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Eugenie Bouchard: Young Woman in a Big Girl’s Game

Nearly a year removed from her championship run to the Wimbledon girl’s title, Canadian teenager Eugenie Bouchard has joined the WTA tour looking every bit the part of junior prodigy turned senior contender. Impeccably packaged, Bouchard is tall, blonde, and obviously styled to have a Sharapova-like serenity on the court.

But her “womanly bearing” can be deceiving, for despite all visual cues pointing to Bouchard’s readiness to play on the woman’s tour, the fact remains: she still plays a girl’s game.

Gone are the days when young talents like Tracy Austin and Martina Hingis can sweep onto the Tour and beguile older opponents with a mature cunning that belied their age. The grinding (but ultimately underpowered) game that works wonders on the contemporary junior circuit is too often in for a rude awakening when it tries to transition to the seniors.

Serving as a stark contrast, the WTA Tour has expanded from one-dimensional “Big Babe Tennis” into early ball striking with laser-like precision. Better technique paired with more forgiving technology has raised the collective margin of error, which allows big hitters to take more risk, and narrows openings for players like Bouchard, who prefer to rely on opponents’ errors.

As much as the women’s game has evolved in the last decade, expert defenders can still make their way through a field of lower-ranked players who beat themselves. At a Wimbledon warm-up in Birmingham, Bouchard drew one such “baseline basher” in Bojana Jovanovski. The Canadian must have liked her chances of causing a minor upset against the Serbian No. 3, who lacks a lengthy grass court resumé.

But Jovanovski had just come off of consecutive victories over former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki. Despite the Dane’s fall from the top of the rankings (punctuated by a slump that saw her win only one match on red clay), she still plays the kind of game that could be kryptonite for the hyperagressive Serb. Wozniacki’s style of play, even at its worst, is Bouchard’s, only taken to the tenth power. Though similar at its core, Bouchard not only eschews most aggressive inclinations, but also lacks the kind of scrambling defense required to outlast players like Jovanovski.

That kind of perfect storm can have some unintentionally hilarious consequences.

After falling behind a set, Jovanovski began taking more and more advantage of the Canadian’s weak serve. By the end of the match, she was standing mere inches from the service line to crush returns and gain immediate ascendency. Bouchard was able to capitalize on enough Jovanovski errors to make games tight, but the match was always in the Serb’s hands. Though the Canadian had opportunities to level the third set, Jovanovski was able to suddenly end games at will, with winners that seemed to scream “Enough!” to both her young opponent and the crowd, who began to squirm out of sympathy for the overmatched Bouchard.

Jovanovski would end the titanic struggle anticlimactically with a 6-2 final set that was surprising in its efficiency. Far from a notorious closer, Jovanovski may have been allowed to flounder against a more game opponent, but Bouchard was in no position to make her opponent over-think things.

It may only be Bouchard’s first full year on the senior tour, but at 19, she is already older than other aforementioned “well-packaged prodigies.” As the Canadian inches into her twenties, it will only become more difficult for her to revamp her game, to “woman up” in order to compete with the game’s best. Not unlike Wozniacki, Bouchard looks built for aggression, but conversely looks less adept at retrieving compared to her Danish counterpart.

A loss like this may have come early enough to be a lesson, or perhaps an ultimatum: play a big girl’s game, or risk becoming a little girl lost.

Inaugural Raonic Race for Kids tees up Face-off weekend in Toronto

By Melissa Boyd

TORONTO (November 16, 2012) — Two days after launching his foundation to support disadvantaged children, Milos Raonic hosted his first fundraising event, the Raonic Race for Kids, at the Toronto Lawn and Tennis Club with the help of a few Toronto celebrities and tennis stars.

A total of ten teams raised money to participate in the inaugural race and each drafted an honorary celebrity captain to join their squad, choosing from the likes of Raonic, junior Wimbledon champion Eugenie Bouchard, Daniel Nestor, former NHL player Brad Marsh, and Canadian Football League legend Damon Allen. “Romano’s Racers” raised the most  money through their fundraising efforts and were rewarded by having Raonic as their captain.

Teams competed in eleven three-minute challenges that tested both their physical and intellectual abilities including mini-putt, ping-pong, and making a puzzle. Creative costumes, a theme song, and an original name characterized each team.

The highlight of the evening came when Andy Roddick and Serena Williams made a surprise appearance to present prizes and a trophy to the highest scoring team. The winning team was “The Aces” captained by Toronto television personality Carson Arthur. The American super duo also joined Raonic for a Q and A session which covered topics like the trio’s big serves, trash-talking, and what Roddick has been up to since retiring from the game at the U.S. Open this year.

The first edition of the Raonic Race for Kids raised just over $160,000 which will be put towards the Milos Raonic Foundation and Tennis Canada’s “Let’s Make Tennis Matter for Kids” campaign. The Raonic foundation will create and support initiatives to reduce economic, physical, and other barriers that may prevent disadvantaged children from becoming healthy, productive members of society.

“Tennis has had a profound impact on my life in so many positive ways,” Raonic said. “Opportunities that were available to me as I grew up are not always as accessible to other children and youth and in many cases this is often due to circumstances that are completely beyond their control.”

Raonic, Roddick, Williams, and Agnieszka Radwanska will take part in the Sport Chek Face-off tonight at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.


Canadian Eugenie Bouchard on her Wimbledon win, and talking twins with Roger Federer

WASHINGTON, D.C. – With the Citi Open tennis tournament boasting a wide open field in the women’s draw this week, it wouldn’t surprise many if rising Canadian player Eugenie Bouchard, the youngest and lowest-ranked in the draw, grabbed at the opportunity to do well here. (Photo gallery at bottom.)

At just 18-years-old, Bouchard has already hit a ranking of No. 300 – and that’s not even playing the WTA Tour full-time. She splits her time between the junior circuit, the ITF and occasional WTA Tour events, but is looking to fully transition into the pros soon.

On this quest, Bouchard is one of three wildcards in the main draw of the Citi Open, and finds herself in the second round after routing world No. 123 Karin Knapp, 6-2, 7-6(4). After her win, she conducted a candid interview with a small group of reporters, indulging us on her trip to the White House, her joy at bonding with Roger Federer over his twins during the Wimbledon ball last month, and her thoughts on her on-court progress.

Having played the inaugural Citi Open tournament last year in College Park, MD, Bouchard is no stranger to this city. She took advantage of the tournament site change and enjoyed the city upon her arrival.

“Last year, we weren’t downtown like we are now, and think it’s really cool to be here,” gushed Bouchard. “Last night we went to the White House and took pictures in front of it.” She went on to admit that she loves American politics and was hoping for a President Obama sighting when a traffic blockade went up on her way to the hotel Saturday. Unfortunately, the President was overseas, but there’s always next year.

On July 7, 2012, Bouchard made history by becoming the first Canadian Grand Slam winner when she won the girls’ singles title at Junior Wimbledon, and she admitted that it was a “great feeling.”

“I worked really hard. I won the warm-up tournament in Roehampton, and I was feeling really good on the grass. To win my first Grand Slam title, even though it was juniors, and also to make history, was really cool to [do] at the same time. It gave me a lot of confidence being one of the best juniors in the world, and now, trying to transition that into the pros. I did well after that as I won the $25,000 in Granby, Canada.”

When asked about how important it was for her to stick with the junior circuit as an 18-year-old, Bouchard spoke honestly about the pressures.

“It’s the question people always ask me. I think it’s really good, because it’s a different kind of pressure. In the pros, you’re the underdog all the time. In the juniors – being the oldest one and one of the top ones – everyone is out to get you from the first round. It’s tough and it’s harder than people think…. I think it’s good for me to deal with that and play with that pressure, and I think it will help me for me career as well because hopefully, I want to be in that position in the pros. …There’s nothing wrong with saying you won Wimbledon Juniors even if you’re 18.”

Bouchard had already tasted Wimbledon gold last year when she won the girls’ doubles title, and was able to defend it this year, but the ensuing Wimbledon Ball for all the winners brought it own surprise. When asked if she attended, she replied excitedly.

“Of course, that’s the best part of Wimbledon! I did it the year before because I won the doubles, but this year, it was unbelievable. I talked to Roger [Federer] — actually talked to him for 5 minutes!”

When asked what the two conversed about, Bouchard was quick to paint the picture. Bouchard, along with the boys’ singles winner and fellow Canadian Filip Peliwo, were greeted by a friendly Federer who was more than willing to take a photo with them, congratulate them and talk about their future endeavors.

“Filip [Peliwo], who won the boy’s singles title, and I got a picture with Roger. He came up and we expected him to take a picture and leave. But we took the picture, and he [starting talking to us]. ‘Congrats, you guys. What’s next? What’s your pro ranking?’ He was asking about what we’re doing. And I told him I’m playing all these tournaments, and I’m No. 300. And he’s said, ‘When I won Junior Wimbledon, I was No. 300 as well.’ And I was like, ‘That’s a sign – it’s meant to be!’’

Not one to cut the story short, Bouchard went on to say how excited she was talking to him about his twin girls, as she is a twin herself.

“And then we talked about his twins because I’m a twin. I told him ‘I love your twins, they’re so cute. They’re always dressed the same!’ And he said, ‘If you don’t dress them the same, they’re going to fight!’ … We totally bonded over twins. It was amazing. He was the nicest guy. Serena left right after the ceremony on the stage, but Roger stuck around and took pictures with everyone.”

With so man great opportunities to meet your idols, it’s easy to forget how much hard work goes into each athlete’s training. Tracing back to Bouchard’s roots in Montreal, Canada, she spoke about how Tennis Canada has assisted in her tennis progress and development since she began training at their National Center in 2008.

“Before [2008], I was in Florida, then I went to train at the National Center in Montreal when I was 15. I think the biggest thing that they are able to provide is so much funding, so we can travel all around the world and play all these top tournaments. That really gives us the chance to win them – to go to Wimbledon and win the title. Obviously, because tennis is an international sport, you really need to get out of Canada, and they helped the most with that.”

In a few short weeks, Bouchard will be making her way to the Rogers Cup in Montreal, a tournament she considers as a homecoming. She grew up playing 10&under tennis there, will have plenty of family and friends present for support, and with a team that strong, she will be looking to make another deep dent in her rankings.

Only time will tell, but with Bouchard’s strong baseline game, efficient serve, and optimistic demeanor, she is sure to go far in her young flourishing tennis career.

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Tennis Canada nominates olympic representatives for London

By Melissa Boyd

Tennis Canada has announced the four players nominated for selection to the Canadian Olympic Team for the London 2012 Olympic Games. Daniel Nestor, Vasek Pospisil, Milos Raonic, and Aleksandra Wozniak will represent Canada in London. Raonic and Wozniak will play singles while Nestor and Pospisil will team up for doubles.

In singles, the Top 56 players in the world as of the June 11 rankings deadline receive direct entry into the tennis event provided they meet all other requirements set out for qualification. Raonic sits at No. 21 in the world while Wozniak’s third round appearance at the French Open lifted her to the exact cut-off point of No. 56. It will be the first Olympic Games for both.

“It’s something I’ve been dreaming since I’m a little girl, and my dream came true today,” Wozniak said. “It’s definitely a different atmosphere than playing in the Grand Slams and on the WTA Tour, something where you’ll be with the best athletes around the world in all different sports”.

For the doubles event, each of the Top 10 players receives direct entry with a compatriot of their choice. As the No. 1 doubles player in the world, Nestor has elected to play with first-time Olympic hopeful Pospisil. The duo holds a 2-0 Davis Cup record, including a pivotal win against Grand Slam champions Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram during Canada’s World Group play-off versus Israel last September.

London will represent the fifth consecutive time Nestor has represented Canada at the Olympic Games. At the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, he won gold with partner Sebastien Lareau marking the first, and only, tennis medal in Canadian history.

“I’m very proud to be in a position where I can represent my country and hopefully bring back another medal,” said Nestor. “It was quite a special feat winning Olympic gold in Sydney in 2000 and with the growth of tennis in our country, we all can have a chance to make Canada proud.”

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) will announce the full official list of entries on June 28 which will include the ITF places in singles and doubles. Additional nominations for players who did not make the rankings cut-off can be submitted to the ITF to be considered for ITF places.

“Congratulations to these four tennis players on joining the 2012 Canadian Olympic Team,” said 2012 Team Chef de Mission Mark Tewksbury. “I know you will give your everything to make Canadian fans proud in London.”

Kids’ tennis coming to Olympic Park in Montreal

By Melissa Boyd

The Sun Life Financial Esplanade, Tennis Canada, Tennis Quebec and Tennis Montreal have announced the implementation of a unique project, as they are combining their efforts to build kids’ tennis courts at Olympic Park in Montreal where the city’s Olympic Stadium is located. The new courts will allow kids from all over the province of Quebec to learn how to play the sport with equipment adapted to their size.

“This project is unique and innovative because these permanent courts will be built from scratch according to the correct kids’ tennis sizes and not from already existing courts,” said Mr. Eugène Lapierre, Vice-President of Professional Tennis in Quebec and Tournament Director of the Rogers Cup. “It will be one of the few places in Quebec where kids will have their own courts built exclusively for them. It will be great for kids and families who are looking for an activity on the weekends and want to learn how to play tennis.”

In addition to the kids’ tennis courts, equipment rental kiosks (racquets, balls and games), resources to help the kids and organize tournaments, events and leagues will be available throughout the year.

“We are very proud to benefit from a renowned space like Olympic Park to organize tournaments and activities for our future tennis players,” said Mr. Jean-François Manibal, Director General of Tennis Quebec. “We are working together with the Sun Life Financial Esplanade to ensure we offer activities which target our young athletes.”

The location of these courts is very interesting strategically for Tennis Montreal who have very few courts in the eastern part of Montreal.

“This project will mark the first time that kids’ tennis courts have been set up in this neighbourhood,” added Mrs. Nicole Nobert, Director General of Tennis Montreal. “We will offer programming for elementary schools in the area to get more kids involved in tennis and this, in optimal conditions. Among our many projects, we will also launch a new activity for three and four-year olds called Little Tennis, something offered to kids in daycare and of course, families with young children.”

Furthermore, the participating organizations are exploring the possibility of making these new courts available year round with tennis on the snow during the winter months with appropriate equipment.

A mini Rogers Cup will be held to inaugurate the courts during qualifying weekend of the  Rogers Cup presented by National Bank in Montreal, from August 3-5. An official launch event featuring a WTA player is scheduled for August 3.

The construction of the kids’ tennis courts will begin in May and will be completed in July.

Milos Raonic Becomes Canada’s Ambassador for Kids’ Tennis

Following in the footsteps of the USTA and their progressive tennis program endorsed by First Lady Michelle Obama, Tennis Canada has launched a new campaign to promote the active, healthy living of children through the sport of tennis. World no. 26 Milos Raonic will be the ambassador for Kids’ Tennis, a scaled-down version of the sport that ensures earlier success for children by using modified racquets, balls and nets.

Kids’ Tennis is a way to attract young children to the game and allow them to improve their tennis skills quicker which makes for a more fun and successful transition to a regular court.

“Getting more kids playing the sport of tennis in Canada is extremely important to me,” said Raonic. “I hope that my recent success and results on the ATP World Tour will help to inspire more people to pick up a racquet. But they also need to know there are now easier ways for their children to learn the sport with this smaller equipment that is tailored to suit their abilities. That’s what I’m hoping these public service announcements will accomplish.”

The campaign will roll out in the form of two public service announcements with supporting print elements aimed at raising awareness and encouraging participation. Raonic made himself available for both the TV and print creative development which was shot over a full day at the Hollyburn Country Club in Vancouver early during the week of Davis Cup in February.

Developed by Toronto ad agency Bensimon Byrne, the two public service announcements take a humorous approach using role reversal where Raonic, the 6’5” ATP World Tour star, has difficultly playing Kids’ Tennis against a young girl. The spots began airing in Canada this past weekend during the final of the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami and will run continuously on several stations throughout the summer.. To date, the PSAs have been very well received, getting over 2,700 views on YouTube since last Thursday.  Watch the first PSA below. The second one will be posted this week.

Emergence of Canadian Tennis: Raonic, Marino, Pospisil

For years, Canada’s tennis accomplishments could be found in one man’s trophy case, that of doubles legend Daniel Nestor. The country’s tennis community has been starving for its first bona fide singles player since the days of Carling Bassett-Seguso, Helen Kelesi and Canadian turned Brit Greg Rusedski.

Over the past few seasons, Canadian tennis has turned over a new leaf. The proverbial ball started rolling in 2008 when Aleksandra Wozniak became the first Canadian in 20 years to win a WTA title and reached a career-high ranking of no. 21 in June of 2009. Fast forward two years and the emergence of a trio of 20-year-olds with big serves, Milos Raonic, Rebecca Marino and Vasek Pospisil will arguably make 2011 the greatest single season in Canadian tennis history.

An unexpected run to the fourth round of the Australian Open put Raonic on the tennis map, and in a big way. He proved his performance was no fluke, backing it up with his maiden ATP title in San Jose and a finals appearance in Memphis where he lost a dramatic championship match to Andy Roddick. His breakthrough season has allowed Raonic to become the highest ranked Canadian man in history and also earned him nomination for the ATP’s Newcomer of the Year award. In the process, Raonic has become Canada’s tennis ambassador, and a very good one at that. After recovering from hip surgery this summer, the sky is the limit for Raonic in 2012.

With Raonic watching on the sidelines, Vasek Pospisil single-handedly propelled Canada into the Davis Cup World Group for the first time since 2005, winning all three of his matches against Israel including the decisive fifth rubber. Pospisil also posted the first two Top 50 wins of his career in 2011 over Juan Igancio Chela at the Rogers Cup presented by National Bank and over John Isner at the Valencia Open.

A second round showing at the Australian Open, an appearance in the final at Memphis and a run to the third round of the French Open allowed Rebecca Marino to crack the Top 40 on the WTA rankings, overtaking Wozniak as the top Canadian in the women’s game.

At the junior level, Eugenie Bouchard won the Wimbledon doubles title this season and is the no. 5 ranked junior player in the world. At no. 20, Françoise Abanda is the top ranked 14-year-old on the planet.

The establishment of three National Training Centres in Montreal, Toronto and just last week in Vancouver, as well as talent id programs, is further proof that Canada is serious about developing tennis champions and intend on starting at an early age.

For the first time in a long time, the tennis world is sitting up and taking notice of Canada as one of the fastest growing tennis nations in the world. Perhaps what is most encouraging is the fact that success is coming by committee and not just the result of one player’s exploits.

No doubles team up between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal at this year’s Rogers Cup – Around the corner

After a five week hiatus from the ATP World Tour, the superstars of the circuit are ready to make their presence felt as the Rogers Cup in Montreal is set to begin play on Monday.

Newly crowned number one Novak Djokovic was on site Saturday for a brief media appearance alongside Rafael Nadal to christen, oddly enough, some new green clay courts that Tennis Canada has built on-site. The courts will serve to aid young Canadian players develop confidence on a surface that they rarely succeed on.

Djokovic and Nadal will not be playing together in doubles as they did a year ago when the men played in Toronto. While they were ranked one and two in the world at the time, their rivalry has taken a more serious dynamic with Djokovic beating Nadal in their five previous encounters.

The draw is a tough one for just about everybody in this format, where players will be on court almost every single day. With rain in the forecast early in the week the potential for double-duty also presents itself.

In the top quarter Djokovic will begin the event with a bye followed by a difficult match potentially against Nikolay Davydenko who opens against a qualifier. While Davydenko has been a shell of his former self since returning to the tour following a lengthy layoff in 2010, he still has the ability to test any of the top players and has a respectable 2-3 career head-to-head against the Serb.

Djokovic’s maiden appearance in Canada in 2007 was a self-described key point in the Serb’s ascension to the top of the game. There he beat the top three players in the world one after another in Andy Roddick, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

Speaking on his past success at the Rogers Cup, Djokovic said, “I have very nice memories especially from Montreal where I won the title in 2007 and in some ways started this great four years in my career.”

Beyond Davydenko things do not get any easier as Juan Martin Del Potro is his likely third round opponent. Del Potro has steadily been improving since he returned from his own wrist injury which kept him off the tour for eight months in 2010.

Gael Monfils, John Isner and Viktor Troicki are all included in this very difficult top quarter in Montreal. An opening round match between the big-serving Isner and former Aussie Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis is sure to be one worth watching.

In the next quarter we find Roger Federer, a man who is going to be facing dozens of awkward questions about his birthday Monday, where he will officially break into his thirties. Never-mind the fact that the world number three has made the semis in Australia, the finals in Paris and the quarters at Wimbledon – he is sure to be hounded with queries about his inevitable demise.

Federer is eager to finish the year strong and cap it off with a Grand Slam just as he did in 2008. That year he had been unable to win a Slam as well by this point in the season, but finished solid in New York and then returned to form in 2009 by winning his first French Open and another Wimbledon.

He opens in the second round here in Montreal against the victor between clay-courter Juan Ignacio Chela and Canadian youngster Vasek Pospisil (who defeated the duo of Djokovic/Nadal last year with partner Milos Raonic in doubles).

In the third round Roger might have to deal with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga again in a rematch of their Wimbledon quarter-final. Bernard Tomic is also in the realm of potential third round opponents while Richard Gasquet is the likely quarter-final challenge for him. Eighth seeded Nicolas Almagro is the other player with a bye in Federer’s quarter, but usually only excels on the red dirt of Europe.

In the other half of the draw we have Andy Murray and Mardy Fish receiving first round exemptions in their quarter. Fish will get the winner of Radek Stepanek (a finalist at the moment in Washington) or Feliciano Lopez. Murray will see either Pablo Andujar (a wildcard) or more likely big-serving Kevin Anderson. Given Murray’s string of two consecutive Rogers Cups, I’d say he has the definite edge to emerge from this part of the draw.

This section is also littered with veterans like David Nalbandian (who won a practice set today 7-6(4) against Ivo Karlovic), and Juan Carlos Ferrero (seen practicing with Tomas Berdych). Other talented players include Mikhail Youzhny, Ernests Gulbis and Stan Wawrinka. The first round match to keep an eye on here would be Nalbandian vs. Wawrinka. Gulbis vs. Ferrero could also be entertaining while serve and volleyer Michael Llodra could give Youzhny some fits.

Finally at the bottom of the entire draw is where world number two Rafael Nadal finds himself. He will open in the second round against either Ivan Dodig or Jeremy Chardy – a good way to ease back into competition. Nadal looked to be at times favoring his foot during a practice session with Juan Monaco earlier today. He will be available to the media on Sunday and we’ll try to get some more info on that.

Nadal could have fellow-Spaniard Fernando Verdasco in the third round while a quarter-final against Berdych, the 7th seed, seems possible. Berdych will have to contend with Alexandr Dolgopolov perhaps in round two and Gilles Simon in round three. Any of those three players could equally emerge to face Nadal.

Ok, if you’re looking for picks here I’m going to choose the predictable route. How can you not after the way the top-four have been playing? Djokovic has been on fire all year long with the exception of his one loss to Federer in Paris, so he’s almost a sure-shot to make it to the semis. Federer has a great draw and I’m certain he’s itching for another crack at Tsonga. A Djokovic/Federer hard-court semi-final will be the dream of fans and tournament organizers alike here in Montreal. I think they’ll get it.

On the other side, Murray’s performance in the past in Canada and the lead-up to the U.S. Open is well known and should continue. Fish has played a lot of tennis this summer and might not be able to put in 110% with some lingering soreness from Los Angeles. I’d pick Murray over him even if Fish was feeling perfectly rested.

Nadal is giving me some doubts with his behavior in practice today. If his body holds up then you have to think he’ll be in the final four as well, but if not look for Simon or Berdych to take his place instead.

Djokovic taking down Murray in the finals is the best you’ll get out of me. Regardless, we’re about to have a fantastic week of top-level tennis from the fabulous city of Montreal. Enjoy the Rogers Cup everyone and let the speculation for the U.S. Open begin!