January 24, 2014

Montreal's Genie on the courts

In a land where raquettes de neige (snowshoes) are more popular than raquets (tennis), a young Canadian with classic California surfer girl looks is turning heads on the court.

Montreal’s Genie B. is the wonder Down Under. 

Though she finally lost yesterday to the experienced and lethal fourth-ranked Li Na of China in the semi-final of the Australian Open, the teenager from Montreal’s leafy Westmount borough has already made tennis history for her country.

It’s odd that Bouchard, who turns 20 next month, should be setting the tennis world on fire in a sport played mostly in temperate if not sweltering conditions at a time when Canada is pumping up its cold-weather champions in the lead-up to the Olympics.

In the past two weeks, for example, news reports of the announcement of various ski teams going to Sochi (including Montreal’s three Dufour-Lapointe sisters in freestyle) were interspersed with Genie Bouchard’s latest triumph as she advanced up the ranks in Melbourne.

She’s the first Canadian — male or female — to make it to the final four of the Australian Open and the second Canadian ever to play the semis in any of the four Grand Slam tournaments. The last was “Darling” Carling Bassett, who lost to Chris Everett in the 1984 U.S. Open.

That Canada historically has been a minor to insignificant presence on the international tennis scene should come as no surprise. This is a country where outdoor tennis can be played without fear of frostbite or snow squalls only about five months of the year.

Until recent years, young players with demonstrable talent needed to be bankrolled by family and sponsors to be able to move to places like Florida to train and then travel to tournaments to get experience in competition. The results were decidedly mixed on the international level.

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