Eugenie Bouchard advances to French Open semifinals, Milos Raonic falls
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PARIS - Eugenie Bouchard is preparing for her second straight Grand Slam semifinal. Fellow Canadian Milos Raonic is still looking to reach his first.
Bouchard defeated Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro 7-6 (4), 2-6, 7-5 at the French Open on Tuesday. The match was completed a couple hours before Raonic came up short in his bid to reach the men's final four, dropping a 7-5, 7-6 (5), 6-4 decision to Novak Djokovic of Serbia.
Next up for Bouchard, a 20-year-old from Westmount, Que., is a meeting with Maria Sharapova. The 2012 champion from Russia advanced with a 1-6, 7-5, 6-1 over Garbine Muguruza of Spain.
"I'm very content with a win like this," said Bouchard. "It was a battle throughout. She played very well especially on long points.
"The last set was key for me. I'm really excited to be playing Sharapova in a big match here."
Bouchard was the third Canadian woman to reach the Roland Garros quarter-finals after Carling Bassett-Seguso (1984, 1986) and Helen Kelesi (1988, 1989). Bouchard and Bassett-Seguso are the only players to reach the semifinals at a Grand Slam (Bassett-Seguso, 1984 US Open).
Earlier this year, Bouchard reached the Australian Open semifinals but lost to eventual champion Li Na of China. Sylvain Bruneau, the captain of the Canadian Fed Cup team, said Bouchard learned from that experience and is comfortable in the spotlight.
"I expect her to be able to really raise her (game), to really play her best tennis against Sharapova," he said. "Really be in the moment and not be caught up with anything else (except) the ball and the next point."
On Tuesday, Bouchard won the first set in an hour but dropped the second set after losing her last two service games. Suarez Navarro jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the third before the 18th-seeded Canadian fought back with a key break and service holds.
"I wouldn't say I surprised myself, no," said Bouchard. "I've come back in matches before. Tennis can be like that, a bit up and down. I just really tried to forget about what the score was or anything and just tried to play the right way, you know.
"Once I started going for my shots a little bit more it started working better. The third set it was just a really cool atmosphere I think for both of us to be playing like that. Even if I was down 5-2 or 4-1 in the third, (I didn't) worry too much — keep going, keep going, keep going, and it paid off in the end."
Bouchard double-faulted on her first match point and put a backhand long on a second chance. She clinched victory after two hours 22 minutes when her opponent came up short on a return.
Bouchard finished with 46 winners, 38 unforced errors and breaks on six of 14 chances.
As for Raonic, the No. 8 seed from Thornhill, Ont., went toe to toe with Djokovic over the first two sets before fading in the third. The Canadian fired 21 aces but converted only one of two break opportunities in the match, which also lasted two hours 22 minutes.
The second-seeded Djokovic was broken while serving for the victory at 5-2, but the veteran closed it out two games later when a Raonic forehand sailed wide.
Djokovic is a six-time major champion but still needs to win the French Open to complete a career Grand Slam. He reached the semifinals at Roland Garros the last four years, but only made one final, losing to Rafael Nadal in 2012.
Raonic, 23, became the first Canadian man to reach a Grand Slam singles quarter-final in the post-1968 Open era.
The last Canadian to reach a men's singles semifinal at a Grand Slam was William Johnston at the 1923 US Championships. Robert Powell (Wimbledon, 1908) is the only other Canadian to reach a men's singles semifinal.
Djokovic's next opponent is No. 18 Ernests Gulbis of Latvia, who followed his victory over Roger Federer with a 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 win over No. 6 Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic.
Djokovic, 27, and Gulbis, 25, go way back, having overlapped in their early teens at a German tennis academy. Their paths quickly diverged, with Djokovic focusing on tennis and thriving, to the tune of six major titles. Gulbis admits he enjoyed the nightlife too much for his game's good.
Only recently did Gulbis realize he needed to take his job more seriously.
"It's really important, for my happiness, just to be successful on the tennis court," Gulbis said. "Forget about the money. Forget about fame. It's just about my inner comfort. That's it."
Djokovic will be playing in his 22nd career Grand Slam semifinal; Gulbis in his first.
Similarly, Sharapova is headed to her 18th, Bouchard her second. Bouchard is seven years younger, and tracked Sharapova's career from afar.
"First I noticed, like, her cute dresses and things like that when I was young," said Bouchard, who recalled being a spectator at a tournament in Florida as a youngster and posing for a photo with Sharapova.
"She, of course, is very strong mentally. It is one of her strengths, I think," Bouchard said. "I'm just looking forward to the challenge."
Following the tradition begun in Melbourne earlier this year, a fan tossed a stuffed animal to the Canadian and she took it to her on-court television interview. Former French player Fabrice Santoro then insisted on taking a photo with Bouchard as the crowd cheered.
Sharapova started slowly Tuesday by dropping four of her first five games. She then started to land her shots and her serves with more consistency and won nine of the last 10 games.
Muguruza, who was playing in a Grand Slam quarter-final for the first time in her career, eliminated defending champion Serena Williams in the second round.
Sharapova lost in the semifinals at Roland Garros in 2011, then won the title a year later to complete a career Grand Slam. She lost in last year's final to Williams.
"It was so tough losing in the final last year, being the defending champion," Sharapova said. "This year, to come back, I have the extra motivation to go further, and to be back on (this) stage is a really nice feeling."
Sharapova opened her match with a double fault, the first of eight in the match. And she lost 15 of the first 20 points.
But even though Sharapova held in the fifth game, she was broken again, this time at love, to lose the first set.
Things changed rather quickly in the second set. At 1-1, Sharapova finally broke, with some help from Muguruza.
The unseeded Spaniard, ranked 35th in the world, double-faulted twice in a row to give Sharapova her second break point of the match. The tall Russian converted when Muguruza sent a backhand long.
Although Sharapova was broken again in the set, again with a double fault, she started to hold serve more easily while giving Muguruza more trouble while receiving. By the time the third set started, Sharapova was moving Muguruza all over the court, landing her forehands and backhands easily.
The only hiccup came in the fourth game, when Muguruza had five break points but couldn't convert any of them.
"That was one of the most important games," Sharapova said. "After I won that game, I certainly gained more confidence."
Sharapova has won both of her previous matches against Bouchard, including a second-round match last year in Paris.
Also Tuesday, Toronto's Daniel Nestor and French partner Kristina Mladenovic dropped a 6-3, 1-6, 10-3 mixed doubles quarter-final decision to third seeds Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan and Brazil's Bruno Soares.
With files from The Associated Press.