Newcomers of the Year: Eugenie Bouchard and Dominic Thiem
With the 2013 tennis season in the past, it's time to dole out our annual awards. Look for the winners—for better or worse—throughout this week on TENNIS.com. (To see what's been unveiled thus far, click here.)
Eugenie Bouchard: These are great days to be a Canadian tennis player. The entire nation seems caught up in tennis fever, thanks to the generation of players led by 22-year-old, ATP No. 11 Milos Raonic. His female counterpart is Eugenie Bouchard, and nobody can accuse her of playing second fiddle. In fact, it was Bouchard who became Canada’s first Grand Slam singles champion when she won the Wimbledon junior title in 2012.
A young lady whose meteoric rise in the rankings is matched only by her zooming marketability, Bouchard is the top-ranked teenager on the WTA tour. She’s “besties” with former British prodigy Laura Robson, who’s also 19, and ranked No. 45 but a more seasoned veteran of the main tour. The hype surrounding both of these appealing youngsters, individually and as friends, is intense enough to be termed a hazard.
A 5’10” blonde from the posh Westmount neighborhood in Francophone Montreal, Bouchard rose from No. 144 at the start of the year to a year-end ranking of No. 32. Statuesque, poised, and fully aware that people are giving her a long, top-to-bottom look as the next Maria Sharapova, Bouchard has enjoyed a good head start on other young players, thanks to her background and maturity. Now it’s up to her to continue to develop her game.
Bouchard, who trains with former ATP pro Nick Saviano at his facility in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., demonstrated in 2013 that she has a strong foundation to build on. She had wins over (among others) Jelena Jankovic, Ana Ivanovic, and Sloane Stephens.
Things really began to pop for Bouchard at Wimbledon, where she efficiently handled former No. 1 and French Open champion Ivanovic in a second-round match on Centre Court. Waiting for her ranking to catch up with her game, she qualified for Cincinnati and ended up pushing current No. 1 Serena Williams to three sets.
Bouchard built on those results in the fall. She forced Venus Williams to three sets in the Tokyo quarterfinals after dismissing Stephens and Jankovic in back-to-back matches. Bouchard then reached her first main-tour final, in Osaka, but lost a three-setter to former Grand Slam champ Samantha Stosur.
The Canadian starlet’s solid game is matched by a confident, competitive temperament—and enhanced by all the attention lavished on her by the WTA. But one of the questions developing around her is just how much the WTA’s relentless search for the next crossover star is going to affect her motivation. Bouchard has been saying all the right things so far. She recently told the Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper, “In the past year, I improved my mental toughness on court and my footwork, so now I want to work on things that will complement that, like more power on my shots, more consistency.”
That sounds about right. And with the help of Saviano, one of the most underrated and unsung coaches out there, she might accomplish those goals—if the distractions don’t get in the way.
Dominic Thiem: While Joao Sousa became the first Portuguese player to win an ATP main-tour event, and Federico Delbonis reached the final of Hamburg thanks to a semifinal win over Roger Federer, those two men are old enough to be considered veteran journeymen (24 and 23, respectively). So the choice is Austria’s Thiem, who was 4-2 in ATP main-tour events and stands out because of his age—he turned 20 during the U.S. Open.
While just 19, Thiem caused a sensation in his homeland when he upset the best player Austria has produced since Thomas Muster, former top-tenner Jurgen Melzer, on red clay in Kitzbuhel. Later in the year, on indoor hard, Thiem demonstrated his versatility when he made the quarterfinals in the Vienna ATP 250, and it took a 7-6 in-the-third win by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to keep him from going even further.
Thiem was a wild card entrant at both tournaments, thanks to his birthplace. But his ability to feel inspiration rather than pressure in those situations was a good sign. This is a Davis Cup star in the making.
In tune with the times, the rangy, 6’1” Thiem’s favorite shots are the serve and forehand. The son of two teaching pros, Thiem’s game was developed by the Boris Becker’s first coach, Gunter Bresnik. Thiem’s career-high junior ranking was No. 2.
Thiem lost a close 2011 French Open junior final to an American rival, Bjorn Fratangelo. But not long after that loss, he put together an 18-match winning streak and won the last three tournaments he played as a junior. He topped it off with a win at the prestigious Orange Bowl, where he crushed fellow Austrian finalist Patrick Ofner, 6-1, 6-0.
Thiem did good work in Challenger and Futures events, embarking on the year with a ranking outside the Top 300. He reached eight finals, and won four titles in those events. As a result, the native of Wiener Neustadt improved to No. 121 by the end of the year, and he seems poised to transition to the main tour in 2014—if he can figure out how to win outside of Austria.