A pinch-me moment? Not for first-time grand slam semi-finalist Eugenie Bouchard. At 19, the coolly composed Canadian is self-assured enough to admit that her golden run to the last four at the Australian Open was not unexpected. Not by Bouchard, anyway.
"It's something I've been doing since I was five years old and working my whole life for and sacrificing a lot of things for. So it's not exactly a surprise. I always expect myself to do well," said the first Canadian since Carling Bassett at the US Open 30 years ago to advance this far at a major. "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."
Indeed, as Bouchard's collection of stuffed marsupials was expanded by one furry wombat, the teenager burrowed further into the top half of a women's draw shaken up wildly by the fourth-round elimination of title favourite Serena Williams. The local band of ardent followers calling themselves the Genie Army, had already donated a kangaroo, koala, and kookaburra. Now the wombat, which is a far slower-moving species than Bouchard is proving to be.
The 30th seed has not come from nowhere, but has certainly come in a rush. The 2013 WTA Newcomer of the Year lost in the qualifying rounds at Melbourne Park 12 months ago as the world No.145, having won the junior Wimbledon title the year before that. Her best slam result from the small sample before this was a third round run at the All England Club in which she upset Ana Ivanovic in the second.
At Melbourne Park, it was Ivanovic, again, and the result 5-7, 7-5, 6-2 against the reinvented 14th seed. Aesthetically, it was all so gorgeous as to resemble Jennifer Hawkins versus Megan Gale, but competitively, there was also plenty to admire.
Bouchard overcame that first set deficit and a lengthy injury timeout in the second set while the Serb sought treatment for a left thigh injury, then kept her focus, and aggressive approach, to clinically close out the third. "Her stock is rising," said American tennis identity Brad Gilbert, of the player, and person, who admits to being in an awful hurry.
"I'm a really focused person, really driven. So off the court I'm kind of almost impatient in a way. I like to get things done," said Bouchard, who is named after a princess but not known for acting like one. "On the court I'm the same way. In the point, 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."
She is not overawed by the big-court experience, having played Maria Sharapova at the French Open, and Ivanovic now, twice. "Just being on those big stages gave me a lot of experience," said Bouchard. "Now walking out on centre court in Australia, I feel like I've been here before."
Ivanovic, a second-week regular, described her young conqueror as brave and bold, while lamenting her own lack of emotional intensity. But if Bouchard's future is bright, then so are Ivanovic's prospects in a season that has started so encouragingly with an overdue title (in Auckland), and a monster upset in Melbourne (of Williams, S).
Bouchard's next opponent, Li Na, prides herself on knowing the exact ages of the few players older than her 30-something self, a list that includes Flavia Pennetta, whom she dominated 6-2, 6-2 to reach the semis for the fourth time. The 2011 French Open champion will be less enthused by the knowledge that Bouchard was two years old when she played her first senior match at ITF level.
Li is a superfit and superbly athletic 31, and the pair's only meeting, in 2012, will have little bearing on this one. "She's a great champion. She's won a slam, as well. It's going to be really tough. I played her once in Montreal two years ago. We had a close match. But it was 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."
Li is a two-time runner-up, who saved a match point against Lucie Safarova in the third round and has lost just six games in two matches since. Too easy? "I think everyone want to win the grand slam. But first you have to be semis, right? Yeah, I was really happy." So here she is, again, and here is Bouchard, for the first time. Cue Genie-out-of-the- bottle puns. No surprise there, either.