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Eugenie Bouchard carries Canadian banner, skates in first round

Eugenie Bouchard of Canada reacts after a point

Eugenie Bouchard of Canada reacts after a point against Olga Govortsova of Belarus to win her women's singles first-round match on Day 2 of the 2014 U.S. Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Aug. 26, 2014. Credit: Getty Images / Al Bello

Tennis hardly is the new hockey in Canada. But 20-year-old Eugenie Bouchard of Westmount, Quebec, has been causing a real stir in the sporting news for Our Neighbors to the North.

In the first three Grand Slam events of 2014, Bouchard's impressive roll -- two semifinals and a final, unmatched by any player, man or woman -- suddenly has branded her the future of women's tennis.

On Tuesday, she stoked that fire a bit by barreling through her first-round U.S. Open match over Belarusian Olga Govortsova, 6-2, 6-1.

As for the present of women's tennis, familiar names carried on without incident: No. 1 seed Serena Williams, No. 3 Petra Kvitova, No. 8 Ana Ivanovic and former U.S. Open champ Samantha Stosur all won in straight sets, and two-time Australian champ Victoria Azarenka advanced, as well.

But back to the future. With not exactly a cavalcade of Canadian tennis greats, Bouchard's loss to Kvitova in last month's Wimbledon final made her, technically, the first from her country ever to play in a major Slam singles championship match.

In 1997, Montreal-born Greg Rusedski lost the U.S. Open final to Australian Patrick Rafter, but Rusedski already had changed his tennis allegiance to Britain by then.

And Bouchard made it clear Tuesday that: "I never had any Canadian tennis influence. I looked up to the best: Steffi Graf, Maria Sharapova. I remember watching Monica Seles playing. Any great champions, I looked up to."

In the early 1980s, Canada's Carling Bassett enjoyed something of a breakthrough on the international stage, even as she was working as a fashion model for the renowned Ford agency.

Bassett advanced to the 1984 U.S. Open semifinals (a straight-sets loss to Chris Evert) and made three other career major quarterfinals (two at the French, one in Australia).

Bassett married American pro Robert Seguso, three times a major-tournament doubles champion. Of their five children, the youngest son has played Futures tennis on and off.

So the path was pretty clear for Bouchard to make Canadian tennis history. In only her second year as a pro, her only Slam event losses have been to the eventual champions, to Li Na in the Australian semifinals and to Sharapova in the French semis before Kvitova whipped her for the Wimbledon crown.

There were tears after that loss, Bouchard said, but "I learned a lot. It was an experience I'll never forget. I have happy memories from that day, as well. It was a very special occasion."

That she bombed out in her competitive homecoming, losing to the 113th-ranked player in her first match at the Montreal hard-court event, didn't especially faze her, Bouchard said. It was, after all, the eighth time in 14 non-Slam tournaments that she didn't get past her first match. But on the biggest stages, she has proven to be legit.

"In terms of the lead-up to a Slam," she said, "I got asked about it a few times, and I looked back on my year . . . and I performed well in every one of the Slams. I don't think there is a magic recipe that, if I get to the quarters of a [tour] event, I'll do well at the Slam."

And don't worry, Canada. Bouchard acknowledged being a hockey fan.

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