Eugenie Bouchard: 'I have another step'

LONDON -- There was little celebration, no relief and no plans for major endorsement opportunities for the hottest player on the WTA Tour after the biggest victory of her career Thursday.

To Eugenie Bouchard, who beat No. 3 seed Simona Halep 7-6 (5), 6-2 to advance to the Wimbledon final against Petra Kvitova, there's just no reason yet.

"I'm [still] waiting for a big moment to go nuts," said Bouchard, who won on her sixth match point in a match that did not require her best tennis to win. "Of course, achieving a lifelong dream like winning a Slam is very exciting to me. But I feel like my job is not done here, so there's no need for a huge celebration because, you know, I'm still working. I still have another match.

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Eugenie Bouchard won her first career title in May. She's hoping her second comes Saturday at Wimbledon.

"Today, I just felt very calm in general. I was proud of myself, but I know I have another step."

She may have become the first Canadian woman to reach a Grand Slam final, at just 20 years old, and in only her sixth major, but ask whether she is surprised and she will reply simply that hard work for many years has put her in this position.

"I expect good results like this," she said. "So for me, I was like, 'OK, good. It's a step in the right direction. I get to play in the final.' "

On the hottest day of the tournament at 77 degrees under blue skies and moderate winds, a series of odd occurrences conspired to take the edge off what was anticipated to be the most dramatic of women's matches between two of the game's brightest stars in their first Wimbledon semifinal.

But more than anything, it just wasn't Halep's day.

Following a Halep break that put her ahead 2-1 in the first set, the 22-year-old Romanian and French Open finalist rolled her left ankle attempting to run down a backhand, and Bouchard broke back to make it 2-2.

If Halep was in pain following a three-minute break and tape job by the WTA trainer, it was hard to detect, and Bouchard held in the next game to take a 3-2 lead. But one of Halep's biggest strengths is her superior court movement, and although she did not limp, she already was wearing a heavy wrap on her left thigh from a pulled muscle she sustained earlier in the tournament.

With Halep arguably a half-step slower, the set remained on serve to force a tiebreaker. And afterward, she said it did indeed have a significant impact.

"It was difficult to continue because I twisted my ankle and [it] was very hard," Halep said. "I felt a big pain in the moment, but then was better with the tape but still I couldn't push anymore in my leg. My first serve was really bad after that. It was difficult to continue with another injury.

"I think I played till the end, but in the second set I lost my energy and I couldn't believe anymore that I can finish the match in the right way for me."

In Halep's favor to that point was an opponent who also was not quite in a groove yet. Bouchard -- normally one of the best returners on tour -- was allowing Halep to win a higher percentage of points on her second serve than on her first.

But the bad luck followed Halep into the strange tiebreaker. With Halep leading 3-2, the match had its second three-minute-plus delay when a woman in the crowd required medical attention.

"It's unfortunate that someone was feeling bad ... but it's pretty tough to stop in the middle of a tiebreak. It was intense, and then to just kind of not play tennis for three minutes messes up the rhythm," Bouchard said. "But, again, I took it as a challenge. I was like, 'OK, this is the same for both of us. This is happening. I'll just go out and try my best.' I missed the next return. It wasn't a great point. But then I stepped up my game."

It didn't hurt that the gods smiled upon her as well.

With Halep leading 4-2, Bouchard won the next point on a net cord. The momentum shifted abruptly from there and Bouchard reeled off the next four points to 6-4, then converted her second set point with an overhead.

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Even with a gimpy ankle, Simona Halep still fought off six match points before giving in.

With the clear psychological edge and a 14-1 record in Grand Slams after winning the first set, Bouchard pounced, breaking in the third and fifth games of the second set, then holding in the sixth to take command at 5-1.

"After losing a set, it's really tough to say, 'Let's play two more to win with two injuries,'" Halep said. "I lost my energy because I am a little bit tired also. I played many matches. After the French Open, [there] was really a short time to recover. ..."

Bouchard's nerves and a strange first match point would stall the inevitable, a fan's scream causing her not to attempt a return on Halep's serve. Bouchard had held up a hand but chair umpire Kader Nouni claimed he did not hear Bouchard say anything and awarded Halep the ace.

"I took it as a challenge and tried to keep going," Bouchard said.

Halep survived two more match points on Bouchard errors to hold at 5-2. But despite another shaky game, Bouchard moved into her first Grand Slam final with a service winner on match point No. 6.

"The tennis was not great the whole match, it was a bit up and down, I think," Bouchard said. "But I'm happy I could play some good points at the end."

The slight edge entering the match had gone to Halep, the higher-seeded and slightly more experienced player who came into Wimbledon off a tough three-set loss to Maria Sharapova in the French Open final last month and then got in a couple of matches at a grass court warm-up in between.

But Bouchard, the No. 13 seed, was clearly the sentimental favorite here after reaching two previous Grand Slam semifinals this year. And she just so happens to have a mother who named all four of her children after British royals.

Endearing her further to fans and media alike is a matter-of-fact maturity that portends a long and successful career.

"After doing well in the past few Slams, I've been believing since the beginning of the tournament that I can do really well ..." said Bouchard, who reached her first Grand Slam final without dropping a set. "It's really important not to get ahead of ourselves, but yeah, you know, I totally feel like I belong, and I'm just so excited for the next match."

Bouchard, who was ranked No. 47 at the start of last year, will rise to No. 7 in the world rankings by reaching the final and would move to No. 5 if she wins, also making a compelling argument for Player of the Year with the US Open still remaining.

As a bonus, she has the looks and personality to guarantee a spot as the game's next marketing superstar. And when the names of Sharapova (five Grand Slam titles) and former player Anna Kournikova (with no WTA singles title) were referenced, two of the biggest endorsers in the history of the game, Bouchard made it even more clear why she is on her way.

"I see it two ways," Bouchard said. "I see it as a compliment to be compared to someone like Sharapova who has won five Slams. She's a great champion. I see it in a positive light.

"But also I'm my own person. I don't want to be the next someone else. I want to be the first of me. You know, I want to be my own individual person. That's what I do. I'll try to make my own history."

At the Australian Open in January, so giddy was the then-19-year-old at reaching the semis that she blurted out her wish to date Justin Bieber in an on-court interview.

On Thursday, it was obvious how far she has come when asked whether she would like to see Bieber in the royal box.

"He's kind of been in trouble recently, so ... I'm not associated with that at the moment," she said. "But, you know, if he cleans up his image ...

"I would love to see Oprah there."

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