Genie Bouchard has packed a lot of living into her 22 years – more specifically into the past four years since she won the Wimbledon junior title as an 18-year-old in 2012.
She raised a lot of expectations after her sensational 2014 season when she reached the semifinals of the Australian and French Opens and the final of Wimbledon.
Looking back on that year now, the highlight may have been her 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 loss to her idol Maria Sharapova in the French Open semifinals. In front of a packed Parisian crowd in the Court Philippe Chatrier she went toe-to-toe with a four-time Grand Slam champion and was just two games away from the Roland Garros final when she led by a set and at 5-all in the second set.
After she reached the Wimbledon final – getting a few breaks along the way such as playing Angelique Kerber, who didn’t have a day off after her huge upset of Sharapova, and Simona Halep in the semifinal when the Romanian had strapping on an injured leg, she lost 6-3, 6-0 to Petra Kvitova in the final.
Really since that match Bouchard has not been the same player. She lost her next match 6-0, 2-6, 6-0 to No. 113-ranked qualifier Shelby Rogers of the U.S. at Rogers Cup in Montreal and memorably said to her coach Nick Saviano during an on-court coaching visit after the first set, “I want to leave the court.” He, all too aware of the pressures on her returning to her hometown after the Wimbledon success, replied, “I understand, you’re overwhelmed.”
During those times, Bouchard probably created more pressure and agro by alienating herself with frequent remarks – like her idol Sharapova – about not wanting to have any friends on the tour because she had to compete against them.
And, of course, there was the additional attention because of her good looks, something that was/is basically out of her control.
Now, it’s two years later and she has been through the disaster of 2015 when she totally lost the plot mid season and took a 3-15 record into the US Open where she had a locker room fall and subsequent concussion after an inspired win over tough-nut Dominika Cibulkova in the third round that suggested she might finally be getting her game back on track.
So far in 2016, Bouchard is 30-21 and after beginning the year at No. 48 she will be about No. 45 after her first-round loss to No. 72-ranked Katerina Siniakova of Czech Republic on Tuesday.
She was part of a group of players who were at the Saviano High Performance Tennis Academy in Plantation, Florida as youngsters and it’s interesting to look at three others who were there with her and where they now stand.
Sloane Stephens: Currently ranked No. 25, the 23-year-old American reached the Australian Open semifinals in 2013 and a high ranking of No. 11 later that year. Currently out of action with a foot injury, she has not lived up to the expectations of her early success and sometimes seems to have an ambivalent attitude about her sport.
Laura Robson: The Briton, 22, won the Wimbledon juniors at just 14 in 2008 and reached a rankings high of No. 27 in 2013. A wrist injury has plagued her for the past two years and she currently ranks No. 257 despite playing 20 tournaments at various levels in 2016. She was beaten by fellow-Brit Naomi Broady 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-4 in this year’s US Open first round after coming through the qualifying.
Monica Puig: A bolt-from-the-blue winner of the Rio Olympics gold medal last month, the nearly 23-year-old (September 27) Puerto Rican upset No. 4-ranked Garbine Muguruza 6-1, 6-1, No. 14 Petra Kvitova 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 as well as No. 2 Angelique Kerber 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 in the gold medal match. Currently ranked No. 35, she reached a career high No. 33 in July. In the first round of the US Open, her first post-Olympics tournament, Puig, possibly returning to a more realistic level, was beaten 6-4, 6-2 by No. 61-ranked Zheng Saisai, 22, of China.
Bouchard’s record compares favourably with her fellow Saviano Academy peers in terms of consistent career results and career-high ranking – No. 5 in October 2014.
But her standard of play of late is best illustrated by her last three events before losing 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 to Siniakova on Tuesday in the opening round of the US Open.
As the Aussies say, it’s “Sydney or the bush” with Bouchard as she either beats the players she should beat comfortably or loses by similar scores to players ranked higher than her.
In today’s women’s tennis with Serena Williams about to turn 35, Sharapova out indefinitely with her drug suspension and Victoria Azarenka also out indefinitely while awaiting the birth of her first child, there’s clearly an opening for someone to break through.
The most logical candidate is current No. 9-ranked Madison Keys who possesses exceptional power and probably just needs to learn how to control it to potentially become the next dominant player. But does the likeable 21-year-old American have the competitive desire and jam to truly dominate over a period of years?
Bouchard has that drive and grit so, as long as she remains healthy, there’s a good chance that she can get back into the Top 20 and then take it from there.
The good news for her is that, because of her concussion a year ago which keep her out – except for 10 games played in October in Beijing – of the whole fall in 2015, she has no ranking points to defend for the rest of 2016.
So, with a ranking of approximately No. 45 when the next WTA rankings are released on September 12, she has a good shot to move up into the Top 32 by the end of the year. That would ensure her of a seeded position for the 2017 Australian Open and give her a springboard to bigger and better things next year.
“I think this year has been a bit up and down,” Bouchard said Tuesday about 2016, “and obviously I wish it could have been better.”
She mentioned Tuesday how two years ago players didn’t know much about her and that was an advantage. There’s also the fact that she didn’t have much mental baggage – everything that happened just seemed to be in the natural unfolding of things in her highly-ambitious career. Now what she probably has to do is somehow get back to the uncluttered state of mind of 2014 when her tennis just flowed unencumbered by the expectations of others, the financial rewards of her success, the calamitous accident at the 2015 US Open and the other normal distractions and disappointments involved in the maturing from a girl to a young woman.
By all accounts, after the breakdown against Shelby Rogers in Montreal two years ago, she was much more relaxed and accommodating at this year’s tournament. And she played one outstanding match – a hard-fought 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(3) victory in two hours and 13 minutes over 2015 French Open finalist Lucie Safarova before a raucous STADE IGA crowd.
To finish on a lighter note, one thing that losing in the first round of a Grand Slam does is usually focus the post-match media conference on serious and sober subjects. So, on Tuesday, there was no talk of Bouchard’s lemon-coloured, Day-Glo outfit. So here’s a picture of her 2016 US Open dress – although she’s not the only Nike player wearing it.
NOTE: FRIDAY – Thoughts on Milos Raonic
The remaining Canadians in the regular doubles events at the 2016 US Open were eliminated in first-round action on Thursday, following the exit of Adil Shamasdin and Slovak partner Martin Klizan on Wednesday against the Bryan brothers.
Daniel Nestor, partnering Vasek Pospisil, had to retire with the score 2-2 in the opening set when he was unable to continue because of a left calf injury. So the final score reads 2-2 ret. for the young American pair of Taylor Fritz (18) and Tommy Paul (19) against the sixth-seeded Nestor and Pospisil.
In women’s doubles, Gabriela Dabrowski of Ottawa and Spanish partner Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez were outplayed by the young duo of Daria Gavrilova (22) of Australia and Daria Kasatkina (19) of Russia by a 6-1, 6-4 score.
The free-swinging Gavrilova and Kasatkina never really gave Dabrowski and Martinez Sanchez a chance to get into the match, although they had to break serve in the final game of the match to stave off a rally from 1-5 down to 4-5 by the Canadian-Spanish pair.
“I was in Florida last week practicing, trying to get used to the heat and I felt it pull a little bit in practice,” Nestor said about the calf problem that has been ongoing for several years. “I kept playing through it the last few days. I saw a doctor initially when I got on site and they didn’t see much in the scan. I kept playing through it again and I went to the hospital because there was still pain and I saw a specialist and he saw a little bit of a tear. He treated it but I knew going in that there was a chance to re-injure it and make it worse, which is what happened.
“When I started the match today I could serve pretty much pain-free. I knew I couldn’t move that well but the first break point we had, the guy caught me by surprise with a bigger second serve and I lunged for it and I felt it go again.”
Asked about Davis Cup in Halifax versus Chile in 16 days, Nestor said, “it usually takes like 10 days to heal. It’s a possibility (not a certainty) that I’ll play.”
About how big a disappointment it was, he said, “it’s big because we’ve been playing well, and I feel like I’m playing well. Our draw had opened up and we made the semis the last three tournaments and had beaten good teams. We had a favourable draw and I thought it was a good opportunity.”
Asked about if there were any special celebrations he might have on Sunday (his 44th birthday), Nestor laughed, “no, not any more.” When it suggested that 44 was a nice number, he responded like the true Montreal Canadiens fan that he is, saying, “even number, (former Canadien) Stéphane Richer.”
These machines, commonly known at the US Open as “Slambonis” are used to help dry the courts. On Thursday on Court 11, two drivers were doing their best imitation of their counterparts who work the Zambonis in hockey arenas all over the world.