MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Canadian teenager Eugenie Bouchard is amassing quite a collection of stuffed animals at the Australian Open, all gifts from her own personal cheering section nicknamed the “Genie Army.”
With nearly every victory this week at Melbourne Park has come a different Australian animal — a kangaroo, koala and kookaburra. After her biggest win of all — defeating No. 14-seeded Ana Ivanovic 5-7, 7-5, 6-2 to reach her first Grand Slam semifinal on Tuesday — one of her admirers from the Genie Army tossed a fuzzy wombat to the court.
“I will create luggage space,” she said of her new menagerie. “It’s worth it to take my wombat home.”
She may have to make room for a trophy, as well, if she wins two more matches. She next faces No. 4-seeded and 2011 French Open champion Li Na on Thursday for a chance to reach the final.
Bouchard’s run through the draw has certainly been one of the biggest surprises of the tournament, but it’s also not entirely unexpected. Of the 13 teenagers in the main draw at Melbourne Park, none is perhaps as highly touted as the 19-year-old native of Montreal.
The 5-foot-10 (1.78-meter) Bouchard, who hits big off both sides and has a confidence belying her youth, is coming off a breakthrough year that saw her rise from No. 144 in the rankings to No. 32, reach her first WTA Tour final at Osaka and earn recognition as the WTA Newcomer of the Year.
Now, appearing in her very first Australian Open, she’s become the first Canadian to reach a major semifinal since Carling Bassett at the U.S. Open in 1984.
Rather than being overawed by the situation, however, Bouchard has appeared remarkably calm as she’s moved from the anonymity of Court 15 on the outskirts of Melbourne Park to playing on the big stage at raucous Rod Laver Arena.
Asked whether she needed to pinch herself at some point during her dream run, she responded matter-of-factly that she’s always expected to do this well.
“I just try to take it in stride,” she said. “It’s not a huge surprise for me because I always believe in my skills … it’s something I’ve been working a long time for.
“If there’s more attention, well, that’s a good thing.”
Off the court, there are moments when Bouchard seems more like a typical teenager.
When asked during an on-court interview which celebrity she’d most like to date, she blushed and said it would be fellow Canadian Justin Bieber, smiling as she gave a shy wave to the camera.
While playing in China last year, Bouchard and her best friend on tour, Laura Robson, also posted a video on YouTube of them dancing to Psy’s “Gangnam Style” on the Great Wall and at Beijing’s Olympic Stadium, even getting Maria Sharapova, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Sam Stosur into the act.
And it seems as if she’s inspired a few crushes among the mostly male admirers of the Genie Army.
“I’m going to fly them to all my tournaments with me,” she said with a smile.