Canada has a player in the final of Wimbledon for the first time in history.
Eugenie Bouchard beat Simona Halep 7-6 (7-5), 6-2 Thursday in a semifinal match, also becoming the first Canadian to reach a Grand Slam final.
Bouchard and Halep have been deemed the sport’s princesses-in-waiting.
That wait may be over sooner than expected.
With reigning queens Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova already deposed at Wimbledon, that future is playing out on the grass at centre court.
Bouchard was the newcomer of the year on the tour last year. This year she has been the highlight of the tour, now 16-2 in majors.
“I’m a Genie believer,” ESPN analyst Chris Evert said. “She’s come a long way in a short time. She attacks all the time. She has a big serve. She has no holes in her game.”
In her previous three Grand Slam tournaments, Halep reached the fourth round at the U.S. Open, the quarterfinals at the Australian Open and the final of the French Open, where she lost in three sets to Sharapova.
Bouchard simply overpowered Halep on Thursday.
Bouchard is the first Canadian to make the singles semifinals at Wimbledon, now the first to reach a final.
“I wouldn’t say I’m surprised. I’ve worked hard. This has been years in the making,” Bouchard said following the match.
She is the only woman to have made the final four at all three Slams played this season, and will see her world ranking rise to at least No. 8 when they are released next week. Regardless of the outcome of Thursday’s semifinal, she was already on her way to becoming the highest-ranked Canadian woman singles player ever.
Williams and Sharapova, who could have blocked Bouchard’s route to the semifinals at the All England Club, were knocked out in upsets.
The progress of Halep and Bouchard to the final four has underlined the rise of a new crop of players in the women’s game.
Bouchard, a Westmount, Que., native is only in her second season on the tour; Halep was ranked a mere 32nd last season.
“These two players are the hottest two players on the tour. Let’s get that out of the way,” Evert said.
Bouchard opened the match by blasting a hard serve that left Halep helpless, winning the first game easily.
Halep fought back to hold serve. The battle of tennis’ young guns was on.
Halep took a 2-1 lead, breaking Bouchard who, Wimbledon commentators acknowledged, seemed a little more nervous than usual in the early going. There was a double fault, the decisive point in the game coming when Bouchard hit a return long.
Bouchard got aggressive, as she wanted, getting right back on serve by stealing the second game. Halep hyper-extended an already bandaged left leg. The court is a bit slick, with Roger Federer slipping three times on Wednesday.
Halep’s ankle rolled and twisted on the grass, and with the match tied 2-2, was treated during a medical time out. She tried to come back with a heavily taped ankle. Her movement and court coverage is the best part of her game.
That, suddenly, was compromised.
Bouchard rebounded from 0-30 to win the next game for a 3-2 lead.
Halep seemed to recover holding service, even dictating play in the next game to pull even at 3-3.
The tug-of-war continued, Bouchard pushing ahead 4-3. The young Canadian was raising her aggressive style. She was hitting almost 98% of her returns from inside the baseline.
Halep pushed back just as hard.
At 0-15, Halep served and missed an easy point at the net, hitting long with Bouchard out of position. A stunning forehand caught the outside of the line, putting Bouchard on break point.
Halep fought back to 40-40, survived two break points and Bouchard missed her chance, with Halep tying the match at 4-4.
Bouchard moved Halep around the court, sideline to sideline, to hold serve - leading 5-4.
A long rally put Halep up 30-0 with the game on the line and once more, it was even 5-5.
Bouchard fell behind love-30 on serve. This time it was Halep’s turn to miss a golden chance. She hit a return into the net before sending a balloon over the baseline on a canon serve from Bouchard. She held serve, leading 6-5.
Bouchard had a chance for the win if she could break Halep’s serve. She took a 30-15 lead on a misdirection shot. But twice she whacked returns into the net, putting Halep up 40-30. Halep hit a hard backhand down the line after a long rally. Tied. Again. 6-6.
In the tie break, Bouchard went up 2-1, with players losing all three points on serve.
A challenge on the next point reversed in favour of Halep, who jumped ahead 3-2.
Suddenly, the umpire jumped from his chair, calling for emergency aid for a spectator who fell ill in the stands. Both players retired to the sidelines while the fan was ushered from a seat.
Halep went up 4-2 after a 4 1/2 minute delay.
But just when it appeared Halep would take control, Bouchard hit back. Hard.
Bouchard hit a ball off the net that fell for a point. Then, in classic Bouchard style, she moved to the net in a long rally, finally firing a hard forehand for a winner.
Bouchard took a 5-4 lead, putting her on the fringe of victory. Bouchard went up 6-4 when Halep returned long.
Halep won back one point on her serve. But Bouchard had the chance to serve for the win. And did.
Suddenly all the pressure swung onto Halep as the Canadian stood just one set from a Wimbledon final.
While the first set was filled with drama, the second was all Bouchard.
Tied 1-1 in the second set, Bouchard broke Halep. All the momentum swung in Bouchard’s direction. Slowly. Inextricably.
Halep’s service game seemed to desert her, too.
Bouchard pressed her advantage.
She pushed ahead with a 3-1 lead on service.
A deflated Halet lost her serve and fell behind 4-1. She had committed eight unforced errors.
Bouchard seemed to have it on cruise control, her first Grand Slam final within reach when she held serve to lead 5-1 over a now fragile-looking Halep.
On the brink, Bouchard had Halep at double match point. On a lost point, Bouchard argued fan interference, ump said no, giving point to Halep.
Third chance at break point, but Halep fought that off, too. A rally later, Halep had her game back, creeping back to 5-2.
Bouchard got to serve for her first chance at a Grand Slam final.
Up 30-15 she charged the net, delivering a hard forehand smash. Point.
Bouchard got to match point. Hard serve inside the corner ... and it was Canadian history made.
She faces Petra Kvitova, a 7-6, 6-1, winner Thursday in the final on Saturday.
“I think she’s going to win the title,” Evert said.