Eugenie Bouchard's mission to climb back up the WTA rankings almost took a giant step forward today before she was narrowly defeated in a tight contest in the UAE.

Reigning French Open champion and World No. 2 Simona Halep was made to work against the player who sits 77 places below her on the rankings board, claiming a hard-fought 7-6 (7-4) 6-4 win at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

Bouchard can take heart from the loss, knowing she pushed a grand slam winner to her limits as she aims to reinvent herself as a genuine threat to the best in the world after years in tennis limbo.

Halep certainly knows the Canadian is no easy-beat.


"Bouchard played well," Halep told reporters after the match. "The level was pretty good. I served very well. At some points I really ran very well. I'm confident. I feel good on court even if I'm tired.

"It's always a tough one against (Bouchard) because she stays close to the baseline and takes the ball very fast.

"I tried just to push her back as much as possible. After, when I had the chance, I was aggressive and I finished the points."

Halep won the Dubai event in 2015 but that didn't help her win all the crowd support. According to WTA expert Courtney Nguyen, one boisterous Bouchard fan asked for her hand in marriage during the first set tiebreak, prompting a stern stare from her Romanian opponent.

Speaking after the match, Halep said she could hear everything going on in the stands, so she was never going to miss that romantic proposal.

"I hear everything, every word," Halep said. "Someone said they were going to miss the plane tonight and I have to finish faster.

"I don't know if it's positive for me during the match, but I took it. I lost the game, but then I won (the match)."

Bouchard is no stranger to feeling the love from her fans, and it was no different during her first round win over Vera Lapko.

Ahead of her clash with Halep, Bouchard was fully aware of the challenge that awaited her against the former World No. 1, who lost her crown to Naomi Osaka after the Japanese star's recent Australian Open triumph.

Despite not standing taller than 1.7m, Bouchard described Halep as an "aggressive wall" who was no physical pushover, even with her small stature.

"Have you seen the size of her legs?" Bouchard told The National before their second round clash. "It's not just about height. She's got lots of great things.

"I remember watching the French Open final this past year and I was inspired by that because she can get to every ball and also do something with it.

"And sometimes I think when she's pulled wide, she almost hits better shots. That's something I noticed playing against her from experience."

Halep's class won out but Bouchard is on the right track after a horrible couple of years saw her ranking tank. In 2014 she was the hottest young prospect in women's tennis, making the semi-finals of the Australian Open and French Open and going on a stunning run into the Wimbledon final.

But the past 18 months saw her suffer a dramatic fall from grace. The lowest point came in June, when Bouchard was close to slipping out of the top 200.

However, recent signs suggest the 24-year-old is finding her groove again. At the ASB Classic in Auckland in December, she progressed to the quarter-finals before being beaten in a three set thriller by second seed Julia Goerges.

That came on the back of an impressive last showing of 2018 when she again lost to Goerges, this time in the final of a tournament in Luxembourg.

Bouchard was overpowered by Serena Williams in the second round of last month's Australian Open but showed glimpses of her best tennis to make the quarters at Newport Beach in the States later in January.