Last year, Genie Bouchard flew all the way to Tokyo only to miss the qualifying cutoff for the Pan Pacific Open by two spots. But after a year of steady results that boosted her into the top 50, Bouchard has taken full advantage of snagging the last spot in this week’s main draw.
In her Tokyo debut, the 19-year-old Canadian has notched three quality wins. She beat fellow teenager Monica Puig 6-0, 6-4; she came back from a set and 3-5 down to defeat No. 13 Sloane Stephens 5-7, 7-6 (7), 6-3; and she played her most solid match of the week in eliminating former No. 1 Jelena Jankovic 7-5, 6-2 to advance to her fourth quarterfinal of the year. Bouchard, ranked 46th, will play Venus Williams on Thursday. (Update: Bouchard lost in three sets.)
Those last two victories give her four total against top-20 players this year — one more than Stephens and another highly touted youngster, 19-year-old Laura Robson — and position her for a rankings milestone. On Monday, Bouchard will make her top-40 debut (she’s projected to be around No. 35) and supplant her best friend, No. 38 Robson, a first-round loser in Tokyo, as the highest-ranked teenager.
SI.com spoke with Bouchard recently about her smooth transition from juniors, the first thing she’d change about tennis, her active imagination and — because she’s a proud Canadian — Justin Bieber.
SI.com: When did you first realize you were good at tennis?
Bouchard: I don’t think I’ve come to that point yet [laughing]. Whatever I’ve done so far is definitely just part of the journey and I’m far from where I want to be. So, not yet.
SI.com: But it’s your first full season on the WTA Tour. Have you come to the point where you feel like you belong in the locker room?
Bouchard: I feel like this is now my job. This is what I do.
SI.com: Can you point to a match you played that convinced you that you could cut it on the big tour?
Bouchard: Winning junior Wimbledon in 2012 gave me a lot of confidence. And I was able to transition to the pros pretty well last year. In the summer [of 2012], I had a few good results. I made the quarters of Washington, D.C., last year; I won a round in Montreal.
SI.com: Kind of a different question here. Everyone dreams. I mean that literally, not figuratively. Do you remember your dreams when you wake up?
Bouchard: I remember them! I have very vivid dreams and often — this happens to me at least a few times a week — I don’t know if something happened in real life or in a dream. I’m like, “Mom, did this neighbor come over or was it a dream?” And she’s like, “No, what are you talking about?” [I say,] “Oh, my God. OK, I was dreaming. Never mind.”
SI.com: That’s a trip.
Bouchard: It’s like free entertainment all night long, you know? It’s like these different movies that just play in my head. It’s actually pretty interesting. Some people aren’t like that, I think.
SI.com: Well, now I have to ask you to describe the last dream you remember.
Bouchard: Most of them have to do with tennis and tournaments. Because that’s what I do all day and at night that’s all I dream about. Yeah, crazy stuff. I don’t really think dreams have real meaning. Some people believe in that. I just think it’s your brain, after a day of crazy random pieces of information jumbled together, creating interesting stories. I just view it as entertainment.
SI.com: Have you ever dreamed of winning a Slam?
Bouchard: Actually dreaming of it? I think I have, yeah.
SI.com: Which Slam?
Bouchard: I think it was Wimbledon. Like, pro Wimbledon.
SI.com: Switching gears a bit: If you were tennis commissioner, what’s the first thing you’d change?
Bouchard: I would say letting fans in and out [of matches] whenever they want and letting them be louder. Fans in other sports can be more crazy. I know [tennis] fans have trouble with the fact that they can only go in after two games and have to be very quiet. It would be more fun for the fans if it was a little more crazy.
SI.com: Canadian tennis seemed to turn a corner this summer when the tours hit Montreal and Toronto for the Rogers Cup, plus the Davis Cup success. Did you experience any weird fan interactions now that your face is plastered all over the place?
Bouchard: There’s always [autographing] some arms, some faces. I said “no” to a few marriage proposals [laughing]. So it’s all good.
SI.com: In what part of the world have you experienced the worst case of culture shock?
Bouchard: I would have to say Asia last year. It was the first time I had been to Asia. I went to Tokyo, Beijing and Osaka. That was a different world.
SI.com: Those are three very different Asian cities, too.
Bouchard: Exactly! I felt like Osaka was such a cute little town, but it was so different. I feel lucky to get to see all these different places, but it’s definitely nice to go back to normal situations at home.
SI.com: What’s hard for you? Is it the language or the culture?
Bouchard: It’s a bit of both. Like in Beijing, you’re walking down the streets and there are people everywhere and it’s loud and crazy and it’s like, “Wow, this is not like Canada,” you know? This is different! Obviously, [Robson and I] were filming our video there, so we looked a bit weird as well, but people would just openly stare and it’s like, “Oh, can I just get a picture of you?” and things like that. I don’t know, it was just loud and we didn’t understand anything. So different, but so interesting.
SI.com: Do you prefer the hectic, high-energy tournaments or the quieter ones?
Bouchard: I like the hectic ones, but I’m happy there’s a limited amount of them. The Slams and the big combined [ATP and WTA] tournaments are hectic, and then I go somewhere like Strasbourg [France], where it’s only women and it’s a cute, small town, and I love that too. A balance of both is good.
SI.com: If you could replay any match, which one would it be?
Bouchard: Third round of Wimbledon this year. I beat Ana Ivanovic in the second round, and then I lost to Carla Suarez Navarro. I had a few chances in the first set. I lost 7-5, but I had 0-40 at 5-all. [Suarez Navarro won 7-5, 6-2.] After they lose, I think all tennis players go back to a specific part of the match where they wish they had done something different.
SI.com: Does that match stand out because it felt like an opportunity lost? That section of the draw broke open after Victoria Azarenka withdrew before her second-round match.
Bouchard: Yeah, for sure. It’s always disappointing to lose, but that was the furthest I had gotten at a Grand Slam and I wanted to do better.
SI.com: Is it difficult for you to balance your ambition and youth? You’re only 19. Theoretically, you still have at least 40 Slams left in your career.
Bouchard: Forty Slams? That makes me more relaxed! Forty Slams. What am I worried about [laughs]?
SI.com: I see young players like you beating themselves up over poor results and I can’t help but think how young you are. Your entire career is still in front of you.
Bouchard: I don’t feel young. I turned 19 this year and I freaked out [laughs]. I was like, “Nineteen is so close to 20, 20 is so close to 21. And once you’re 21, what else is there to look forward to?”
SI.com: What do you tell yourself to keep perspective on your career?
Bouchard: Look at the big picture and down the road. I want to do as well as I can as soon as I can, but it also takes patience and time and experience. Obviously, the game is getting older. The more experienced players are doing better now than they were in the past. Maria Sharapova winning Wimbledon at 17, I don’t think that’s ever going to happen again. It’s a different game now. I need to stay focused and work on my game and it will come.
SI.com: How do you keep that perspective, though? Do you compare yourself to your peers and measure your results against theirs so that you know if you’re on track or falling behind?
Bouchard: I’d say family and coaches keep me grounded. I don’t really want to compare myself to other girls because it’s not really about them. I just want to think about myself and I just want to be as good as I can be regardless of how anyone else does.
SI.com: What’s your favorite restaurant? And please don’t say Chipotle.
Bouchard: I will not say Chipotle. I remember going to Nobu in Australia for [Robson's] birthday party. We had cod and it was unbelievable. So I’ll go with that.
SI.com: I have a feeling I know the answer to this one, but when you’re at a tournament, who’s the first player you call if you need a dinner companion?
Bouchard: Well, if Laura’s there, for sure, we always go to dinner together. We don’t even have to text. It’s just like, “Meet you there.” It’s not even like, “Do you want to eat?”
SI.com: Name a celebrity you want to meet.
Bouchard: [Long pause] So many thoughts just flooded my mind [laughs]. There are too many to choose from. I used to be obsessed with the Jonas brothers …
SI.com: I recall that. Used to? Or still?
Bouchard: Well, that’s the thing. I don’t know if I’ve moved on from that. I’m going to go with Justin Bieber. He gets so much hate, but I like some of his songs. And I respect him because he came from nothing and he became this mega-superstar and he does have talent. I don’t know if you’ve seen his movie …
SI.com: I regret to inform you that I have not.
Bouchard: Honestly, people who didn’t really like him actually were amazed at the movie. You see videos of him playing drums when he was 2 years old, and how he really became what he is. He played guitar outside of Starbucks, just trying to play and make money, and he put videos on YouTube and then finally became something. And he’s Canadian, so I support him.
SI.com: Are you keeping up with some of his more controversial headlines these days?
Bouchard: Well, I hear about it in the news. I don’t have to go looking for it. Everyone kind of knows. I can just imagine how tough it is for him to keep his feet on the ground. But, yeah, obviously he’s being a little teenager gone wild.
SI.com: What’s the most embarrassing song on your iPod?
Bouchard: I have a lot of those. [Long pause] Is Justin Bieber embarrassing?
SI.com: Do you really want me to answer that?