Bouchard gives Canada a Slam finalist at Wimbledon
Eugenie Bouchard could have lost her focus after the fourth game of her Wimbledon semifinal Thursday, when play was delayed for five minutes during Simona Halep's medical timeout for a left ankle injury.
Bouchard also could have gotten sidetracked when action was halted again, smack-dab in the middle of a tiebreaker, because an ill spectator was being attended to in the Centre Court stands.
And everything really could have unraveled for Bouchard later, as she let match point after match point slip away. Able to steel herself time and again, the singular-of-purpose Bouchard became Canada's first Grand Slam finalist by beating French Open runner-up Halep 7-6 (5), 6-2 at the All England Club.
"I'm able to not worry about the distractions," the 20-year-old Bouchard said. "What I do well is I really don't let it get to me or affect me."
In only her sixth major tournament, the 13th-seeded Bouchard will play for the championship Saturday against 2011 Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova. The sixth-seeded Kvitova defeated No. 23 Lucie Safarova 7-6 (6), 6-1 in the first all-Czech women's Slam semifinal.
"I know how (it feels) when you hold the trophy," Kvitova said, "so I really want to win my second title here, and I will do everything (so) I can."
Waiting in a hallway before walking on court, Kvitova and Safarova chatted, a pair of longtime friends who train at the same club back home. From 6-all in the tiebreaker, Kvitova won 31 of 48 points the rest of the way, using her overpowering serve and forehand that work so well on grass to improve to 6-0 against Safarova.
In a year that zero American men or women reached Wimbledon's round of 16 for the first time in 103 years, another Canadian, Milos Raonic, will try join Bouchard as a finalist. The men's semifinals Friday are old guard vs. new guard matchups: seven-time champion Roger Federer against Raonic, and top-seeded Novak Djokovic against Grigor Dimitrov.
As of now, the 24-year-old Kvitova is the only man or woman born in the 1990s to win a Grand Slam title. If Bouchard becomes the second, she also would be the youngest major champion since Maria Sharapova was 19 at the 2006 U.S. Open.
"It's what I've worked so long for," Bouchard said, without a hint of irony.
Yes, Bouchard is clearly in a hurry — and, by the looks of her muted post-victory reaction, didn't appear all that thrilled to get past the third-seeded Halep, who twisted her ankle in the early going and got it taped by a trainer.
"I feel like my job is not done here," Bouchard said, "so there's no need for a huge celebration."
Taking the ball early while standing at the baseline, ending points quickly with flat groundstrokes, she reached the semifinals at the Australian Open and French Open this year before losing to the eventual champions.
"I totally feel like I belong," Bouchard said.
Halep led 3-2 in the tiebreaker when chair umpire Kader Nouni noticed something was wrong with a woman in a lower-tier seat — it was the warmest day of the tournament, topping 75 degrees (24 Celsius) — and waved both players to the sideline. After a four-minute break, Halep went ahead 4-2. But on the next point, Bouchard hit a net-cord winner — "a lucky ball," Halep called it.
Bouchard took four of the next five points, too, closing the set with a swinging forehand volley.
"I lost, a little bit, my concentration," Halep acknowledged.
Her opponent did not.
"She's pretty calm, always composed," said Bouchard's mother, Julie Leclair, who sat two seats away from Bouchard's pal, "Big Bang Theory" actor Jim Parsons, in the player's guest box.
"She's been working for this since she was 4 1/2 years old," Leclair said. "She just goes out every day, trying to be the best she can be."
Bouchard's first match point came while ahead 5-1 in the second set, and Halep serving at 15-40. A fan yelled, Bouchard tried to call time and let her guard down, allowing Halep to hit an 81 mph (131 kph) ace. Bouchard tried to persuade Nouni to let them replay the point, but he didn't. Two more match points came and went in that game.
Then, serving for the match, Bouchard wasted two more chances to end things, before finally converting her sixth match point with a 99 mph (160 kph) service winner.
"It's not, like, a surprise to me," Bouchard said. "I expect good results like this."