ISTANBUL, Turkey - Qualifier Eugenie Bouchard soared into her first final in over four years at the TEB BNP Paribas Tennis Championships Istanbul with a resilient 6-3, 6-2 defeat of Paula Badosa in one hour and 25 minutes, saving six of seven break points along the way.
The result marks the former World No.5's sixth appearance in a WTA final, and first since Kuala Lumpur in 2016, after a bruising week which saw her win back-to-back marathons in the second round (over Svetlana Kuznetsova) and quarterfinals (over Danka Kovinic). In total, Bouchard has spent 12 hours and 26 minutes on court this week, including two qualifying matches - and will now have the chance to play for her second career title following Nurnberg 2014 against the unseeded World No.88 Patricia Maria Tig - who made it two mothers in two finals this weekend, joining Victoria Azarenka at the US Open, and who discussed her experiences afterwards.
For Bouchard, stamina is something she has been focusing on improving, she said. "During quarantine I was in the gym every single day working super hard," she told press. "It was tough, because I didn't have an end goal or a tournament to look forward to, but I decided to really focus on my fitness, because I think that's so important now in the game. It's something I've started doing a lot in the past year - I have days where I just work physically with a great trainer, so it's been one of my goals. And this week shows me that it's been worth it, and gives me the trust that I've done the right thing."
Breaking her finals drought was not Bouchard's foremost takeaway, though. "I came [into Istanbul] with goals of just how I wanted to do my job on court - physically, mentally, tactically," she stated. "I don't want it to compare it to other weeks where I've had great results. I'm specifically proud of how I handled myself every day, because I've had to play a match every day - it's kind of like playing the same amount of matches to get to the final of a Grand Slam, except in half the time."
Badosa had won the only previous clash between the pair 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 in the first round of the 2018 Contrexéville ITF W100, and picked up where she had left off then in a lightning start. Racing through the first eight points, the Spaniard's game was watertight as she moved Bouchard from corner to corner.
But double faults would be Badosa's Achilles heel, and when a pair of them invited Bouchard back into the match, the World No.272 needed no further encouragement. Reining in her own errors, Bouchard reeled off six of the next seven games: the Canadian found a first ace to seal a tight fifth game and captured the Badosa serve again in the eighth, pounding a succession of deep returns at her opponent's feet to elicit the error before the 2015 Roland Garros junior champion coughed up a third double fault down break point.
Bouchard, serving strongly and hitting her spots with aggressive groundstrokes, was able to prevent an attempted Badosa comeback thanks to superior clutch play in the second set. The World No.94, seeking to take the ball earlier and play more aggressively, would threaten the Bouchard serve in two marathon tussles - but would not be able to take advantage of any of the six break points she brought up.
In the fourth game, Bouchard twice found a service winner to avoid falling behind 1-3, and sent down another to eventually hold; having then seized the Badosa serve herself thanks to a scorching backhand pass and a pair of superb forehand winners, the 26-year-old's aggression saved the day on another four break points as she consolidated for 4-2.
"I was very focused," said Bouchard, mindful of the rollercoasters she had experienced in previous rounds. "I knew I couldn't let up even if I was ahead. I think she picked up her game in the second set - we had a couple long games and I knew it could be a battle at any moment, so I was trying to focus on each point individually. Happy I was able to pull away quite quickly at the end."
By now, Bouchard was in full flow, and she accelerated towards the finishing line as Badosa seemed to run out of ideas. The Auckland and Prague quarterfinalist slammed another couple of forehand winners en route to a love break, and three aces in the final game - including on match point - took her overall tally to five and sealed victory in style.
"I had a couple games in the second set where I had a bunch of break points against me, and my serve got me out trouble," she recalled afterwards. "Sometimes the first serve, sometimes even the second serve. Obviously that last game to serve it out with three aces gives me a lot of confidence. But there's a long way to go and I think I can make it better."
In the final, Bouchard will face an opponent she has never played before in Tig. "I don't know either of them," she admitted. "My coach is going to watch their match and give me some insights. I want to just leave everything on the court, play as well as I can play and give it my all because it's my last match in Istanbul. Leave it all out there, and what happens, happens."
Tig came through a fiery encounter to defeat qualifier Tereza Martincova 6-3, 6-3 and reach her third career final following Baku 2015 and Bucharest 2019. The Romanian was one of six mothers to win a round at the US Open last week, and her comeback from maternity leave last April will see her hit a new career high ranking next week. Afterwards, she discussed how daughter Sofia had been a help to her in Istanbul, where she has yet to drop a set.
Sofia, who will turn two in November, usually travels with her and husband Razvan Sabau, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic they did not take her to New York. "I missed her very, very much," she admitted. "But now we are all together here - me, my husband and my daughter. After the US Open I wished for Sofia to be here with us and I think she gave me such good energy - we are very happy being here. She gives us such great energy and she's such a lovely child - we are so fortunate to have her."
Tig - who always planned on returning to the sport after her maternity leave, is encouraged by the growing normalization of combining motherhood and professional sport. "There are many, many moms right now and I hope it'll be more in the next years," she said. "I think it's very satisfying that you can do not only one thing - not only taking care of your baby, but to do what your passion is. I hope we'll see other women deciding to have babies and still play. I am not only a different player but a different person. It gives you strength and only the best energy that you can take from your baby."
As for advice to any younger players thinking of taking this path? "I would advise them to be happy for what's happening in the moment, and to really appreciate the moment because time is flying so fast! Sofia is almost two years old and I really don't know where the time went. And then just to work hard - it's not easy to manage being a mother and also a player. You just have to have courage - and to believe in yourself and your family."