Tennis

Masters: Ambitious Bouchard sets sights on French Open title

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Mark Masters
5/25/2014 1:49:13 AM
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PARIS – Eugenie Bouchard could downplay expectations. Nobody would blame her. She's only 20-years-old after all and playing in just her second French Open. But when asked what would need to happen to make her campaign at Roland Garros this season a success, Canada's rising star doesn't hold back.

"To win it," Bouchard said, her own boldness yielding a laugh.

But, make no mistake, she is dead serious.

"I always expect high things of myself and I've been working so hard for so many years that nothing is a real surprise to me and I have big ambitions in tennis. I want to achieve great things."

Bouchard certainly isn't lacking confidence. She showed that during a magical run to the Australian Open semifinals in January. But Bouchard has a specific reason to have a hop in her step these days. On Saturday, she beat Karolina Pliskova in the championship match of the Nuremberg Cup, earning her first career WTA title.

"Just so happy," said Bouchard describing the emotions in the moments after match point. "To go to a city and leave and not lose a match and win all the matches is something special."

Bouchard almost didn't play in the tournament. Most top players will not travel to an event in the week before a grand slam choosing instead to rest, practice and arrive at the venue early.

But after disappointing first-round straight-set losses at tune-up events in Madrid (v No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska) and Rome (v No. 61 Francesca Schiavone) Bouchard was convinced that playing more was the best way to prep for the season's second major.

"We were debating whether to even come to Nuremberg and I said, 'You know what? I want to play matches. I want to keep trying and keep working.' We got here early and practiced. It was pretty cold early in the week, it was tough practices, tough conditions, but I kept working hard and I'm proud of myself for that. When you work hard good things happen. I think that's what happened this week."

That Bouchard's first career championship came on clay is a bit of a surprise. It is not her favourite surface.

"My game is pretty aggressive, so I like to step in and control the point and the clay just slows it up a little bit, but it's a good thing. It teaches me patience ... sometimes I'm not so patient.

"It adds different dimensions to your game and if I can perform well on clay it will show myself that I can have a well-rounded game."

Last year Bouchard's run at the French Open ended in the second round at the hands of eventual finalist Maria Sharapova. It was a tough loss (6-2, 6-4), but one that made the Montreal native stronger.

"I think it helps for sure. I got to play on centre court, experienced a rain delay, my match was over two days and it's all part of the experience. I always enjoy the chance to play one of the great players and I always learn so much. I've learned from that match."

Bouchard won't have to deal with Sharapova or any other top name early in the tournament this time around. That's one of the perks of being the 18th seed. Bouchard will open against 86th ranked Israeli Shahar Peer, who has lost all three matches to the Canadian in her career including one in March (6-2, 6-2 in Acapulco).

Waiting in the second round should Bouchard advance will be either German Julia Goerges or Portugal's Michelle Larcher De Brito. Both are outside the top 100 in the latest rankings. The third round is when things may get tougher as No. 12 Flavia Pennetta would be a formidable roadblock, but far from unbeatable.

But first thing's first: Bouchard needs to get settled in France. One negative repercussion from playing in the week before a slam is that it makes for a tight turnaround. There was a 90-minute flight from Nuremberg to Paris on Saturday night followed by a practice on Sunday. Bouchard's match against Peer is set for Monday. Although there's actually a chance the short rest time may be a good thing.

"I always like playing matches so, for me, the more I can play the better. I can get in a rhythm of playing competitive matches and I think it gives me extra confidence."

Extra confidence? Not a fun thought for those in Bouchard's section of the draw.

Eugenie Bouchard (Photo: Dennis Grombkowski/Bongarts/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Dennis Grombkowski/Bongarts/Getty Images)
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