rapid rise in WTA rankings.
The group can't go to every tournament and they elected not to go to Australia, where Eugenie lost in the qualifying tournament last year. But her father said he was tempted to jump on a plane when she reached the semifinals.
"We never anticipated she'd go this far in the first Grand Slam of the year, so we gathered the kids and some friends and we watched [on TV]," he said. "There was a lot of emotions when she was hitting some winners. We were screaming and laughing and encouraging her."
He was a little taken aback at a bizarre question put to Eugenie by an on-court interviewer after the quarter-final. She was asked who she'd most like to date. To the apparent displeasure of Genie's Army, she named Canadian pop star Justin Bieber.
"You've got to get used to that if you're going to become a celebrity," Bouchard said. "I actually thought she answered pretty well. She said Justin Bieber with a question mark at the end. It was tongue in cheek."
It became a little awkward when Bieber was arrested in Florida on Thursday for reportedly taking part in an early morning drag race.
"I actually don't follow anything that goes on in his life," Bouchard said with a laugh. "But I did hear about that."