Eugenie Bouchard ready for Serena showdown after admitting: ‘I love her’

  •  PA Sport

Eugenie Bouchard will make her return to the biggest stage with a second-round date against Serena Williams at the Australian Open.

The Canadian, who soared into the top 10 in 2014, dropped as low as 193 in the rankings last season but has worked her way back into double figures and a 6-2 6-1 victory over Peng Shuai earned her a shot at the title favourite.

Williams played her first competitive match since her tumultuous defeat by Naomi Osaka in the US Open final in September and was in devastating form, beating neighbour and fellow mother Tatjana Maria 6-0 6-2 in just 49 minutes.

Bouchard admitted she had her eye on a clash with Williams as soon as the draw was made.

She said: “I’m super excited. This is why we play the big tournaments, to play the best players.

“She’s the greatest ever. So it’s just so cool that I’ll be able to share the court with her and an opportunity to see how I compare to one of the best players. Her ranking is top-20 right now, but to me she’s always basically number one.

“I admire obviously the longevity of her career, her dominance over such a long amount of time, how she’s come back so many times from injury, pregnancy, etc. I don’t want to talk about it too much and put her on too much of a pedestal because I have to play her in two days, but I love her.”

Bouchard struggled to cope with the weight of expectation after her rapid rise but, even during her difficult times, she has shown the ability to rise to the big occasion.

Still only 24, Bouchard said: “I’m enjoying the training and enjoying the matches. That’s the most important thing, because I have definitely had moments where I didn’t enjoy it so much.

“I knew deep down that I still believed in myself and my game and I’m still relatively young, so I know I still have a little bit of time to play tennis. I decided let’s just give it everything right now and see what happens.

“There were some very tough moments last year, for sure. But I’m proud that I stuck through them and turned my season around.”

Williams extended her winning streak in Melbourne to eight matches having won the title on her last appearance in 2017 while in the early weeks of pregnancy.

Dressed in a striking green playsuit that she dubbed the “Serenatard”, the 37-year-old, who continues to chase a record-equalling 24th slam singles titles, dropped only five points in the first set.

Williams has kept a low profile since the defeat by Osaka in New York and was in no mood to revisit the occasion.

Asked if she had discussed coaching signals with Patrick Mouratoglou after the warning from umpire Carlos Ramos that sparked the whole furore and whether she agreed with the Frenchman that on-court coaching should be allowed, Williams said: “I literally have no comment.”

On Bouchard, Williams added: “It will be a great match. She plays really well. She does everything well, and I really like that she doesn’t quit. People write her off, and she doesn’t let that bother her.”

There was no happy return to the tournament she has won twice for Victoria Azarenka, who fell 6-7 (5/7) 6-4 6-2 to Germany’s Laura Siegemund.

Azarenka was absent from Melbourne the last two years because of the birth of son Leo and the subsequent custody battle that restricted her travel and is still searching for a return to form.

There were victories for Karolina Pliskova, Madison Keys and Garbine Muguruza but 10th seed Daria Kasatkina lost 12 straight games in a 6-3 6-0 loss to Timea Bacsinszky.

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