The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Meet the 'Genie Army': a dozen Aussies devoted to Canada's Eugenie Bouchard

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MONTREAL - They've composed chants just for Canadian tennis player Eugenie Bouchard, roared for her until they went hoarse, and toasted her wins by fudging their way through "O Canada."

Meet the "Genie Army" — a dozen boisterous Aussies who, despite boasting zero connection to Canada, have become Bouchard's unofficial cheerleaders at the Australian Open.

Members of the weeks-old squad have jumped, danced and serenaded their way into an unmistakable grandstand presence during the Montreal teen's impressive run at the event, where she has earned a semifinal spot Thursday.

The devotees, mostly men in their 20s, have also fashioned red-and-white T-shirts that spell out Bouchard's name, flapped banners for her during matches, and lobbed plush animals — each of them native to Australia — to her on the court following each of her victories.

Though they have had little face-to-face interaction with Bouchard, they have certainly commanded her attention in Melbourne.

"The crowd here has been amazing, especially the Genie Army," Bouchard, 19, said Tuesday during an on-court interview after beating Ana Ivanovic.

She then pointed up to her noisy, personal cheering section.

"I've had so much fun. Thank you guys."

The inspiration behind a brigade dedicated to Bouchard came after a bunch of Australian buddies watched her upset Ivanovic last year at Wimbledon, said one of the Army members.

In December, as the Australian Open approached, Jacob Wright said the crew decided to become her own booster club, so they started making shirts and penning Bouchard chants.

The Genie Army was born.

"She's just a great tennis player," Wright, 20, told The Canadian Press in a Skype interview from Melbourne.

"Obviously, she's a good-looking girl as well, and we're young guys, but she is a really good tennis player. It's really, really good fun to watch."

Their movement has had nothing to do with patriotism, either. When asked whether any of them had a connection to Canada, he replied: "None of us."

Wright said they caught Bouchard's attention during her first-round match, which was held on a more-intimate court that brings fans closer to the players.

Six of them showed up for the event and were lucky enough to have their photos taken with Bouchard, get her autograph, and exchange a few words with their favourite player after the victory.

The Genie Army nation was thrilled, Wright added, when Bouchard later told an interviewer she hoped they would show up for her next match.

They haven't missed one since — and their ranks have doubled to about 12.

Wright said it has been a bit of a give-and-take relationship, with Bouchard thanking her believers in interviews and by making gestures, such as posting a couple of photos of them on her Twitter feed.

The connection likely hit its only bumpy patch on Tuesday when she was asked in a post-match interview about who she would like to date, if she could choose anyone in the world. An embarrassed Bouchard, who appeared to be taken off guard by the question, blurted out the name of Canadian pop star Justin Bieber.

In TV footage, members of the Genie Army were shown waving off her choice.

They remain committed, however, to backing Bouchard for the long haul, even if they initially didn't expect it to last.

Wright admitted they never predicted Bouchard, the tournament's 30th seed, would advance to the semifinal, but they've enjoyed the longer-than-expected ride. Bouchard, in fact, became the first Canadian to reach a Grand Slam semifinal in 30 years.

"My voice doesn't usually sound like this, I'm pretty husky from a week of just full-on yelling as loud as I can," said Wright, who was wearing a white T-shirt with a red Maple Leaf and a Bouchard autograph.

"But yeah, we've just been yelling, chanting — and overall the response from the crowd's been really good."

He said group members have also been surprised by the notoriety they've amassed throughout the tournament, growing so big that they have been interviewed by media outlets and have frequently been asked to pose for photos with other fans.

"We'll be standing there for 20 minutes or something (after matches)," said Wright, whose group has an online presence on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, where #GenieArmy was trending after Tuesday's win.

"It's getting really full of fun."

But their primary mission has not changed since Day 1: support Bouchard.

During her matches, the crew can be heard belting out custom chants from the bleachers, including a fight song usually reserved for when she first steps onto the hardcourt.

"We are the Army, the Genie Army, and we are mental, and we are mad," a clapping Wright chanted as he began a demonstration of the mantra.

The gang has even sung the Canadian national anthem, though Wright admits only a couple of them know the words.

The first time they attempted "O Canada," he said they received some welcome help from Canadian fans in the crowd.

"We started it off, but then we had a lot of Canadians around us, so they sort of finished it off for us," Wright said.

"It wasn't a very good rendition."

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