NEW YORK – Eugenie Bouchard will be keeping her mind off the draw and concentrating on Monday opponent Ekaterina Makarova as the Canadian aims to extend her run into the second week of the U.S. Open.
The 20-year-old Wimbledon finalist, from Westmount, Que., was forced into a fight back, which she handled with precision and calm, to beat Czech Barbora Zahlavova Strycova 6-2, 6-7 (2), 6-4 in the third round on Saturday night.
Now the seventh-seeded Bouchard is only one of three top-eight seeds still alive after an upset-filled opening week at Flushing Meadows. But the others: former U.S. Open champions Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova.
Keeping track of stats, however, is not on Bouchard’s agenda.
“I try not to pay too much attention to the draw, I didn’t even know my opponent. . . until (television interviewer) Rennae (Stubbs) told me on court. I really generally don’t look at that,” said Bouchard. “There are so many good players, it just shows even if you’re a top-eight seed or a top-four seed, you’re not guaranteed to make your seed. Every match is just so, so tough.
“I’m happy I’m able to battle through these tough early rounds because you can’t take anything for granted really,” the 20-year-old added.
Men’s fifth seed Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., has also advanced, and will face a stiff test against Japan’s tenth seed Kei Nishikori, who beat him for the Tokyo title in 2012 and in Madrid last May. Raonic took revenge with a Wimbledon win this summer.
Makarova, ranked 18th, won her only previous match with Bouchard, last August in Washington. But if Bouchard — the only woman this season to reach the final four of the three previous majors — plays her best, her Russian opponent might find it difficult to advance into a fifth career quarter-final at a major.
“I know she plays really well, she’s played well this year,” Bouchard said. “It’s always tricky playing a lefty, so I’m going to get my 60-year-old (lefty) coach to serve to me. Hopefully that will prepare me a little bit.
“But I’m going to try to do better,” she added. “When I’m ahead, I’m going to keep going, keep pushing, really try to impose my game — but at the same time, stay consistent. So I’m going to work on that in practice. I just want to do better in my next match really.”
After winning in a fight back in her previous two matches, Bouchard hopes to drop the drama quotient.
“I don’t have to go for crazy shots all the time, I don’t always have to do an amazing winner. I wanted to go for it a little too much,” she said. “It’s about finding the right balance because I definitely want to try to go for it a lot.”
Bouchard has heard the roar of the New York crowd in her ears for her past two sessions, drawing highlight matches in the vast Arthur Ashe Stadium. It’s an environment in which she seems to be getting more comfortable.
“It’s a huge stadium, biggest in the world, with amazing hardcore tennis fans that really get into it. It’s a different experience,” said the Canadian. “It’s something you kind of have to get used to.
“I try to block it out between points and stay focused on what I have to do, but still try to use the energy a little bit the right way. It’s definitely kind of a learning experience. I’ve had two night matches in a row so I feel like I’m getting the hang of it a little.”
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Raonic would reach the Flushing Meadows fourth round for the third consecutive year if he beats Nishikori. The Wimbledon semifinalist remains tight-lipped about his tennis strategies, but knows that he faces a battle with Nishikori.
“It’s good to put myself in the fourth round and in a position to go further in this tournament and give myself an opportunity to play better. I believe I can play better and I believe I will,” said the 23-year-old. “I have got to focus on myself. I’ve got to clean up a few things. I’ve got to put out a certain level if I want to have opportunities, create opportunities.
“Hopefully when those opportunities do arise, I can make the most of them.”
Raonic and Nishikori go back almost a decade to teenaged tennis in Florida.
“Kei’s biggest strength comes really in his movement, he’s able to take the ball early because of it,” Raonic said. “But at the same time he can defend well because of how well he moves. You have to find your way around that.”
© 2014 The Canadian Press