Maturing players can sometimes behave like student drivers facing the pressures of congestion. But when Eugenie Bouchard arrived at the competitive crossroads in Charleston today, she knew exactly where she was going.
Stepping in to take the ball on the rise, Bouchard hit declarative strikes on key points to defeat No. 2 seed Jelena Jankovic, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, to reach the Family Circle Cup semifinals. It wasn't easy, but the 20-year-old Montreal native accelerated through the learning curve in applying her all-court skills and cagey shot selection for her second straight win over a former world No. 1.
This rematch of the 2013 Charleston quarters saw the pair exchange holds before four straight service breaks ensued. Both women battled a tricky breeze, which pushed a couple of forehands long on break points, and some tame second serves: Each won only one second-serve point in the opening set.
Finding the range on her forehand down the line, Bouchard issued a love hold for 4-3. She then earned double break point by blasting a backhand return winner down the line, and scored her third straight break for 5-3 when Jankovic sailed a forehand deep. A running forehand winner gave Bouchard triple set point, and she flicked a snazzy forehand half volley down the line to snatch a one-set lead, winning 12 of the final 13 points.
Jankovic saved three break points to start the second set with her first hold since her opening service game. Windy conditions placed a premium on footwork, and JJ, who celebrated her 29th birthday five weeks ago, remains one of the smoothest movers on tour. Bouchard is not as quick around the court, but she uses her legs as a power source, bending low and driving through the ball off both wings.
The world No. 20 surprised the Serbian drilling a backhand return down the line to snap a streak of seven straight holds and break for 4-3. But the second seed responded with a two-hander down the line for break point and broke back for 4-all. When Bouchard rapped a flat forehand into net, Jankovic broke for the second straight time to sneak out the second set. The Canadian flipped her Babolat racquet in the air in frustration while walking off for a bathroom break, while the 2007 tournament champion kicked back on her wicker changeover couch, looking comfortably calm before the decider.
In her pre-match interview with ESPN's Pam Shriver, Bouchard said she had to "be aggressive and try to step in," and she did just that with a dipping cross-court forehand to earn double break point midway through the third set. Creeping inside the baseline again to greet a second serve, Bouchard rattled Jankovic with depth, drawing the error and earning the first break of the decider for 3-2.
The next game reinforced Bouchard's reputation as an all-court talent: She curled a defensive running forehand on the full stretch into the corner to extend the point, recovered to the center, then swooped forward for a smash -- which she punctuated with her loudest "come on!"of the match -- to help back up the break for 4-2. A 106 M.P.H ace out wide extended the lead to 5-3. Bouchard tormented the Jankovic forehand to close in two hours, two minutes.
A year after winning just three games against Jankovic in the quarters as a 114th-ranked qualifier, Bouchard will face either two-time defending Charleston doubles champion Lucie Safarova or 14th-seeded German Andrea Petkovic for a spot in Sunday's final.