Family Circle Cup's young final four: Bouchard vs Petkovic, Cepelova vs. Bencic
When it comes to busted brackets, March Madness has nothing on the April angst at the Family Circle Cup this week.
World No. 1 Serena Williams, who's won here three times, was out of the bracket faster than Coach K could find Mercer on a map.
And with I-526 off of Daniel Island clogged with former FCC champs - 2007 winner Jelena Jankovic, who lost Friday, was the last survivor of six ex-champions - the Family Circle Cup final four is stocked with start-ups, not brand names.
No. 6 seed Eugenie Bouchard is the only one of the top 13 seeds to make Saturday's semifinals, and the final four - also including 17-year-old qualifier Belinda Bencic, No. 14 seed Andrea Petkovic and unseeded Jana Cepelova - have combined to win all of two WTA Tour singles titles, both by Petkovic.
That's only 57 behind Serena.
But what this final four does have is Cinderella stories. Three of the four semifinalists are 20 or younger, the first time that's happened on the WTA Tour since 2008.
Bouchard, who knocked off No. 2 seed Jankovic by 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, in Friday's quarterfinals, was a Family Circle Cup qualifier ranked outside the top 100 at this time last year. Now, at age 20, she's one of the WTA's fastest rising stars.
Her semifinal foe, the German Petkovic, was ranked No. 9 in the world three years ago before a series of injuries almost knocked her out of the top 200. At 26, she's fought her way to back to a ranking of No. 40 and is the grand old lady of the semifinals after a 6-3, 1-6, 6-1 win over No. 9 seed Lucie Safarova.
Serena-killer Cepelova, who upset the world's top player on Tuesday night, is a 20-year-old from Slovakia who is ranked No. 78. She beat No. 12 seed Daniela Hantuchova, 6-2, 6-1, on Friday night to continue the best week of her pro career.
"It really gave me a lot of match confidence," Cepelova said of her win over Serena, "for every match here."
And the best of these stories might belong to Bencic, Cepelova's semifinal foe and a Swiss prodigy ranked No. 140 in the world. She had to win two qualifying matches last weekend just to make the Family Circle Cup main draw. Bencic, who just turned 17 on March 10, benefited from a third-set meltdown by No. 3 seed Sara Errani on Friday night, winning by 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, to make her first WTA Tour semifinal.
Bencic smiled broadly when told that she would also crack the top 100 after beating three top 35 players to become the first FCC qualifier to make the semis.
"That's right, I make the top 100," said Bencic. "The top 100 is a goal for a lot of players, and to make the semifinals, that makes me very happy."
ESPN, televising the week's events, has been happy with the emergence of Bouchard, a blond Canadian ranked No. 20 in the world. She got the TV time slot in Friday's quarterfinals for her win over the No. 2 seed Jankovic, and will again Saturday for the 1 p.m. semi against Petkovic.
A Family Circle Cup title would be Bouchard's first on the WTA Tour and confirm her status as a marketable star. Her three-set win over Venus Williams on Thursday gives her two wins over former FCC champs this week.
"Every time I got into a tournament now and every match, I always believe I can win," said Bouchard, who made the semifinals at the Australian Open earlier this year. "So I walk on the court believing fully that I can win."
Friday's win over the eighth-ranked Jankovic was her second over a top 10 player this year, and Bouchard was pleased with her aggressiveness.
"She won't give you that many free points," Bouchard said. "So it was important to really take it to her. And when I won points and games, I think I did that best."
Bouchard has lost twice to Petkovic, both times on hard courts.
"I love watching (Bouchard) play because I really love that she's stepping in so much and being so aggressive," said the 26-year-old Petkovic, whose father, Zoran Petkovic, played college tennis at South Carolina. "I love to see that in a young player."
FAMILY CIRCLE CUP QUARTERFINALS
No. 14 Andrea Petkovic def. No. 9 Lucie Safarova, 6-3, 1-6, 6-1
No. 6 Eugenie Bouchard def. No. 2 Jelena Jankovic, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3
Belinda Bencic def. No. 3 Sara Errani, 4-6, 6-2, 6-1
Jana Cepelova def. No. 12 Daniela Hantuchova, 6-2, 6-1
Andrea Petkovic vs. Eugenie Bouchard
Jana Cepelova vs. Belinda Bencic