MELBOURNE:The three shades of Eugenie Bouchard guest-starred in the same match Sunday at the Australian Open.
The 20-year-old Canadian bounced from her rejuvenated form of early 2015, the dominant form she displayed in the first half of 2014, and the technical glitches and self-doubts that popped up in the second half of last season. But she finally found enough to survive her toughest test so far.
Bouchard’s 6-1, 5-7, 6-2 victory over Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania, hard-fought and angst-filled as it was, put her into the Australian Open quarter-finals without having to face a seeded player.
That will change in the next round, where world No. 2 Maria Sharapova awaits in a highly anticipated glamour matchup.
Sharapova followed Bouchard into Rod Laver Arena and dispatched No. 21 seed Shuai Peng of China 6-4, 6-0. After nearly being knocked out of the tournament in the second round, the Russian is back on form.
“I think I started being a bit less aggressive, a bit too passive, and that’s not my game at all. I don’t do well when that happens. (Begu) could string together a few good points here and there, hit some good shots and serves and got some confidence in the second set. You know, that helped her,” Bouchard said. “So definitely disappointing. But I learned a lot from it and I’ll try to make sure it doesn’t happen next time.”
Bouchard and Sharapova, the player to whom she is often compared, played twice in 2013 and once last year. But it was a big one: the semifinals of the French Open.
Sharapova won in three sets.
“I think I was close. It was just a tough battle. But I think I’ve progressed a lot since then, and I definitely want to keep playing my game no matter what. Really kind of take it to her, go for my shots,” Bouchard said.
There were some ominous signs Sunday against Begu. Some of the late 2014 cracks, plastered over in somewhat fragile fashion so far this season, began to show. Then again, so did the fighting spirit that carried the Canadian to the very top level.
The first set took just 29 minutes, one of those centre-court mismatches that results in the underdog smiling ruefully and waving to the crowd after she wins her first game, which in this case came when Bouchard was leading 5-0.
In the second set, Begu’s early-match nerves dissipated while Bouchard’s appeared and some of the technical hitches in Bouchard’s serve peeked through from behind the steely curtain: the lack of balance as she lands, and the resulting decrease in velocity. The short, slow second serves that sit up just inviting a pummeling.
The spectre of Sharapova waiting to pounce on that second serve won’t make it any easier. Bouchard has two days to straighten it out.
After coughing up a two-break lead and losing the second set, Bouchard quickly dispatched herself to the locker room on the break.
“I gave myself a good, long, hard look in the mirror and said, ‘Genie, this is unacceptable.’ I kind of kicked myself in the butt a little bit, and kind of tried to relax and play my game,” she said.
If Bouchard went there searching for her missing mojo, she found a measure of it.
It was enough to beat Begu. She’ll need a lot more on Tuesday.
“I kind of just remember a grind,” Bouchard said of the French Open semi against Sharapova. “I didn’t feel like I was playing great tennis the whole time. Sometimes here and there, but that’s what it’s about: trying to win and trying to always play better. Get through it, even if you’re not playing your best.
“I felt like I was close with her. I remember I had chances and stuff. I just remember a tough match. I was pretty disappointed after, so that’s motivating.”