PARIS – Eugenie Bouchard grew up admiring Maria Sharapova.
"First, I noticed her cute dresses and things like that when I was young," said the 20-year-old Canadian, who met Sharapova when she was just eight-years-old at a tournament in Miami.
"As a child, I looked up to her and I remember watching her in the finals of Wimbledon and thought what she was doing was so cool and I wanted to do the same thing."
Bouchard and Sharapova will play on Thursday in the French Open semi-finals. It is the second straight year that the two have met at Roland Garros with the Russian prevailing in straight sets in the second round a year ago.
"For sure I respect her," said Bouchard. "But now we're in the semis of a Grand Slam, so I'm going to respect her but not put her too high on a pedestal and really just battle. That's what it's going to be."
Sharapova may be seeded seventh, but she has been widely considered the favourite to win the title since the top three seeds – Serena Williams, Li Na and Agnieszka Radwanska – all lost in the first three rounds.
And Sharapova is favoured to beat Bouchard (-325, 4/13 per BoDog) for the same reason she is expected to hoist the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen on Saturday: she has the experience. She made the finals here a year ago. She won the whole thing just two years ago. At the age of 27, she has already won the career slam and has an Olympic silver medal on her resume.
"Achieving what she has, she is of course very strong mentally," said Bouchard. "It is one of her strengths. I'm going to be ready for another battle. You know, the semis of a Grand Slam, that's what you have to expect.
"I'm just looking forward to the challenge."
Bouchard is earning her own reputation for poise under pressure. She overcame a 2-5 deficit (two breaks) and a set point to win the opening frame against clay-court specialist Carla Suarez Navarro in the quarterfinals on Tuesday. Then, after dropping the second set 2-6, Bouchard dug out of a 1-4 hole in the deciding set by winning 12 straight points. She then served to stay in the match at 4-5, holding easily.
"At the end of the day, whether I win or lose, I want to at least leave it all out there and try and at least battle. I'm proud of the way I did that in both the first and third. She's a great player and a really good clay courter, as well. I knew it was a tough battle, and that's exactly what it was today. I'm just proud of the way I stayed in there."
Bouchard appeared to show some nerves after wasting a match point, serving at 6-5, with a double fault. She was asked if that was a sign she is, after all, human.
"I show I'm human all the time," Bouchard noted with a smile. "Yeah, you know, it's one of those things. I didn't really worry about it. I think that's the most important thing: I didn't see it as a big deal, and I just regrouped for the next point, which allowed me to just give me a chance to get in a position to have a match point again.
"Even on the second match point I missed a ball, but I was trying to go for it, so I didn't worry too much, either.
"I think that was a bit the theme the whole match: even if I was down 5-2 or 4-1 in the third, not to worry too much, keep going, keep going, keep going, and it paid off in the end."
Bouchard's mental toughness and aggressive play have earned her comparisons to Sharapova. Does she like that?
"There are positives and negatives," Bouchard said. "Of course she's a great champion, so to be seen as the next of someone who has won four slams and has been No. 1 in the world, it's a compliment.
"But at the same time, of course, I'm my own person and I just want to be myself on the court, and you know, try and achieve what I want to achieve and just be seen as that."
Bouchard is the only women's player to make the semis at both slams this season. She is part of the future of women's tennis and looking to prove the future is now.
Bouchard readily admits that back in January when she made that magical run to the Australian Open semis, she suffered from a bit of stage fright at the start of a straight-sets loss to Li Na.
"I was maybe a little bit frozen at the beginning of that match," she said. "I'll be much more ready this time."