Eugenie Bouchard has put together an impressive run through the draw of the Apia International Sydney – can world no. 10 Johanna Konta stop her short in the semifinals?
Johanna Konta takes on former top-10 player Eugenie Bouchard for a place in the final of the Apia International Sydney.
Sixth-seeded Konta, one of two top-10 players surviving in the Apia International Sydney draw, is already playing in her second semifinal of the 2017 season after reaching the final four in Shenzhen last week. Konta fell to eventual champion Katerina Siniakova in the semifinals in Shenzhen, but moved right on to Sydney where she ousted Australians Arina Rodionova and Daria Gavrilova before taking on Daria Kasatkina, the rising Russian star who had beaten world no. 1 Angelique Kerber in the previous round. Konta avoided defeats to young guns in back-to-back weeks by holding steady against the Russian, winning 6-3, 7-5 in tricky, windy conditions.
Next up for Konta is Eugenie Bouchard, a surprise semifinalist in a Sydney draw packed with stars. The Canadian, who was ranked as high as world no. 5 in October 2014, hasn’t appeared in a WTA Tour semifinal for almost a year, not since finishing runner-up at the Malaysian Open in Kuala Lumpur to Elina Svitolina last February. But Bouchard has yet to drop a set at the Premier-level Apia International, opening with a defeat of Zhang Shuai before beating WTA Finals Singapore Dominika Cibulkova 6-4, 6-3 and ousting Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who had beaten defending champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, 6-2, 6-3 in a very solid performance in the quarterfinals.
‘It’s a good step. You know, I don’t want to get too happy after a win or too sad after a loss, so, for me, it’s just a good step in the right direction. I know there is a long way to go to achieve what I want,’ Bouchard said.
‘To match up against solid players like I have this week, it’s a very tough tournament here. So I’m proud of that, for sure.’
Bouchard’s caution is well placed. The Canadian’s story is familiar to most fans and followers of tennis: A breakthrough star in 2014, when she started the year ranked world no. 31 and ended it as the world no. 5 after semifinal appearances at the Australian and French Opens and a first Grand Slam final at Wimbledon, Bouchard went completely to pieces in 2015 and ended up almost outside the top 50 after a 12-18 season during which she struggled both psychologically and physically.
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Bouchard went 31-24 in 2016, reaching the finals of WTA Tour events in Shenzhen and Kuala Lumpur, but was unable to back up her 2015 quarterfinal run at the Australian Open and ended the year at almost the same place in the rankings, playing just four matches after the US Open (three of them defeats). The Canadian, who was in the news recently angrily denying that her social media activity should be considered evidence of a lack of a commitment to training, started her season last week at the Brisbane International where she lost in the first round to Shelby Rogers, but has been playing very well this week in Sydney.
Konta’s elevation to the top echelons was, in many ways, as sudden as Bouchard’s, although it came later in her career. The British player was ranked well outside the top 100 as recently as June 2015, when a one-sided defeat to Maria Sharapova was the unlikely spark for a winning run which took her to two ITF titles, the fourth round of the US Open, the quarterfinals of Wuhan and inside the top 50 by the end of the year. Konta’s rise continued in 2016 as she made the semifinals of the Australian Open for the first time, going on to record a 46-22 win-loss record which saw her win the Premier-level Bank of the West Classic in Stanford and finish runner-up at the China Open in Beijing to crack the top 10 for the first time. The British player was unbelievably close to qualifying for the WTA Finals Singapore for the first time, as well, although she was pipped at the post by an unlikely run from Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Konta had some upheaval in her team, including the death of her sports psychologist and ‘mind guru’ and a split from the coach that had been with her during her rise in the rankings, but the British player has made a good start to 2017 with back-to-back semifinals in the first two weeks of the year.
Konta and Bouchard have met just once, in the second round of Wimbledon last summer when the unseeded Bouchard – a former runner-up at SW19, remember – ousted the British player in a topsy-turvy 6-3, 1-6, 6-1 contest.
‘[Remembering that match] will remind me that it’s going to be a huge battle. I won that match, but it was really, really tough. I’m not going in thinking, Oh, yeah, I won the last one,’ Bouchard said.
‘I barely got through the last one. She’s a top-10 player. She’s playing her best tennis right now. I know she will be pretty aggressive, I think. She hits a big ball. I will be ready for that and try and play some good tennis. Just be grateful for another day in Sydney.’
Bouchard had two wins over top-10 players in 2016 and has already scored one (vs Cibulkova) in Sydney this week. The Canadian has been playing good tennis, but between her and Konta there is no obvious advantage in power, nor in movement; Bouchard is perhaps the more aggressive player, but also the more error-prone. Konta’s serve has quietly become an effective weapon, but the conditions in Sydney don’t necessarily make for good serving. Ultimately it will come down to who holds their nerve in serving and returning in Thursday’s contest, and Konta’s habit of winning an awful lot of matches over the past year and a half must give her the slight edge in this semifinal.
Konta vs Bouchard is scheduled on court in Sydney on Thursday at 8.30pm local/9.30am GMT