When Genie Bouchard made her comeback from her US Open concussion at events in Shenzhen (China), Hobart (Australia) and now the Australian Open at the beginning of this year, it was an intriguing unknown as to how well she would play.
Would she be the Bouchard who was in a funk and totally out of touch with her best level as she went 3-15 between March and August of last year? Or would she be closer to the Bouchard who reached No. 5 in the world in October 2014, and played an inspired match to beat tough Dominika Cibulkova in the third round at Flushing Meadows before that fateful fall in the locker room?
Despite a 6-4, 6-2 loss to No. 4 seed Agnieszka Radwanska in the second round of the Aussie Open on Wednesday evening in Rod Laver Arena, it’s obvious – on the spectrum of good Genie to bad Genie – she is way closer to good Genie and showing no signs of the bewilderment that marked her nightmare spring and summer of 2015.
“I think she’s playing better now than last season,” Radwanska said after the one-hour and 23-minute match. “It was a challenge for me to play someone like Eugenie in the second round. I was doing everything right today. That’s why I won in two sets – definitely not an easy draw.”
The first set started well for Bouchard when she broke serve with a perfect drop shot to take a 4-2 lead.
“I definitely felt in control in that moment and definitely let it slip away,” she said. “Against a great player like her you can’t ever back off or give her a chance to breathe because she took that and came right back into the match.”
She gave Radwanska some help with the immediate break back to 4-3 when she made a rash of backhand errors and then double-faulted way long on break point.
Gradually Radwanska tightened her game and Bouchard was able to only play well in patches, winning just two of the final 12 games.
“I felt at times my level was high but it’s just about having that consistency during the whole match,” Bouchard said. Her explanation for the uneven performance was simple, attributing it to “not playing tennis for a lot of months.
“It was the biggest match I’ve played in a while – and the toughest opponent by far since my quote “comeback” from injury. So it was my toughest test. I think I did okay. I really noticed that my heart rate was up probably more than it’s ever been – and for the longest time since I’ve come back.”
Expanding on that, she added, “it was physically tough for me. Longer rallies, she got a lot of balls back, the moment, the humidity, I was sweating a lot – all these factors that you can’t create in practice. The pressure, the emotions, it’s just getting used to all these things and adapting to it again. I’ve been used to that the past couple of years but not in recent months.”
There was a humorous moment when Radwanska broke back to 3-4 in the first set and the players sat down for the change-over. Taylor Swift’s “Shake it off” came over the Rod Laver p.a. and the Genie Army began repeatedly joining in loudly with the “shake it off” refrain as if to try to boost Bouchard after she had just lost serve.
Later in her media conference, regarding the main concern among tennis officials and her fans – her post-concussion health – Bouchard made an emphatic statement, “100 per cent, I don’t have any symptoms. If I had any symptoms, I wouldn’t be able to play. In terms of that, I evaluate day by day and tournament by tournament. But so far so good. That’s the most important thing.”
Although she had joked on Monday that she was sure she was going to draw the world No. 1 and top seed in the first round, getting No. 4 Radwanska was no piece of cake. “That’s the downside of not being seeded,” Bouchard said. “I just have to go back to grinding a little bit. But I’m happy to take this challenge and definitely do the best with it. It’s my goal to definitely be seeded at slams.”
“She was hitting the ball very good,” Radwanska said about Bouchard. “I was just more consistent. I think in a couple of months we’re going to see her going more deeper in the Grand Slams.”
Bouchard moved her ranking from No. 49 to No. 37 with her quarter-final in Shenzhen and then her runner-up finish in Hobart last week. But she has now lost a net 360 points from her 2015 quarter-final – 430 minus 70 (2016) – and will see her ranking drop to about the mid-50s.
About her future plans, Bouchard sounded a little vague except to say she will play an event in Kuala Lumpur in late February. “I’ll see what I’m doing immediately after Australia,” she said. “But later in the month (February) I’m going over there. I just want to play as much as possible.”
In her post-match media conference, one subject was not raised until a certain older gentleman tennis writer brought it up – namely her dress which has a noticeably high hemline.
“I have no idea how people reacted to it,” Bouchard smiled. “I don’t know what you guys think. It’s very light, which helps in this Australian heat.”
When one young woman asked if it was a shirt or a dress, Bouchard responded, “it’s a dress, it’s for 21-year-olds. I feel definitely free, like I can move very easily compared to my long skirt from here from two years ago. It’s a little bit of the opposite. I like it. That’s all I’m going to say.”
For anyone not remembering 2014 that dress, which she described as “fashiony” at the time, here it is.
Does Bouchard plan to wear the new dress again? “I think so,” she smiled, “I think I’ll continue wearing it.”
So the media conference ended on a light note, but earlier Bouchard had said something that will reassure all her fans: “The injury made me appreciate how much I love my job. So no matter what happens, if I lose every match, I’m still happy to be doing what I love.”
Milos Raonic will have to wait at least until his third round to get closer to the three main stadiums at Melbourne Park after being assigned to 3,000-seat Show Court Two for his second straight match at Melbourne Park.
Playing Thursday’s second match on after a women’s singles match that begins at 11 a.m. (7 p.m. EST Wednesday in Canada), Raonic takes on Tommy Robredo. He has a 5-0 head-to-head lead in the match-up and anyone who has watched their previous matches on hard courts – both in 2015 – knows that the 33-year-old Spaniard is not at all comfortable facing Raonic.
Robredo is playing his 15th Australian Open, with his best result coming in 2007 when he reached the semifinals.
If he is able to in any way replicate the impeccable form he showed against Lucas Pouille in his opening match on Monday, Raonic is an overwhelming favourite against the No. 43-ranked Robredo.
The weather for Thursday is partly cloudy and humid with a 20 per cent chance of rain and a high temperature of 27 degrees. That sounds like good conditions for the man with the orange sleeve.
The winner of the match will play whoever emerges from the Tim Smyczek of the U.S. versus No. 21 seed Viktor Troicki second-rounder. The Serb won last week’s ATP 250 event in Sydney, defeating Grigor Dimitrov in the final after saving a match point.
Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil won their opening round doubles matches on Wednesday.
Teaming up with Radek Stepanek for the second time after they played in Brisbane and lost in the first round, Nestor and the veteran Czech defeated the Taipei pairing of Cheng-Peng Hsieh and Tsung-Hua Yang by the score of 6-1, 7-5.
The only real hiccup came when Nestor served for the match at 5-4 in the second set and lost his serve on a double fault.
But he and Stepanek quickly broke back and finished off the 58-minute match.
Stepanek, who plays Stan Wawrinka in a second-round singles match on Thursday, had high praise for Nestor. “It’s an honour to play with one of the greatest of all time,” he said about Nestor. “Even at 37, there are things that I can still learn. If we’re able to combine our skills, I think we can be a good team.”
Nestor had the following to say about Stepanek, “he’s got great energy and he’s a great competitor and you kind of feed off that which is nice. He’s playing great and it’s always fun to play with someone who’s confident. He had a good start to the year in singles so he’s playing really well.”
Nestor, who won the 1,001th match of his stellar career on Wednesday on Court 19, added about Stepanek, “I never liked playing against him. We had our moments. He’s definitely one of those guys you like to be on the same side of the net with instead of the opposite side.”
After a lethargic start, Pospisil and Sock, seeded No. 9, came on strong to beat the new pairing of veterans Philipp Petzschner of Germany and Alexander Peya of Austria 1-6, 7-6(5), 7-6(5).
“After the first set, the second and third sets were at a very high level,” said Canadian Davis Cup captain Martin Laurendeau. “Vasek and Jack played well and moved well.”
Pospisil served for the match at 5-4 in the third set but was broken by some big returns by Petzschner and Peya. In the ultimate tiebreak, Pospisil and Sock were just a little more solid and now move on to play Robin Haase of the Netherlands and Fernando Verdasco of Spain.
In singles, Sock plays Lukas Rosol in a second round match on Thursday.
The other Canadian in action on day three was Gabriela Dabrowski, alongside her Polish partner Alicja Rosolska. Seeded No. 16, they were upset 6-1, 7-6(7) by the British tandem of Heather Watson and Johanna Konta.
Anyone who has visited Australia, or spoken to an Australian, knows there’s a different accent Down Under. One of the noticeable things is the pronunciation of the name of the country. This picture from Tuesday’s Herald Sun newspaper has a little fun with the way some Australians enunciate the name of their fair land.