• Wimbledon

Don't demean Bouchard by calling her new Sharapova

Mark Hodgkinson
July 4, 2014
Eugenie Bouchard could win £1.76m if she becomes Wimbledon champion © Getty Images

Could Genie Inc soon eclipse Maria Inc? Be in no doubt; if Eugenie Bouchard were to win Saturday's Wimbledon final, it would launch the 20-year-old Canadian into the tennis stratosphere.

A golden decade has seen Maria Sharapova amassing wealth that, in her own words, is going to "feed my great-grandchildren". For every one of the past 10 years - the money started gushing from her strings the day that she won Wimbledon at 17 - Sharapova has been judged by Forbes magazine to be the world's highest-earning female athlete. But could Sharapova's status at the top of the money-list soon be under threat? Within a year or two, could Bouchard move past Sharapova?

Genie's Army, like opera fans throwing flowers on to the stage, fling teddy bears

The prize-money on offer here - she and Petra Kvitova will be playing for a cheque of £1.76 million, as well as for the Venus Rosewater Dish - could just be the start of it for Bouchard, who is known as Genie. Even before Wimbledon, Bouchard was attracting the interest of the corporate world - her preparations for this tournament included the announcement of an endorsement deal with Coca-Cola. That was a reward for her results at the first two majors of the year; she reached her first grand slam semi-final at the Australian Open and also made the last four at Roland Garros. But it's Wimbledon, much more than the other slams, that can make you in this world.

Forbes estimated that Sharapova earned £17m last year, of which £13.5m came from off-court deals, and that money can all be traced back to Centre Court. Sharapova's agent, Max Eisenbud, summed it up the other day when the player's commercial machine was in full swing. While talking to Newsweek at Sharapova's Candy Lounge in Wimbledon Village, a pop-up store to promote her Sugarpova confectionary range, he said: "Everything she has is because of that win at Wimbledon."

But don't let's imagine that Bouchard, the junior Wimbledon champion two years ago, and playing in only her sixth senior grand slam tournament, is money-obsessed. Because she isn't. The first Canadian to appear in a grand slam singles final, she is motivated by the prize of winning a tournament that she has dreamt of conquering ever since she saw a teenage Sharapova holding up the Dish. "It just looked so special and amazing," she said. "I just thought I would like to do the same."

Maria Sharapova earned £17m last year © PA Photos

Aggression has been key to Bouchard's success on these lawns - whenever possible, she likes to step inside the baseline and take a hearty swing - but the most impressive part of her game has been her mental fortitude. As Chris Evert, a former Wimbledon champion who was known in her time as the Ice Queen of the courts, told ESPN, there's a "fearlessness" about Bouchard. That's something that Bouchard and Sharapova have in common.

Coached by American Nick Saviano, Bouchard is going to need to be at her best to cope with Kvitova, a left-handed Czech, who has a ferocious serve, and who defeated Sharapova in the 2011 final. Their only previous meeting was on a hard court in Canada last year, a match Kvitova won in straight sets.

But Bouchard, a quick learner, has come a long way since then - that match in Canada predated the creation of her hardcore fan club, who call themselves Genie's Army and who, a bit like opera fans throwing flowers on to the stage, fling teddy bears.

This fortnight, Bouchard has appeared at a press conference in a red kimono that was given to her by a Japanese television network. And she has expressed mock surprise at suggestions that her fellow Canadian, Justin Bieber, isn't necessarily the sort of character that Wimbledon would want in their Royal Box.

She has also been "calling out" anyone who makes "lame jokes" in her company. Back when she and Britain's Laura Robson were close, they made a Gangnam Style video on the tour. Still, for all those light moments away from the courts, she's a young woman transformed on the grass; there's a supreme confidence about her. No, she isn't surprised to be playing in her first slam final, but that's not because a player named after a British princess has a sense of entitlement. It's because she feels she is been rewarded for her years of hard work.

It's not difficult to draw comparisons between Bouchard and Sharapova. But it has been reassuring to hear Bouchard talking in much the same way that Sharapova once did when the Russian first appeared on the scene and everyone was likening her to Anna Kournikova. "I'm not the new anyone," she has said. "I'm the first me, and I want to make my own history."

Comparisons are fine. They're also inevitable. But don't demean Bouchard by calling her the new Sharapova. Let's please ditch this idea that women's tennis somehow has a dynasty of blondes; as if one generation passes the Golden Ponytail to the next.

Eugenie Bouchard has become the centre of attention at Wimbledon © Getty Images

Mark Hodgkinson is the author of Lendl: The Man Who Made Andy Murray. Hodgkinson is writing daily pieces for ESPN during Wimbledon.

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