LONDON — Previously known as Wimbledon, the hallowed ground of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (AELTC) officially was rebranded this week as Canada Place.
Eugenie Bouchard, a polished and aggressive 20-year-old from Montreal, Thursday became the first Canadian woman to make it to a Grand Slam final, thanks to her sturdy and efficient 7-6, 6-2 win over Romania’s Simona Halep. And Milos Raonic, a flamethrowing powerserver from southern Ontario, on Friday will face Swiss master craftsman Roger Federer in the men’s semifinals.
Come Sunday afternoon, two red Canadian maple leaf flags could be firmly staked into the baked green lawn of The Club Previously Known as the AELTC. O Canada, whoever would have believed such a thing possible?
“First of all, what’s with the water in Canada?’’ joked John McEnroe, the former American star. “They’re doing something right up north.’’
Not only right, but emphatically. Particularly in Bouchard’s case, it could be a run that plays out for a decade or more, given her youth and her game.
A semifinalist at both the Australian and French opens this year, Bouchard has barely had an uncomfortable moment over the fortnight. She might have had more of a struggle Thursday, but Halep rolled her left ankle early in the first set, and though the Romanian star’s effort was admirable the rest of the way, she clearly was spent after the combination of the injury and then losing a first-set tiebreaker (7-5).
“After losing a set,’’ noted Halep, “it’s really tough to say, ‘Let’s play two more to win, with two injuries.’ ’’ Her other ailment, Halep disclosed, was muscle related, which had her wearing a wrap high on her left thigh. Upon rolling her ankle, she required on-court treatment for five minutes, a trainer wrapping her ankle with tape.
Bouchard, who won the junior tournament here two years ago (“It feels like I’m at home here,’’ she said), on Saturday will face former Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova in the (Canada) Centre Court final. Kvitova, with a nasty serve her lead weapon, dispatched Lucie Safarova, 7-6 (8-6), 6-1. Kvitova (the 2011 champion here vs. Maria Sharapova) and sister Czech Safarova are best friends and sometimes teammates in international play, but that didn’t prevent Kvitova from chopping her pal to bits en route to her second career final here at SW19.
“I’m just glad that I served well,’’ said Kvitova. “I think it was maybe the key of the match.’’
Kvitova’s service game, blended with her baseline artistry, will be the biggest key in her effort to stop the chilly Montreal Express that Bouchard has become. Bouchard has shown no weakness, no area to exploit. She can serve and she can run down balls all afternoon if necessary. Kvitova is more inclined to remain parked around the baseline and try to win with her high-in-the-box offerings off serve. If Bouchard is successful with the return game, it’s her best shot at leaving here a winner.
“I think it will be my toughest match yet,’’ said Bouchard. “I know she obviously likes the grass and has some good weapons, so I will be ready for those. I will try to impose my own weapons and game against her.’’
Halep looked capable of derailing Bouchard, until rolling her left ankle at the end of the fourth game, a service game she lost to Bouchard immediately after breaking for a 2-1 lead. Racing left to track down a ball far behind the baseline, Halep put on the breaks, the ankle rolled, the point and game were lost. The match was level, 2-2, and in came the trainer.
“It was difficult to continue,’’ said Halep. “I felt a big pain in the moment . . . but then was better with tape. But still I couldn’t push anymore in my leg and my first serve was really bad after that.’’
Nonetheless, Halep hung in and forced the tiebreaker, which became a bit bizarre after the fifth point (Halep up, 3-2) when umpire Kader Nouni halted play when a woman in the stands became ill. With temps in the 80s (exceptionally high for the UK), the fan appeared overcome by heat. It forced another five-minute delay, after which Bouchard quickly gained the benefit of a lucky bounce off (and over) the net, preventing Halep from taking a 5-3 lead. Bouchard soon filched the set at 7-5, essentially booking the final with Kvitova.
Yet, to add a bit of drama to the day, the seventh game of the second set had Bouchard sternly voicing her displeasure with the chair ump when he didn’t halt play as Halep served a match point Bouchard’s way. A fan’s yell distracted Bouchard as Halep unloaded her serve, causing Bouchard to raise her hand. Nouni didn’t react to Bouchard’s signal, though, and Halep won the point to deuce. Two points later Bouchard would be serving at 5-2. Had the point been replayed, Bouchard instead might have closed out the match then and there.
Bouchard was firm in her objection to Nouni, but not over the top, especially in comparison, say, to some of the histrionic objections McEnroe staged here over the years.
“I know one guy who wouldn’t have handled it well,’’ McEnroe said. Lindsay Davenport, at his side in the BBC booth, stifled a laugh.
In the final game, on serve, Bouchard finished the job, but not after Halep first fought off two match points.
“My job is not done,’’ said Bouchard, the media repeatedly making note of her on-court reserve, even with the biggest moment of her career at hand. “I want to go another step further.’’
Win or lose, this is where Bouchard, the Montreal Express, has arrived. And if this place were any more Canadian, they’d be offering maple syrup instead of cream to pour over those legendary strawberries this weekend.