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A new wave of ladies in waiting with eye on title

THE post-match attire of Eugenie Bouchard was somewhat exotic.

Eugenie Bouchard serves on her way to beating Germany's Andrea Petkovic. Picture: Getty Images
Eugenie Bouchard serves on her way to beating Germany's Andrea Petkovic. Picture: Getty Images

She faced her press inquisitors wearing a kimono and holding a stuffed toy. Both were gifts from a Japanese television station. If the kimono was somewhat dramatic, the stuffed toy silently testified to a truth about a substantial portion of the women players in the last 16 at Wimbledon.

Eight of them are 25 or under and they could be joined by the 19-year-old Madison Keys, who has to play her third-round match with Yaroslava Shvedova. They may not quite be kids, but in sporting terms they should be immature. They are not showing this callowness at Wimbledon.

The departure of Serena Williams on Saturday means that for the first time in eight years there is no Williams sister in the singles tournament in the second week of Wimbledon. The oldest surviving players in the tournament are now Peng Shuai and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, both 28.

The standard bearer of the old regime, however, may be Maria Sharapova, 27, who won the tournament 10 years ago and was ruthless in despatching Alison Riske of the USA on Saturday.

It was the defeat of Serena Williams that may be the most significant event in the women's game. She was, of course, beaten in the fourth round at Wimbledon last year but that was seen as a blip.

However, she was beaten briskly by Spain's Garbine Muguruza, all of 20, at the French Open and lost the fight with Alize Cornet, the 24-year-old Frenchwoman, on Saturday.

Serena will be 33 in September. She now has to decide just how important tennis is and how much she wants to remain at the pinnacle of the game. Her defence of the US Open will tell the world precisely how strong and resilient the younger Williams sister is, and she is likely to be both belligerent and strong.

However, she has lost one of her most potent weapons. She spoke on Saturday night of every player raising their game against her but the key to the Cornet victory was the lack of fear displayed by the world No.24. "Maybe, the game of Serena doesn't bother me so much," she said, having beaten Williams in Dubai earlier in the season.

This amounts almost to impertinence in the summer of 2014. In the recent past it would have been tantamount to inviting severe punishment at the racket of Williams. But the younger players are now not only more confident in their games but have faith that they are part of the coming tide.

The most impressive are in the top half of the draw. Bouchard and Simona Halep both have the self-belief that is necessary in potential grand slam winners. The Canadian expresses it with a naive frankness. "It's cool to make history. I've made Canadian history a few times," she said, after she and her compatriot, Milos Raonic, moved into the round of 16.

This acknowledgment of her own place in her country's sport is a sign of both her acceptance of her talent and her desire to exploit it to the full.

"I'm always focused on trying to do the best I can. I don't want to stop here just because I've achieved something new. I have worldwide goals. I just want to keep going forward," Bouchard said. She meets Cornet today for a place in the quarter-finals.

Halep, the 22-year-old Romanian, is quieter, more reserved. She is, though, as driven and ambitious as any of the young crew. The French Open runner-up, who will meet the 20-year-old Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan, has been highly impressive at Wimbledon and believes that her ability to move smoothly, combined with a penchant for making opponents scamper, is perfectly suited to grass.

With Caroline Wozniacki, 23, Agnieszka Radwanska, 25, and Petra Kvitova, 24, having a combination of experience and youth, the women's draw has a high level of intrigue and uncertainty.

This is best illustrated by the presence of Tereza Smitkova, the 19-year-old qualifier from the Czech Republic, who will play her countrywoman Lucie Safarova for a place in the last eight.

Ranked 175th in the world, Smitkova is making her grand slam debut on a surface that is suited to her strengths of a powerful serve and an aggressive game. Her time may not yet have come in terms of making further progress but she is part of a new generation that is determined to make its mark.

The Ice Queen of Sharapova has now assumed the favourite's role but there is a glut of driven princesses who seek to rule the women's game.

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