Eugenie Bouchard was seeded seventh for the 2015 Australian Open and reached the quarter-finals, where she fell in straight sets to world No. 2 Maria Sharapova on Tuesday.
Was this simply the expected result against a more experienced player — and higher-seeded — player? Or can it be seen as a letdown, given that Bouchard reached at least the semifinals in three Grand Slams last season?
Perhaps more importantly, are there areas where Bouchard, who turns 21 on Feb. 25, can improve to get to the next level?
So far, her career is going according to plan. Identified as a top prospect before she was a teenager, Bouchard trained in Florida with Nick Saviano and won the prestigious Wimbledon junior ladies crown at the age of 18 in 2012. The following year she rose to No. 32 in the Women's Tennis Association rankings, winning the WTA Newcomer of the Year award.
Last year's breakthrough season, which saw Bouchard rise to No. 5 in the rankings, included semifinal appearances at the Australian Open and French Open before she became the first Canadian to reach a Grand Slam singles final at Wimbledon, losing to Petra Kvitova in the final.
Bouchard also claimed her first WTA title last season at Nurnberg.
Is she on track to follow the arc of the world's other top players? Here's a look at the career progression of the WTA's current top four:
- Serena Williams: First top-5 season and first Grand Slam titles came at age 17 in 1999. The 33-year-old now has 18 Grand Slam titles, 64 WTA victories and has finished first in the year-end rankings three times (2002, 2009, 2013).
- Maria Sharapova: Was also 17 for her first top-five season (2004) and, like Serena, won her first Grand Slam title that season. First reached No. 1 ranking in 2005 (for one week) and did not return there until 2012. Has five Grand Slam and 34 WTA titles.
- Simona Halep: The Romanian player first reached just outside the top 10 (she was 11th) in 2013 when she was 22. Last season she ranked as high as No. 2 when she reached the French Open final. Has nine WTA titles.
- Petra Kvitova: Advanced into the top five and won her first Grand Slam title in 2011 at age 21. Won her second Grand Slam last July at Wimbledon, defeating Bouchard in the final. The Czech player has 15 WTA titles and finished last year ranked No. 4 at the age of 24.
Where does Bouchard go from here? Her immediate plans are to return to Canada and decide whether she'll play for Canada in the Fed Cup in Quebec City on Feb. 7-8 against the Czech Republic.
What must she do to break through against the top players? Suggestions range from straightening out her coaching situation after she parted ways with Saviano last November, to working on her first serve.
Bouchard is known to be an aggressive player who makes opponents uncomfortable with her charging style, but some observers suggest that she must be more patient. Unforced errors in her quarter-final match with Sharapova in Melbourne played a big part in her defeat. Perhaps Bouchard just needs more experience to be able to hold her own and break through against tennis's best.