Wimbledon: Bouchard d. Halep
Bouncing on her toes behind the baseline, Eugenie Bouchard was in no mood to play the waiting game. The 20-year-old Canadian took her shot at history on the rise.
Bouchard played bold and controlled tennis deconstructing French Open finalist Simona Halep, 7-6 (5), 6-2, to surge into her first Grand Slam final in just her sixth career major tournament. Two years after she won the Wimbledon girls' championship, Bouchard made history as the first Canadian woman to reach a Grand Slam final.
On a sun-splashed Centre Court, the match was a test of conditioning and concentration as injury and illness struck athlete and audience. Halep turned her left ankle four games into the match, and the opening-set tiebreaker was interrupted due to a fan's illness. When play resumed, a fortuitous net cord helped spark the Candian's run of five straight points in the breaker, and Bouchard saw five match points slip away before finally creating closure.
Chasing a backhand behind the baseline, Halep slipped and stumbled, rolling her left ankle to drop serve. The French Open finalist immediately took a medical timeout to have her left ankle taped 12 minutes into the match.
The daughter of a Romanian soccer player, Halep's corner-to-corner court coverage is a foundation of her game. After her injury, the third seed didn't seem to push up with the same confidence on serve or plant her foot with her usual stability on the running backhand. But Halep hung in running rallies, saving two break points, the second with a crisp inside-out backhand winner, to hold for 4-all.
Cracking the ball into the corners and testing Halep's mobility with a drop shot, Bouchard issued a love hold for a 5-4 advantage. The pressure shifted to Halep's shoulders as she fell into a 15-30 hole serving at 5-6, but the net aided her when Bouchard's return crashed the top of the tape, settling on her side. Instead of double set point, it was 30-all, and Halep navigated the hold.
The magnitude of the tiebreaker tightened both women contributing to five consecutive mini breaks at the outset. Then things got scary. A fan fell ill at the 52-minute mark with Halep leading 3-2, and chair umpire Kader Nouni leaped out of his seat to aid the ailing woman.
After about a three-minute break, Halep slid a serve into the hip for 4-2. The pivotal point of the match arrived as Bouchard smacked another shot into the top of the tape, the ball hung in the air for a split second as if internally debating its direction, then landed on Halep's side of the net, giving Bouchard the mini break. She never looked back. A barrage of forehands brought Bouchard to double set point. Halep saved the first with a brilliant running forehand down the line, but on the second Bouchard swooped forward and whipped a swing volley winner to seize the one-hour first set.
Bouchard's unrelenting pressure combined with collateral damage of losing that hard-fought first set, a creaky left ankle, and fatigue from playing three days in a row drained Halep, who played her sloppiest game of the match. Failing to finish off a drop shot, she ballooned a forehand beyond the baseline and hit two double faults to donate the break and a 2-1 lead to Bouchard.
Zapping a forehand down the line, Bouchard quickly consolidated for 3-1. A distressed Halep had to hope Bouchard would tighten up and her level of play would drop. It didn't happen. Stepping into the court to hammer away at the growing cracks in the Romanian's game, Bouchard, who attacked with vigor and defended with defiance, broke again for 4-1 when Halep slapped a forehand into net.
Halep saved three match points holding for 2-5 and saved two more in the next game. Throughout the plot twists and running rallies of an eventful one hour and 34-minute match, Bouchard barely showed signs of stress and she finally found closure with a twisting wide serve. She has not surrendered a set en route to the final and exuded the enthusiasm of a woman ready to get right back to work.
"It was a little crazy. I never kind of ended a match like that," said Bouchard, who is projected to rise to No. 7—the highest-ranked Canadian woman ever—and will face 2011 champion Petra Kvitova in the final. "Happy I kept my focus and didn't get distracted. I'm really excited. I have a day off tomorrow and I can't wait to play. It's my first Grand Slam final so I'm just going to go for it."
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