WTA Indian Wells: Eugenie Bouchard Fights Off The Challenge Of Sloane Stephens

Eugenie Bouchard continued her winning ways in the Californian desert on Saturday evening, fighting her way past 21st seed Sloane Stephens 7-5, 7-5 to book her place in the third round of the 2016 BNP Paribas Open. The unseeded Canadian will now face 12th seed Timea Bacsinszky, who defeated Tsvetana Pironkova earlier in the day, for a spot in the last 16.

Bouchard Comes from A Break Down Twice to Take First Set

If the early exchanges were any indication of how this match would play out, this match would be won and lost with first strike tennis, something both women do so well on a consistent basis. Having known each other for more than a decade when they first trained at Nick Saviano’s tennis academy, both players were well aware of the dangers the other presented, which made for some delightful exchanges from the back of the court.

After exchanging holds to begin the match, it was Stephens who made the first move, breaking at the first time of asking to go up 2-1. That single break of serve seemed to set off a string of breaks, as the receiver went on to win the next three games of the set to draw parity at 3-all. However, it was Bouchard who was able to stop the rot and come up with the goods from the service line in the following game to hold for 4-3. Not to be outdone, Stephens finally began to find her rhythm on her own serve, something that had seemingly abandoned her when she found herself up a break twice on her Canadian counterpart. From there, the match went with serve until the 12th game, where Bouchard's persistence eventually paid off. Leading 6-5, the Canadian benefited from a couple of uncharacteristic miscues from the American, before converting her third set point with an emphatic forehand return winner to take the first set 7-5.

Bouchard Saves Five Set Points; Wins in Straight Sets

Eugenie Bouchard | Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images North America
Eugenie Bouchard | Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images North America

With the momentum swinging firmly back in Bouchard's favour, the Canadian continued to take the initiative and move Stephens from side-to-side, never really letting the American settle into any rhythm after the opening set. As a result, the former Wimbledon finalist opened proceedings in the second set with a hold and a break of serve to jump to an early 2-0. However, once there, Bouchard cracked under the pressure, double faulting away a disastrous game to give Stephens a small lifeline back into this match, which the world number 22 then took to regain parity at 2-all with an impressive hold. From there, the set went with serve until the ninth game, where a couple of untimely unforced errors from Bouchard handed Stephens the break and a chance to serve for it at 5-4.

Despite having a word with new coach Thomas Högstedt, an exasperated Bouchard hit a trio of unforced errors in the following game to hand Stephens three set points. Unfortunately for the American, she was unable to convert any of those opportunities, and began to feel the pressure on her serve and ground strokes. For the rest of the game, both women traded blows from the back of the court before Stephens managed to earn herself two more set points -- though she was unable to take any of them due to costly forehand unforced errors. Eventually, those five missed opportunities to close out the set came back to haunt the American, as Bouchard broke at the second bite of the cherry to draw level at 5-all.

With a big shift in momentum coming in the last game, Bouchard was now riding a wave of positivity, something that had dissipated when she got broken at 4-all. Just moments after breaking back, the unseeded Canadian backed it up with an impressive hold at love, thus forcing the 21st seed to serve to stay in the match, trailing 5-6.

Unfortunately for Stephens, it was a case of déjà-vu as her powerful serve and ground strokes faltered under the pressure of serving to stay in the set once more; a trio of unforced errors handing Bouchard a hard-fought 7-5, 7-5 victory in an hour and 41 minutes.

Eugenie Bouchard and Sloane Stephens shake hands after their second round clash. | Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images North America
Eugenie Bouchard and Sloane Stephens shake hands after their second round clash at the 2016 BNP Paribas Open. | Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images North America

"It was very, very close. I got lucky with a netcord," Bouchard said, referring to a netcord that gave a break point while trailing 4-5 in the second set. "I just kept trying to fight and kept trying to step in a bit and dictate the point. That works well for me -- I try to do that a lot."

"I just had so much fun playing tonight. Sloane played a great match."

Next up for Bouchard is 12th seed Timea Bacsinszky, whom she has never met before on the WTA.