Indian Wells: Bouchard d. Peng

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Peng Shuai finally had Eugenie Bouchard right where she wanted: Defending behind the baseline while the world’s top-ranked doubles player set up for a smash. Streaking to her right, Bouchard caught up to the ball, bolting a forehand pass up the line prompting the typically stoic Peng to cast a quick “Are you kidding me?” glance toward the 20-year-old Canadian.

When Bouchard wasn’t busy dictating play, she turned would-be winners into set up shots for audacious strikes that landed like punch lines, scoring a 6-2, 6-2 sweep to roll into the Indian Wells third round.

The 18th-seeded Bouchard beat Peng to the ball, opened the court with sharp angles and delivered daggers down the line off both wings in a sharp performance that solidified her status as a dual threat. Threatening on return, Bouchard converted five of 10 break point chances. Imposing on serve, she won 18 of 21 points played on her first serve, delivered three holds at love and faced just one break point in the first meeting between the pair.

Signaling her intent to pounce on any short second serve she saw from the outset, Bouchard cracked a backhand return winner on the opening point before eventually breaking with a slashing backhand return winner—her third of the game— quickly backing up the break for a 2-0 lead.

Bouchard is a better lateral mover and more dangerous striking on the run. Playing with two hands off both sides, Peng’s reach is restricted, but she compensates by pursuing every ball with the persistence of a traveler chasing runaway luggage through an airport. Too often though the first Chinese player — male or female — to ever hold the world No. 1 ranking was playing catch-up trying in vain to close the gap on the Canadian, who sometimes seemed to be playing one shot ahead of her experienced opponent. Bouchard belted a forehand swing volley winner for triple set point. When Peng’s backhand sailed beyond the baseline, Bouchard had the first set in 35 minutes. Munching on a banana after chomping through the first set in which she hit nearly three times as many winners as Peng (15 to 6) you’d think Bouchard wouldn’t require any tactical advice to chew on, but she called for her coach, Nick Saviano, who provided plenty of positive reinforcement.

“You got one of the best serves in the world: Head up and keep going up after it,” he said. “You got a great backhand, you just keep hitting it early. She’s not that fast so when you pull her out wide, don’t mess around, hit to the open court. Once you get ahead in rally you’ll be in command pull her out wide, hit to the open court and then look to the next ball to come in.”

The owner of 14 doubles titles showed her all-court skills with a slick angled backhand volley winner and a crackling backhand drive down the line, imposing a love hold in her most commanding game, for a 2-1 second-set lead. That was really Peng’s final stand as Bouchard won 19 of the next 25 points earning triple match point at 5-2. She stumbled slightly on the first two match points but closed a 63-minute win on her third match point.

"I expected her to play how she did. She was pretty aggressive and I knew I had to be the one to hit the big ball first to try to control the points," Bouchard said afterward. "I was ready for that and I think I played pretty well."

Next up for Bouchard is ninth-seeded Sara Errani, who beat the Canadian, 7-6 (4), 6-2, in their lone prior meeting on the clay of Acapulco last year.

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