AUSTRALIA - Tags: SPORT TENNIS
Eugenie Bouchard of Canada sticks out her tongue as she waits to catch a ball thrown by fans for her to autograph after winning her women's singles quarter-final match against Ana Ivanovic of Serbia at the Australian Open 2014 tennis tournament in Melbourne January 21, 2014. REUTERS/David Gray (AUSTRALIA - Tags: SPORT TENNIS) - RTX17NG9 REUTERS
Montreal's Eugenie Bouchard has been preparing for the Australian Open semifinal her entire life.
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. She faces China's Li Na on Thursday in the Australian Open's final four.
"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," said Bouchard. "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."
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.
That kind of WTA rep 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.
"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."
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