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Bouchard adds intrigue to US Open plot

A Canadian hasn't faced this level of press scrutiny in the USA since Wayne Gretzky was traded to the Los Angeles Kings or that time when Justin Bieber was arrested for a DUI.

Eugenie Bouchard is one to watch   Photograph: Getty
Eugenie Bouchard is one to watch Photograph: Getty

While the meta-narrative of the women's singles at the US Open this year, or any other year it seems, will be Serena Williams' ability to triumph over her own demons as much as the rest of the field, an intriguing sub-plot lies in the form of Eugenie Bouchard, a young woman who became the first Canadian Grand Slam finalist of either gender at Wimbledon in July and who has a habit of twitter flirting with her bad-boy pop star countryman.

Bouchard - marketable and media savvy - is perfect for this day and age, but even just in tennis terms she is a fascinating case. The 20-year-old has crashed out in the first round of eight WTA events this year, but she can already lay claim to a precious piece of posterity: she is the first player since Dinara Safina in 2009 to make it to the semi-finals or better of the first three Grand Slams of any calendar year. This achievement is made even more remarkable as prior to this year she had only entered one, going down in three tight sets to Angelique Kerber in the second round at this venue last year.

Hope, you might think, should spring eternal for a player with such big-match mentality, but the US hard-court swing has provided only the rudest of awakenings. In three outings, the girl who trains with Nick Saviano in Florida - she has already had one memorable spat with Laura Robson over the coach's services - has won just one match, and been embarrassed by American qualifier Shelby Rogers on her home turf of Montreal, losing out to Svetlana Kuznetsova in Cincinnati, then crashing out to Sam Stosur of Australia in New Haven last week.

As wounding as her Wimbledon final defeat to an inspired Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic was, the question now is whether this girl, named after a Princess, can peak in time to be crowned authentic tennis royalty in Queens this fortnight. Whatever happens, with a potential meeting with in-form Brit Heather Watson pencilled in as early as the second round, it is unlikely to be dull.

"Eugenie has had a phenomenal year," said Chris Evert, whose tally of 18 Grand Slam wins could well be equalled by Williams at this year's Open. "But to do well at the French and Wimbledon when she's not used to it, I think it's been hard for her to really come back down to earth.

"She took a big rest and didn't play [in Washington], rested her body and mind and it's been a little difficult to come back up to that intensity to match what she had in Europe. I think it's asking a lot at such a young age to play a full year at that high intensity.

"I think she's nursing injuries ... and I think it's inexperience, not being in the situation before. But I think with her, she'll bounce back and hopefully have a pretty good run at the US Open. Looking at her draw, she's got a nice couple of rounds in the beginning of the tournament, which I think will help her play into some good form."

While Bouchard could yet upset the odds, there are other more plausible contenders should the younger Williams sister experience one of her periodic New York meltdowns, perhaps even in an intriguing first-round encounter against talented African-American youngster Taylor Townsend.

Li Na is inactive, and Victoria Azarenka has missed most of the season through injury, but Kvitova showed further signs of her long-awaited emergence with an excellent run at New Haven last week. Romania's Simona Halep is also the kind of all-purpose, all-surface player who could prosper at Flushing Meadows, even though she went down in Cincinnati to Maria Sharapova, who has the talent and mindset to make her second favourite for most observers.

"Her left fist, it's unbelievable the way she clenches her fist," says Evert of the Russian. "If you watch her matches, she never opens up the left fist. Digging the nails into the palm of that hand ... that's a form of intensity. I know Serena sometimes will get a little complacent, and that's because she's going to be 33 next year. You can't be intense every single match for 15 years. But when she wants to, she'll scream and yell at herself and get really emotional. It has nothing to do with the opponent. It's just her getting herself psyched up."

There will be plenty of wailing and gnashing of teeth all right. But for all the best efforts of Bouchard et al, don't be surprised if Roger Federer isn't the only great of the modern era celebrating their 18th in New York this fortnight.

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