Expectations can be harder to handle for tennis players than opponents.
Just ask recent US Open champion Sloane Stephens who, in her first two matches following her victory at Flushing Meadows, has lost 6-2, 6-2 to No. 55-ranked Wang Qiang in Wuhan, China, and then 6-3, 6-0 to No. 71-ranked qualifier Christina McHale this week in Beijing.
Who knows if the 24-year-old Stephens will ever again be able to scale the heights that enabled her to win the 2017 US Open?
The same goes for Genie Bouchard who reached the 2014 Wimbledon final and had past greats such as Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova saying she would likely be a future Grand Slam champion.
Bouchard, now 23, made it to a career-high ranking No. 5 in October 2014, and has since had year-end rankings of No. 7 (2014), No. 48 (2015), No. 47 (2016) and is currently No. 79 after dropping as low as No. 87 last month.
Each player is different and goes through trying times. Stephens had to rehab and regroup after a foot surgery last January. Bouchard has never been through anything that serious but has experienced fitness issues and also had to learn to deal with distractions related to her good looks and the resulting attention she receives.
Reviewing her 2017 season, she started promisingly with a semifinal in Sydney – losing 6-2, 6-2 to a ‘zoning’ display by eventual winner Johanna Konta – and then reached the third round at the Australian Open and a match-up with Coco Vandeweghe.
It’s easy to say in hindsight, but there was probably a lot riding on that match. The winner, in the round-of-16, would play world No. 2 and defending champion Angelique Kerber who everyone knew was vulnerable and eminently beatable. Many observers thought it would be Bouchard to face Kerber but she failed to put away Vandeweghe after leading 4-2 in the final set and lost 6-4, 3-6, 7-5. The free-swinging American then ousted Kerber 6-2, 6-3 and Garbiñe Muguruza 6-4, 6-0 to make the semifinals where she lost 6-7(3), 6-2, 6-3 to Venus Williams.
A win over Vandeweghe and Bouchard, who had reunited with former coach Thomas Hogstedt (above in black cap at the US Open), might have had the chance for the boost she needed to kick-start a serious comeback year.
However she then struggled in February and March with an abdominal injury, a problem that has bothered her in the past, and didn’t really get going again until May when she beat No. 44 Alizé Cornet, a come-backing No. 258 Maria Sharapova and No. 2 Kerber at the WTA Premier Mandatory event in Madrid before losing to No. 9 Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarter-finals.
Again that could have been a springboard for Bouchard but she injured her right ankle in Nuremberg two weeks later preparing for her final prep event before the French Open.
She probably rushed her return for Roland Garros, where she reached the second round, and may have paid the price during the grass court season – losing all three matches she played.
Things have gone downhill from there and her record since the French Open is 2-8, including a 6-3, 6-4 loss to No. 28-ranked Magdalena Rybarikova on Sunday at the WTA Premier Mandatory in Beijing.
That came after a post-US Open virus kept her out of tournaments she intended to play in Quebec City, Seoul and Wuhan.
“I played better than I expected,” Bouchard told French reporter Carole Bouchard after the loss to Rybarikova, a surprise semifinalist at Wimbledon this year. “I haven’t played much the last few weeks. I just wanted to give myself a chance and that’s what I did on court.”
Bouchard explains Hogstedt just decided to take another road.Was a shock but not that much as he was already less with her +results not good
— Carole Bouchard (@carole_bouchard) October 1, 2017
Carole Bouchard (no relation) had tweeted about Bouchard’s recent split with coach Hogstedt after their second go-round. Their first was in March and April of 2016.
Diego Ayala, who knows Bouchard from working at the Florida academy of her former coach Nick Saviano, has helped in the past and was with her in Beijing. He seemed to offer sound advice during an on-court coaching session at 3-4 in the first set and again at 3-4 in the second against Rybarikova. Bouchard looked discouraged during the first visit and when Ayala asked “all good?” as he departed she gave a rather half-hearted shrug. During the second visit, he encouraged her to show more “positive energy” but that didn’t seem to help as she proceeded to win just two more points in the match, finishing it with her fourth double fault on match point – the same way she had ended the first set.
The good news for Bouchard is that she has no ranking points to defend at her final two tournaments – next week in Hong Kong and the following week in Luxembourg – and should be no worse than about No. 80 in the rankings at season’s end. That guarantees her a main draw spot in the 2018 Australian Open.
It’s anybody’s guess who might coach her in 2018. She has had three high-profile coaches – Nick Saviano (twice), Hogstedt (twice) and Sam Sumyk – over the past four years and it would surely be helpful if she could find more stability in a coaching relationship.
At the moment it’s all a matter of confidence for Bouchard, as it is with all players except the preternaturally superior species like Serena Williams and Sharapova.
There have been some positive signs in terms of Bouchard enjoying her time on court – most obviously when she played doubles with Jelena Ostapenko (above) at the US Open and especially when she and Stephens, former academy mates at Saviano’s High Performance Tennis in Plantation, Florida, teamed up at to reach the final in Washington in August.
Going forward, Bouchard may be inspired by competition from fellow Canadians Francoise Abanda and Bianca Andreescu. The 20-year-old Abanda has progressed from No. 164 to No. 114 so far in 2017, while Andreescu, 17, has moved up from No. 306 to No. 159.
Both have the potential to go higher and push Bouchard. Still, she undoubtedly has the game to return to the top echelons. But it likely won’t happen unless she gets an injury-free six-month or year-long stretch of fitness and health to help get her confidence back and build momentum.
Milos Raonic returned to action at the Japan Open on Tuesday and rolled past Viktor Troicki 6-3, 6-4 in the first round while hitting only one-handed backhands.
It has been 55 days and a left wrist procedure since he last played at Rogers Cup in Montreal and the wrist is still not up to hitting two-handed backhands.
He faced only one break point against Troicki, which he erased with a service winner in the fifth game of the first set.
Raonic hit 16 aces and won the winners stat 31-8 over an increasingly frustrated Troicki, now 1-6 versus Raonic.
“It was a good match for me in a lot of ways, disciplined and competed well – considering the circumstances,” Raonic was quoted as saying by ATP staff. “I couldn’t hit over a backhand, but I made the most of it.”
The world No. 12, who had the surgery the week before the US Open, added, “the injury developed over the past 10 years, the pain had been manageable. But I hit a breaking point and the pain was not tolerable. The surgery was not structural, more taking away swelling. It’s been frustrating, having more than a dozen injuries that have kept me away from tennis.”
In the second round Raonic will face No. 40-ranked Yuichi Sugita of Japan, a 6-4, ret. first-round winner when Benoit Paire stopped due to fatigue. Raonic and Sugita have played twice with Raonic winning both – 6-1, 3-6, 6-1 in 2016 in Cincinnati and in 2011 in Tokyo by a 6-7(4), 6-3, 7-6(1) score.
Seated on left above, former long-time coach of David Ferrer, Javier Piles from Spain, is with Raonic in Tokyo.
I can't believe I was there at the Mandalay Bay hotel to celebrate my 30th birthday few weeks… https://t.co/76uOmWBiPZ
— Aleksandra Wozniak (@alekswozniak87) October 2, 2017
This was a touching tweet from Aleksandra Wozniak on Monday – a day after she won a $25,000 ITF women’s circuit event in Stillwater, Oklahoma, defeating 19-year-old Marie Bouzkova of Czech Republic 7-5, 6-4.
It was a second title of the year for Wozniak after her win at the $25,000 National Bank Challenger in Gatineau, Que., in July. Battling back from injuries for several years, she is currently ranked No. 336 after being as high as No. 21 in 2009.
On the ITFtennis.com website, it lists the No. 185-ranked Bouzkova as having started playing tennis at the age of one – any younger and she would have been hitting backhands in the womb!
— yonex.co.jp (@yonex_jp) September 28, 2017
Tennis fans won’t get a chance to see current world No. 51 Denis Shapovalov until next week’s ATP Masters 1000 event in Shanghai where he has been given a wild card. The 18-year-old phenom appeared to be going to play the ATP 500 Japan Open this week but there apparently was a visa issue.
He did visit Tokyo, doing a photo-shoot (above) for his racquet sponsor Yonex.
The beauty of tennis…thank you Marcos and Vasek for this EPIC match! pic.twitter.com/NHsckdGBlA
— Chengdu Open (@ChengduOpen) September 27, 2017
It was a hard-fought opening round at last week’s Chengdu Open in Chengdu, China, and when it was over Marcos Baghdatis and Vasek Pospisil embraced at the net following the Cypriot’s 6-7(4), 7-6(5), 6-4 victory in two hours and 47 minutes. Baghdatis went on to reach the final but had to retire with painful back spasms trailing Denis Istomin 3-2 in the first set. The 32-year-old, runner-up to Roger Federer at the 2006 Australian Open, did manage to move his ranking from No. 113 to No. 85 – one position behind the No. 84-ranked Pospisil.
Congratulations to Bastian Schweinsteiger and Ana Ivanovic who are expecting their first child! Ana is reportedly 4 months gone. 🤰 pic.twitter.com/ebREjq9pbz
— . (@schweiniFamily) September 27, 2017
Ana Ivanovic and her soccer star husband Bastian Schweinsteiger are expecting a child – to situate it in tennis terms – probably right before the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells in March. Ivanovic turns 30 on November 6th and this would seem to end the hopes of Ana fans that she might some day attempt a comeback.