Eugenie Bouchard aims to make Canadian tennis history

Eugenie Bouchard will try to steer Canadian tennis into uncharted territory when she faces China's Li Na in women's semi-final play tonight at the Australian Open.

Bouchard's sister says she has been preparing for a Grand Slam semi-final her whole life

Eugenie Bouchard of Canada hopes to make history with a semi-final win at the Australian Open in Melbourne. (REUTERS)

Canadian tennis phenom Eugenie Bouchard was talking to her fraternal twin sister Thursday as she prepared for her potentially historic semi-final match at the Australian Open, when she dropped her cell phone in an ice bath and the line went dead. Her sister, Beatrice, tells CBC's As It Happens that she chalked it up to Eugenie being a klutz, saying she doubted her sister was nervous or jittery. 

Bouchard will try to steer Canadian tennis into uncharted territory when she faces China's Li Na Thursday (tonight in Canada, 9:30 ET) in Melbourne. Bouchard is seeking to become the first Canadian woman to reach a Grand Slam final. She's already just the second female singles player from Canada to advance this far at a major. The other was Carling Bassett at the 1984 U.S. Open.

Montreal's Bouchard has been preparing for the Australian Open semifinal her entire life, her sister said.

"I took an early retirement when I was seven, but she's so passionate about it, and I think my parents knew that," Beatrice said. "I would get bored and want to do something else, but she would want to keep hitting tennis balls for hours. She never got sick of it. She could play for hours."

Bouchard became the first Canadian woman to reach a Grand Slam semi in three decades with her 5-7, 7-5, 6-2 quarter-final win over former No. 1 Ana Ivanovic on Monday. 

"This is something I've been doing since I was five years old and working my whole life for and sacrificing a lot of things for," Eugenie said earlier this week. "So it's not exactly a surprise. I always expect myself to do well. I'm just happy to have gone through this step. I'm not done. I have a match on Thursday. I'm just looking forward to that."

Twin telepathy 

Beatrice says she and Eugenie have twin telepathy. Even though her sister is on the other side of the world, they think of things at the same, text each other at the same moment, or simultaneously crave the same food. 

"I send her telepathic messages from the couch," Beatrice said. "Tonight I will be telling her to keep herself focused, and do what she was doing the other night, which was great. Her mental strength is outstanding to me. She came back after losing the first set and I was very impressed by that."

The semifinal pairing of the 19-year-old Bouchard versus the 31-year-old Li, who won the 2011 French Open, has captured the attention of tennis fans around the world. Li has played two of the last three finals at Melbourne Park. 

I would get bored and want to do something else, but she would want to keep hitting tennis balls for hours. She never got sick of it. She could play for hours.- Eugenie Bouchard's sister, Beatrice.

That kind of reputation does not bother the confident Bouchard, whose ad-hoc Genie Army of a dozen or so Aussie fans will surely be out in full force for the showcase event.

"Li's a great champion, she's won a Slam, as well, it's going to be really tough," said Bouchard, playing in the main draw of a major for only the fourth time. "I played her once in Montreal two years ago. We had a close match, one of my first bigger matches.

"It will be interesting to play her. I know she's very solid, very good from the back. It's going to be hard, but I'm looking forward to it."

Beside her tennis, it's Bouchard's bubbly personality that has captured fan fancy, with commentators already labelling her the next breakout women's star.

The Canadian extrovert, who confesses to possessing a Type A, get-it-done personality — especially on the court — is dealing with the expectations well.

"I'm a really focused person, really driven. Off the court, I'm almost impatient in a way," said Bouchard. "On the court I'm the same way. I really just want to play my game, be aggressive, take it to my opponent, and not just wait around and wait for opportunities.

Not intimidated by the big stage 

"I think it's a good thing to take my chances when I'm on the court."

Bouchard's not intimidated by the big stage of a Grand Slam tournament, either.

"The matches I had last year on the big courts, like (Maria) Sharapova at the French Open, Ivanovic at Wimbledon, just being on those big stages gave me a lot of experience," she said. "Now walking out on centre court in Australia, I feel like I've been here before. I've been able to perform on big stages as well. It gives me that extra confidence."

While she won't make any predictions about her match with Li, Bouchard is fairly certain that her supporters will be tossing another stuffed Aussie animal onto the court after the match, bringing her tournament total to five.

The bulky mementos have a special place in her heart, with Bouchard bringing each new one to post-match media availability and sitting it proudly next to the microphone.

Getting the growing menagerie back to Quebec should not be a problem for the resourceful Bouchard.

"I have a koala, and kangaroo, a kookaburra, and a wombat," she said. "I will create luggage space. It's worth it to take my wombat home."

With files from The Canadian Press