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Preview: Bouchard set for semi-final clash at Australian Open

Eugenie Bouchard and Li Na

Associated Press

Four players remain in the women's singles draw at the Australian Open, and Canada's 19-year-old Eugenie Bouchard – the tournament's No. 30 seed – is one of them. When she takes the court in Melbourne at 9:30 p.m. ET, she will be the first Canadian singles player in 30 years to appear in a Grand Slam semi-final. Here is what you need to know:

About her semi-final opponent

Tonight, Bouchard faces China's Li Na, the 4th-ranked player in the world and a former French Open champion. One of the most popular and high-earning female athletes on the planet, Li has long been a crowd favourite in Australia - an event often dubbed the ''the grand slam of the Asia-Pacific' - where she has reached the semis four times in the last five years, the finals in 2011 and 2013. In Melbourne this year, Li beat two 16-year-olds in the opening rounds, then No. 26 Lucie Safarova and No. 28 Flavia Pennetta. Bouchard has met the Chinese star just once before. Li, 12 years Bouchard's senior, easily handled the then-inexperienced teen back in 2012 at the Rogers Cup – a 6-4, 6-4 defeat in Montreal. Li brings huge television numbers -- almost 18 million Chinese television viewers tuned in to the 2011 Australian Open women's final, the highest-rated singles match by a broadcaster in any market. Last year's Open drew 349 million television viewers worldwide, more than half from Asia.

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How Bouchard got to this point

Several top-ranked women fell early in Bouchard's quarter of the bracket at this year's Australian Open – like Samantha Stosur (17), Sara Errani (7), and top-seeded superstar Serena Williams. So Bouchard's first four opponents were all unseeded. She began the tournament quietly out on Court 15, and her story has grown. She dropped just one set while beating Hao Chen Tang, Virginie Razzano, Lauren Davis and Casey Dellacqua. After those victories, it was onto the quarter-finals at Rod Laver Arena, where Bouchard battled from down a set to beat former World No. 1 Ana Ivanovic, 5-7, 7-5, 6-2, the woman who had just eliminated the 17-time Grand Slam champion Williams. ''She's brave. She's young. She has nothing to lose,'' said Ivanovic of Bouchard, after the match. ''I think she's a very great player with a bright future.''

Who are the four women left vying for the title?

With none of Tour's big three left in the tournament – Williams, Maria Sharapova nor Victoria Azarenka – there is room for someone to win her first Australian Open. Li is the oldest of the four remaining players and the only with a Grand Slam title under her belt. The other semi-final has Slovakia's 24-year-old Dominika Cibulkova, the No. 20 seed who has upset 16th-seeded Carla Suarez Navarro, No. 11 seed Simona Halep and third-seeded Sharapova so far in Melbourne. Her best result was the 2009 French Open semi. She faces No.5 Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, who stunned the reigning tournament champion Azarenka. She has often been called the best player on the WTA Tour to have not yet won a Grand Slam.

Why Bouchard's poise is noteworthy

Bouchard is playing in the main draw of the Australian Open for the first time. She lost out in qualifiers last year in Melbourne as she began her first full season on the senior WTA Tour. She had opened the 2013 season ranked 147th in the world, and ended it at No.32, winning the Tour's Newcomer of the Year award. She had never previously made it beyond the third round of a Slam. This is her first seeded appearance at a Major.

Why this is significant to Canadian tennis

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Earlier this week, Bouchard became the first Canadian since Patricia Hy-Boulais at the 1992 U.S. Open to play to a Grand Slam quarter-final. Tonight, she becomes only the second Canadian singles player ever to play in the semi-finals at a major, matching Carling Bassett-Seguso, who did so at the 1984 U.S Open.

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About the Author
Sports reporter

Based in Toronto, Rachel Brady writes on a number of sports for The Globe and Mail, including football, tennis and women's hockey. More

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