By Matt Cronin, special to EmiratesUSOpenSeries.com
Eugenie Bouchard already knew she was going to be a pro when she was just nine years old after she won a qualifying tournament in Montreal and joined a Canadian team that was to play a 12-and-under event in France.
She had beaten a bunch of older girls to qualify, and her tennis hopes began to spring eternal.
"It was such a huge deal to me, and I was so excited. I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m going to France,’ and when I got there, I realized I loved traveling internationally and said, ‘I really want to do this.’"
But Bouchard’s trip didn't quite go as planned. The result didn't deter her from traveling again, but she got as quick of a wake up call as any fourth grader can get when it comes to the do’s and don'ts of traveling as an athlete.
"I was housing with a local family, and I don't know if they realized it was for a tennis tournament," she recalled. "The night before our matches they were feeding us seafood, like oysters and crabs and snails, and were telling us, ‘Oh, these are the specialties over here.’ I was only nine, and the other girl was only 11, so we weren’t going to say anything, but the next morning we were alternating throwing up in the toilet. It actually ended up being a pretty bad first trip. They wanted us to experience their culture, and we brought them a bottle of maple syrup, but it’s not quite the same thing. I decided right then that I will never be having snails before my matches ever again."
On Wednesday at the Citi Open in Washington. D.C., the 18-year-old Bouchard upset world No. 82 Olga Govortsova, 1-6, 6-0, 6-3 -- her biggest pro win to date. Bouchard, who recently won the Wimbledon girls' singles and doubles crowns (with American Taylor Townsend) will at least crack the top 250 next week.
She has a lively personality and a solid game from the baseline. She competes extremely well, which is evidenced by her results over the past three months: She won two $10,000 ITF tournaments on clay in Switzerland, reached the final of a $25,000 in Slovenia, won the junior grass court tournament in Roehampton and then became Canada's first Grand Slam singles winner when she beat Ukraine's Elina Svitolina, 6-2, 6-2, in the final at Wimbledon. A couple of weeks later, she went out and won a $25,000 Challenger in Granby, Canada, taking out her veteran countrywoman Stephanie Dubois in the final.
She attributes her recent success to becoming more mentally stable on court and not letting bad periods get to her. She found herself down 3-0 in the third set to Govortsova and then quickly regrouped.
"I was thinking the 10-minute heat break [in between sets] messed me up, and I can’t find rhythm anymore, but then I lit a fire under my butt. I kept fighting, and it worked out," she said. "Attitude-wise, I’ve improved -- staying positive, going point by point, that stuff. I’ve matured."
Almost all players say that they can put bad points, games, sets and matches behind them, but it's actually very difficult to do so, and sometimes they are just talking the talk, rather than just walking the walk to go after the next serve after hitting a lousy return.
"It’s tough if you missed an easy forehand to forget about it so quickly, but it’s important to learn to have that kind of amnesia," she said.
Bouchard began playing tennis at the age of five. She also played basketball, but by the time she was 10, she had so fallen in love with tennis that she gave up hoops. Because the weather in Montreal isn’t conducive to a lot of outdoor play, she grew up on fast indoor hard courts, which clearly aren’t of the same constitution as grass courts, but taught her to how to construct points during rapid-fire play.
In the next six weeks, Bouchard will play the junior US Open, as well as some Challengers and WTA events. Presumably, she will get a wild card into the Rogers Cup in Montreal, which begins next week.
She is coached part-time by former Wimbledon finalist Nathalie Tauziat of France and has seen plenty of top-level pro tennis. She believes she can play at the highest of levels.
"They do everything well, have the power and consistency, but the biggest thing is they never give up and are there mentally every single point," she said. "The important thing for me is to keep working on my game, and if I do, results will come."
Canada has had some good women's players in the past with former world No. 8 Carling Bassett-Seguso and its current top-ranked player Alexandra Wozniack, who reached a career-high No. 21 in 2009, the year after she won the Emirates Airline US Open Series tournament at Stanford.
Bouchard, who will play American teenager Sloane Stephens in the Citi Open quarterfinals, thinks she can be the first woman since Bassett – who played in the 1980s — to crack the top 10.
"I totally think can do it, and it’s definitely my goal," she said. "It will take lots of hard work, and it will be a journey to get there, but I think I can do it."