Eugenie Bouchard, who grew up idolizing Maria Sharapova, said she won’t be intimidated when she plays the 2012 champion today for a spot in the French Open tennis final.
The 18th-seeded Bouchard is playing in her second consecutive Grand Slam semifinal, having also reached the final four at January’s Australian Open. The only other Canadian woman to reach the semifinals at one of tennis’ four major tournaments was Carling Bassett-Seguso at the 1984 U.S. Open.
Bouchard, 20, said she decided to become a tennis player after watching Sharapova win the first of her four major titles at Wimbledon 10 years ago. Bouchard has a picture of herself with the Russian taken at a tournament in Miami when she was 7.
“As a child I looked up to her and I remember watching her in the final of Wimbledon and thought what she was doing was so cool,” Bouchard said in a news conference after her quarterfinal victory at Roland Garros in Paris. “I wanted to do the same thing.”
The 5-foot-10 (1.78-meter) Bouchard is on a career-best 10-match winning streak since losing in the first round of Madrid and Rome last month. She came to Roland Garros after winning her first WTA title, in Nuremberg, Germany, and faces a semifinal opponent who won two majors by the age of 20.
“I’m going to respect her, but not put her too high on a pedestal,” Bouchard told reporters. “I will leave everything on court and just focus on myself and try my best to win.”
The Bouchard family lives on the same street in Montreal as former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and has a fondness for the British royal family. Her parents named their twins Eugenie and Beatrice after the children of Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, and his former wife, Sarah Ferguson, while their son is William, the same as the heir to the throne.
Bouchard, who started playing tennis when she was 5, won the junior Wimbledon title in 2012 and has climbed to No. 16 in the rankings from 302nd at the end of 2011.
Since winning Wimbledon at the age of 17, Sharapova has grown into one of the biggest draws on the women’s tour. The 27-year-old Sharapova is the world’s best-paid female athlete, according to Forbes, with $29 million a year in prize money and endorsements from companies including Nike Inc. and Volkswagen AG’s Porsche.
While reaching the semifinals in Paris may help Bouchard add to a list of five sponsors that includes Nike, racket manufacturer Babolat and poultry product retailer Pinty’s, she needs to lift a Grand Slam trophy to really boost commercial interest, said Courtney Nally, senior vice president, director of talent negotiations at Ketchum Sports & Entertainment.
“Often in a sport like tennis, it takes a player notching their first major win in the books before their true earning potential is realized globally,” Austin, Texas-based Nally said in an e-mail.
Bouchard, who trailed 5-2 in the first set and recovered from a 4-1 deficit in the third to beat Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro in the quarterfinals, said she’s not on the circuit to make friends.
“Best friend on tour? I don’t have one,” she said. “I don’t think the tennis tour is the place to have friends. For me, it’s all competition and I think it’s important to just remember that we’re going to play against each other. It’s not like we’re teammates.”
Although Bouchard has yet to win a set in two meetings with Sharapova -- who is 17-1 on clay this season and has won 52 of her past 56 matches on the surface -- the Canadian said she’s “ready for another battle.”
“The semis of a Grand Slam, that’s what you have to expect,” Bouchard said. “I’m just looking forward to the challenge.”
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