Eugenie Bouchard the picture of poise
PARIS -- Most of us would consider ourselves lucky if we even got a chance to pose with a famous athlete. But to grow up and then face that athlete in an actual competition? That is beyond reality, if not most dreams. One, you must defy astronomical odds to reach an almost unreachable level of athletic prowess. And two, you have to do it at a young enough age that the other person is still playing.
After all, very few athletes are still playing when they're pushing 50, as Martina Navratilova did until her retirement in 2006. (And Julio Franco doesn't play tennis.)
Eugenie Bouchard was just a child of 7 or so when she stopped Maria Sharapova and asked her to pose for a photo at a tennis event in Miami. She still has the photo, but almost shrugged off the Thursday French Open semifinal matchup against the star.
Then again, why should Bouchard be dazzled? She played Sharapova here and in Miami last year, so facing her again is almost old hat. Plus, Bouchard, though she lost both of those matches, does not get overwhelmed by an opponent, no matter her stature. That attitude is what makes her such a promising player at 20 years old.
As she said after advancing to the semifinal against Sharapova: "I'm going to respect her but not put her too high on a pedestal."
Bouchard said she first noticed Sharapova because of the cute dresses she wore. As time passed, she grew impressed by her mental strength. And that same mental approach -- they both say they consider fellow players to be competitors rather than friends -- is one reason some say Bouchard is the next Sharapova.
"I think it's a bit of positives and negatives," Bouchard said of being compared to Sharapova. "Of course, she's a great champion, so to be seen as the 'next' someone who has won four Slams and has been No. 1 in the world, it's a compliment. But at the same time, I'm my own person and I just want to be myself on the court, and try and achieve what I want to achieve and just be seen as that."
So don't expect a Bouchard-pova candy line just yet.
Bouchard already has achieved plenty. Ranked No. 16, she is 5-10 against top 10 opponents in her career, including 3-3 this year. She is the only woman to reach the semifinals in both Grand Slams this year (she lost to eventual champion Li Na at the Australian Open) and is trying to become the first Canadian woman to win a major. She also is on a 10-match winning streak, having won in Nuremberg just prior to coming to Roland Garros.
To keep that streak alive, add another top 10 victim, and make Canadian history, she must first get past Sharapova. At 20, Bouchard might be the next Sharapova, but at 27, Sharapova is still very much current. In addition to winning the previous two meetings against Bouchard, she also won the French Open two years ago, reached the final last year and has reached the semifinals here the past four years. Her clay game keeps getting better.
"I have turned my results around," Sharapova said. "To have that consistency at this tournament, a tournament that was so difficult for me before, where I was always felt like I had to save myself in the beginning of it. It helps a lot to be in this position of playing three sets and feeling like I can go out there and play again and not think about the physical aspect or if I'll be tired."
Sharapova, naturally, does not recall the photo she posed for with Bouchard and said that her first memory of Bouchard was when she was playing juniors at a tournament in Canada. She says she really didn't take notice of the Canadian until 2013.
"Last year here was the last time we faced each other," Sharapova said. "It was the second round and this year we're in the semifinals. It's a great stage to be at for both of us."
It certainly should provide a great setting for many more photographs together. And perhaps for a young player, snapping a selfie as she dreams of playing against one of them someday down the line.