Canadian teenager Eugenie Bouchard kept her poise in the biggest match of her life to oust Ana Ivanovic in a three-set thriller and set up an Australian Open semi-final against China’s Li Na on Tuesday.
Li dispatched Italy’s Flavia Pennetta 6-2 6-2 in just over an hour in the first quarter-final of the day on Rod Laver Arena to reach the last four for the fourth time in five years at Melbourne Park.
Fourth seed Li became a strong favourite to reach her third final in four years after Ivanovic stunned world number one Serena Williams on Sunday to blow open the top half of the draw.
Ivanovic, hindered by a hip niggle, was unable to take advantage of the path she had cleared to the final, however, and instead Bouchard will take on 31-year-old Li after prevailing 5-7 7-5 6-2 in the second quarter-final.
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“It’s not exactly a surprise,” said the confident 19-year-old, the first Canadian to reach the last four in Melbourne.
“I always expect myself to do well. I’m just happy to have gone through this step. I’m not done. I have a match on Thursday. I’m just looking forward to that.”
Serbian Ivanovic had looked on course for a first grand slam semi-final since her 2008 French Open triumph after clinching the first set in 47 minutes.
But Bouchard charged straight back into the contest, breaking to lead 3-1 in the second set and holding her nerve to break again to level the match when Ivanovic double-faulted.
“I tried to show I was calm. I did feel confident,” Bouchard said.
“Having lost the first set, I just tried to focus on what I had to do during the point to try to win, really just try to keep pressing her and moving forward.
“I felt like my game kind of got a bit better as the match went on. I feel like in the first set I was close, but I was kind of missing shots just by a little bit …
“I felt like my game was there and I just needed to relax a little bit and play.”
Ivanovic tried to wrest back the momentum but as much as she ramped up her formidable forehand, there was no putting this particular Genie back in the bottle.
Cheered on by “Genie’s Army” – the band of young Australians who reward her with a cuddly toy after every victory – Bouchard was a match for everything the 14th seed threw at her and sealed victory after two hours and 24 minutes.
“I was emotionally a little bit flat,” admitted Ivanovic. “I was lacking a little bit aggressiveness that I had in my previous matches.
“I think she has very bright future in front of her. She’s very aggressive player. It’s sometimes very hard to read her game. There is no really patterns like with other players you have. She’s a great mover.”
Bouchard lost her composure only when she was asked in her on-court interview who she would most like to date, giggling as she declared a liking for pop star Justin Bieber.
Li’s victory was, by contrast, a 67-minute stroll on another cool morning by the banks of the Yarra River as she blasted her 28th-seeded opponent off the court with a strong first serve and barrage of powerful ground strokes.
After her victory, Li entertained the crowd on Rod laver Arena with another of the interviews that have made her a firm favourite at Melbourne Park – this time about how she would never smash a racket as she considers them friends.
It was left to her fellow thirtysomething Pannetta to assess the world number four and former French Open champion’s form.
“I think she’s just improved her game a lot,” said the Italian, who was 2-2 in career meetings with Li going into Tuesday’s match.
“She’s really consistent. But she’s one of the best players. Today she was much better than me in the court.
“In the last year, she has improved her game a lot. She’s more consistent with the forehand. And her serve, it’s working really good also. She’s a really good player.”