KIEV, UKRAINE: Eugenie Bouchard, the reigning Wimbledon junior champion, only turned 19 two months ago. But she won’t be lacking in responsibility when Canada meets Ukraine in this weekend’s Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group II play-off.
Without the injured Aleksandra Wozniak and now retired Rebecca Marino, a former top-40 player, Bouchard is captain Sylvain Bruneau’s No. 1 and will face a fellow teen, 18-year-old Elina Svitolina, to open proceedings Saturday on the indoor red clay of Kiev’s intimate Sport Club Meridian.
Lesia Tsurenko, the Ukrainian No. 1 who is five years older than Svitolina but hardly a veteran herself, then meets Sharon Fichman as both captains offered the expected, youthful singles lineups in Friday’s draw.
“I’m very comfortable with being Canada’s No. 1," Bouchard said. “It’s more motivating. I want to show what I can do as the No. 1 from Canada and show my teammates, and hopefully it’ll motivate them.”
Bouchard’s recent results on clay – traditionally not her most productive surface – suggest she’s getting comfortable on dirt, too.
She not only qualified for Charleston, a sizable tournament, but proceeded to reach the quarterfinals this month. One of her beaten foes along the way was former French Open finalist Samantha Stosur, who had to retire in the second set.
Canadian fans will be further heartened knowing that Bouchard won both her matches against Svitolina in their junior days and sports an impressive 5-1 record in Fed Cup, all on clay, while Svitolina is winless in three encounters.
And speaking of “three,” Ukraine is winless in its last three home series.
“Actually, I do well on clay,” Bouchard said. “Beating Stosur gave me confidence that I can play with these top players. It’s just about continuing that and showing the Ukrainians what I got.”
Yet don’t pencil in Bouchard for the victory yet. Svitolina has her own reasons to feel optimistic.
Svitolina, at No. 90, is ranked three places better than Bouchard and defeated the Montrealer just last month in Indian Wells qualifying.
Two of her three losses in Fed Cup came against a powerful US team led by Serena Williams, and Svitolina extended clay-court veteran Lourdes Dominguez Lino to an 8-6 third set in Spain in February. Coming out on the wrong head of that thriller hurt Svitolina, but she said she learned from the experience and is trying to become calmer on court.
She is, overall, a more experienced clay-court player than Bouchard and reached a semifinal in Colombia in February.
“I’m really happy they asked me to play this match,” Svitolina said. “I will try to show my best.”
Saturday’s second singles tussle might not be as clear cut as the gap in the rankings indicate.
Even though Tsurenko, at 71st, is more than 50 positions ahead of Fichman, her Canadian rival has spent a considerable amount of time on clay this season.
She triumphed at an ITF stop in the US and managed to land in the main draw in Bogota and Acapulco.
Tsurenko, ahead of their first head-to-head, has been impressed.
“I think she’s a very good player on clay courts,” Tsurenko said. “She plays very smart. She knows the placement for the balls.”
Still, Tsurenko’s breakthrough during the Australian summer, when she advanced to the semifinals in Brisbane – as a lucky loser – and third round at the Australian Open, means she’ll be fully expected to give Ukraine at least one win on the opening day.
Tsurenko credits her good form this year to switching coaches and becoming stronger physically.
Tsurenko’s Fed Cup resume includes downing Francesca Schiavone and Sara Errani on clay – in Italy – last year in the World Group quarterfinals.
Should the tie come down to the doubles decider following the reverse singles Sunday, Fichman is scheduled to contest a third match. She and Gabriela Dabrowski confront Yuliya Beygelzimer and Kateryna Kozlova.
The full draw is listed below:
R1: Elina Svitolina (UKR) v Eugenie Bouchard (CAN)
R2: Lesia Tsurenko (UKR) v Sharon Fichman (CAN)
R3: Lesia Tsurenko (UKR) v Eugenie Bouchard (CAN)
R4: Elina Svitolina (UKR) v Sharon Fichman (CAN)
R5: Yuliya Beygelzimer/Kateryna Kozlova (UKR) v Gabriela Dabrowski/Sharon Fichman (CAN)
Follow this tie as it happens: Live scores or Watch Live
Eugenie Bouchard (CAN) - 19/04/2013
Sylvain Bruneau (CAN) - 19/04/2013
Lesia Tsurenko (UKR) - 19/04/2013
Elina Svitolina (UKR) - 19/04/2013