Sports

Canadians among Wimbledon favourites

Eugenie Bouchard serves at the 2014 Australian Open, where she finished in a Grand Slam semifinal for the first time in her career. - Wikimedia Commons (author Brendan Dennis)
Eugenie Bouchard serves at the 2014 Australian Open, where she finished in a Grand Slam semifinal for the first time in her career.
— image credit: Wikimedia Commons (author Brendan Dennis)

By Tom Tebbutt, The Canadian Press

LONDON, England - Eugenie Bouchard has already shown she can compete at the biggest tennis tournaments in the world.

Fellow Canadian Milos Raonic believes she has a legitimate chance to go even further at Wimbledon.

Bouchard, who made it to the semifinals of both the Australian Open and French Open this season, enters the grass court tournament as the women's No. 13 seed. When asked about her chances of winning her first Grand Slam, Raonic said the title could be hers if she steps up her game.

"She can," said Raonic, a contender in his own right for the men's title, when asked if Bouchard can win at Wimbledon. "There's a lot of vulnerability in women's tennis, that's the main thing. It's up to her to step up. Serena (Williams) is a heavy favourite, but there is vulnerability."

Bouchard showed vulnerability when she was beaten 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 by No. 75-ranked Vania King in s'Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands, last week in her only pre-Wimbledon grass-court match — 11 days after her French Open semifinal.

"I'm not concerned at all," her coach Nick Saviano said about the loss. "She had played a lot of tournaments and her knees were bothering her. She didn't play for almost six days, didn't pick up a racket after the French."

Bouchard, from Westmount, Que., had an uptempo practice Saturday with former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka on Court 18, site of the 2010 John Isner versus Nicolas Mahut marathon match that went over 11 hours.

"I've been practising really well, working on my game on grass — definitely stepping in a bit more, going to the net a bit more," Bouchard said.

Raonic, the men's No. 8 seed from Thornhill, Ont., also enters Wimbledon off a loss. He was beaten 6-4, 6-4 by big-hitting German Peter Gojowicz in Halle, Germany, two weeks ago.

"That match did not happen," Raonic joked about his poor play seven days after losing to Novak Djokovic in the French Open quarter-finals. "I didn't have the right approach, didn't have the right understanding of what to do."

He had tough practice sessions with Wimbledon top seed Djokovic on Friday and Davis Cup teammate Vasek Pospisil, the men's No. 31 seed from Vancouver, on Saturday.

"I don't feel I'm far off," Raonic said about his form before his opening-round match Tuesday against No. 86-ranked Matthew Ebden of Australia. "I just know I'm going to have to compete like hell."

Bouchard faces Daniela Hantuchova in her opener on Tuesday. The 31-year-old, No. 35-ranked Slovak, playing her 14th Wimbledon, has ranked as high as No. 5 (2003) but exited Wimbledon in the first round the past two years.

"It's a tough match," Bouchard said. "We've never played. She's capable of playing at a high level. You never know with a player like that if she can go up to her previous high level or be where she is now."

Bouchard broke through at Wimbledon a year ago when a last-minute withdrawal put her on Centre Court. She responded by outplaying No. 12 seed Ana Ivanovic 6-3, 6-3.

"Genie loves a big stage," Saviano said. "She loves the Grand Slams. It was really kind of cute when we were first pulling up to the French Open this year. I was talking and she went 'quiet, quiet, there's the French, there's the courts.' She was all excited just to see the event. There's a youthful exuberance and excitement about it. She has a fundamental love for the sport."

Raonic got a taste of that Saturday practising on Court 12, one of the pristine grass tournament courts.

"There's a certain joy playing on the main courts (unlike the practice courts)," he said, "probably because of the exclusivity. You can only practice on them once a day for an hour if you're a seed. If you're not, you get much less. There's an aura about it that's pretty amazing."

Since Indian Wells, California, in March, when he wore an arm sleeve to protect a heat rash, Raonic has usually covered his right arm despite that no longer being necessary.

When asked about Wimbledon, "to sleeve or not to sleeve, that is the question?" he smiled and said: "I'll wear a sleeve. I will not make a Shakespeare statement out of a sleeve."

Raonic did play without a sleeve for two matches at the Boodles event in Stoke Park near London last week.

"It was an exhibition," he explained. "I have a comfort with it."

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