“I would give myself an A,” Genie Bouchard said about her performance after a decisive 6-2, 6-2 victory over Laura Siegemund in the opening round of the French Open on Tuesday. “I felt I was very focused throughout the whole match. I let up a little bit at the beginning of the second set but was able to regain my concentration right away.”
First matches at Grand Slams can be tricky so an “A” is probably the proper mark, but still the No. 37-ranked Siegemund, a crafty and intense competitor, did not play her best.
But Bouchard capitalized by making both sets one-way traffic after the score was level at 2-2 in the first set and then from a 2-0 deficit in the second when she ran off six games on the trot (as the Brits like to put it) to wrap up the hour and 21-minute encounter.
She out-pointed Siegemund 60-44 overall, which is a healthy margin, and her winners to unforced ratios was a very clean 15/10. Add in the 24 forced errors she imposed on the 28-year-old German, who had 15 of her own, and it was an entirely satisfying effort for the 2014 Roland Garros semifinalist.
Siegemund is not one of the more popular players on tour and the post-match handshake (above) was definitely more drive-by than warm and fuzzy.
For Bouchard the match was certainly a huge upgrade on 12 months ago when she went out 6-4, 6-4 in the first round to Kristina Mladenovic of France.
In her post-match media conference, she expanded about her problems a year ago – from Indian Wells in March until the US Open in late August when she had a miserable 3-15 record.
There have been all kinds of theories about her mystifying fall from grace in 2015, but Bouchard’s revelations on Tuesday about her eating problems and a subsequent loss of weight help put her nerve-wracked performances last year into better focus.
“It’s definitely a struggle I had in 2015,” Bouchard began in a remarkably candid explanation of her weight loss in the winter and spring. “I felt a lot of pressure and kind of this expectation if you win a match it’s normal and if you lose it’s a disaster.
“Before matches I was very nervous and definitely had trouble eating. I just felt like it would come right back up. It’s difficult what I went through. And not just before matches, but it happened to me at other meals as well.
“So people think I was concerned about my body image and things like that and I was losing weight on purpose. That was really not the case. I was just so stressed I was burning calories even more than I normally would, so it was hard to kind of intake enough to keep my weight up or even gain weight, which was the goal to become stronger.
“So, yeah, something I went through. I feel like I learned from it. I know now that even if I feel sick I have to force food down my throat. Yeah, I feel like I’ve come out stronger and able to deal with a problem if it ever comes back to me again.”
Bouchard is at a good playing weight now, and it’s likely a reason her level of play is slowly returning to the one that took her to a season-ending No. 7 ranking in 2014.
Last year, Bouchard seemed to finally break out of her slump at the US Open when she won two rounds and then defeated dynamic and combative Dominka Cibulkova 7-6(9), 4-6, 6-4 in two hours and 47 minutes in a Louis Armstrong Stadium thriller.
As with her eating issue, Bouchard was also forthcoming about her turnaround at the US Open. She began by mentioning 63-year-old Jimmy Connors, the American eight-time Grand Slam champion who worked with her before Flushing Meadows last August. “Jimmy Connors helped,” she said. “I think I had a really bad loss the week before (6-1, 6-0 to Roberta Vinci) in New Haven and that kind of was a huge reality check. It was a slap in the face. I looked at myself in the mirror and I was like, ‘Genie, what’s going on? Let’s go.’ I kind of got my s**t together in a way.
“I was just so disappointed in myself for having these average results – very, very motivated. I worked very hard the week before the US Open. I had a fresh, positive, inspiring voice in Jimmy. I just told myself to get my act together and I worked really hard and stayed positive more than I had throughout the whole year and somehow managed a couple good wins.
“It’s small little things that it can take to turn around a season or anything like that. But I was able to recognize it. A little late in the year, but I did it.”
She said recently that she is still occasionally in touch with Connors but the main mentoring voice for her now is Nick Saviano, the man who coached her to her break-out 2014 success and has known her since she was 12 years old at his tennis academy in Plantation, Florida.
“The plan is to work together right now,” Bouchard said Tuesday about Saviano’s recent return. “He knows me so well. He understands when I’m going through difficulties. He can read me. It’s like he’s inside my head.”
Bouchard will need his help and her game at a higher level when she faces world No. 9 Timea Bacsinszky in Thursday’s second round.
Speaking Tuesday about the mental and physical factors that led to her downfall in 2015, Bouchard said, “I think it’s definitely been a mixture of both. I feel like when I’ve had bad results you can’t really pinpoint one thing. It’s a perfect storm of events, as with any unfortunate event in life.
“But I know the mental side is so important for me. I think when I played well in 2014 it was my strength, the strongest part of my game. I definitely feel like I lost that a bit in 2015. It’s super important to me and I feel like I’m regaining it.”
The Bacsinszky match-up is a fascinating one. Following an emotional win in Indian Wells in March over rival and former Saviano charge Sloane Stephens, Bouchard was beaten 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 by the 26-year-old Swiss.
Bacsinszky is a clever player but doesn’t really possess the power to overwhelm a Bouchard playing at her best.
“I’m excited, I want a rematch from Indian Wells,” Bouchard said. “I know she plays great, especially on this surface, I think. But I’m going to go for it.”
Bacsinszky’s back story – a troubled relationship with her father and time away from tennis in 2013-2014 working in the hospitality business – is fairly well known. She has been a rejuvenated player since she returned for real at the 2014 French Open.
On Tuesday she beat lucky loser Silvia Soler-Espinosa of Spain 6-3, 6-1 and afterward calmly assessed her performance; “I was exactly what I wanted to be – not brilliant, just efficient.”
Asked about the match-up with Bouchard, she was a little reticent. “I don’t really want to talk about that now,” she said at her post-match media conference. “I know it will be a tough match because she’s a really strong player. I’ve played her on hard courts but it will be completely different on clay.
She continued, “but aside from everything, you don’t get a chance to win a Grand Slam match every day (as she did Tuesday). My name isn’t Roger or Djoko! I’ll enjoy today’s victory and think about that (playing Bouchard) the day after tomorrow.”
She added philosophically, “you should never refer to past experiences because they have no impact at all on the present.”
Bacsinszky’s time in 2013-2014 working in the hotel business has probably contributed to her knowledge of, and affinity for, food. She charmed the assembled media on Tuesday when she told of going to the Truck Food Festival in Lausanne last week.
Here’s what she said in French about the various things (in bold) that she tried, as well as talking about a best friend she likes to try new foods with and joking that the translators who do the transcripts were going to have a real challenge with the various dishes she mentioned:
On m’a fait goûter des arancini, spécialités siciliennes. On a mangé des soft shell Tacos, un végétarien, un pulled pork, un hot dog avec des frites. Tout cela avec ma meilleure amie!
Salutation à elle au passage, nous sommes deux passionnées de nourriture. Elle ne connaît rien au tennis, moi je ne connais rien à l’équitation, mais ce qui nous unit vraiment c’est la découverte de la nourriture. Et une spécialité hongroise, Kurtoskala. Bonne chance pour les traductrices pour écrire ça! Ça s’appelle en français, des gâteaux de cheminée, c’est de la pâte enroulée, sur un socle cylindrique en bois. Ensuite, c’est trempé dans l’eau sucrée, puis grillé. C’est extrêmement bon!
Bacsinszky seems a charming, friendly person. That’s something that is being said more and more often these days about Bouchard, above surrounded by fans after her match on Tuesday.
When she was doing her media rounds on Tuesday, a European player who was in the area and who played against Bouchard this year, was asked about her by a reporter from her country. She told him that Bouchard has changed and seems a lot friendlier of late.
For someone who spent much of her big year of 2014 insisting that she wasn’t interested in having friends among the other players on the tour, that certainly sounds like progress and/or maturity.
Pospisil out to Berdych
Vasek Pospisil entered the French Open after sketchy results over the past few months and failed to change matters on the terre battue at Roland Garros – losing 6-3, 6-2, 6-1 to No. 7 seed Tomas Berdych on Tuesday.
“It wasn’t a good day,” Pospisil said. “I wasn’t serving well and it was very heavy (conditions) which made it difficult. The balls were heavy and it was cold. Getting the point started in heavy conditions definitely favoured him (Berdych) in these conditions.”
Currently ranked No. 46, Pospisil won just 48 per cent (Berdych 71 per cent) of first serve points and 37 per cent (Berdych 58 per cent) of second serve points.
Pospisil said he is “100 per cent” fit unlike many of his previous clay-court seasons.
Now 4-13 in singles so far in 2016, he was asked if he wonders about the confidence he has when he’s playing doubles compared to playing singles. “Doubles has always been pretty natural for me,” he said. “I have a lot of things in my game that translate well to the doubles court. I also have the level there and I don’t really have any doubts about anything.”
“I also don’t care that much about doubles right now – so there’s also that,” he added in a statement that had a ring of reverse psychology to it.
Heading into the grass court season, which he begins in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands, in two weeks, Pospisil said, “I feel better physically than I did last year. I feel like I’m playing better – surprisingly – practising I’m playing really well. I feel like it’s just a matter of time and loosening up a bit, getting on a bit of a roll.”
A tough ask for Aleks
Aleksandra Wozniak, who has ranked as high as No. 21 (2009), has been on a long road back from her shoulder surgery in September 2014. Her No. 514 ranking is not flattering for someone of her calibre but she is fighting as hard as she can to get her career back on the rails.
Coming into the French Open, she was bothered by a bursitis problem in her foot over the past two months and was unable to play any preparation tournaments.
So, it was no surprise she was in a sombre mood after losing her first round match on Tuesday – 6-1, 6-1 to No. 60-ranked Yulia Puntintseva of Kazakhstan. “It was tough to play offensive tennis because the balls were pretty heavy and my opponent had a lot of variety with loopy balls, slices and drop shots that I didn’t expect. She was a hard opponent and I wasn’t able to find any rhythm. It’s been a while since I played someone who fights like she does.”
At least Wozniak was accustomed to Paris, having arrived 11 days ago and playing practice matches to get acclimatized.
“It’s been a long road back since my surgery,” said the 28-year-old. “My world is kind of collapsing with the way things went today but I have to remain optimistic.”
Her immediate plans are to play Challenger events in France and Germany in the next two weeks.
Raonic in the big house
Milos Raonic will play his second-round match against Frenchman Adrian Mannarino in the 14,911-seat Court Philippe Chatrier on Wednesday.
The match is fourth-on starting at 11 a.m. That probably means somewhere around 6 p.m. in Paris (noon EDT in Canada).
It’s a first meeting for Raonic, ranked No. 9, and the 27-year-old Mannarino, ranked No. 58.
Raonic missed last year’s French Open but played on Chatrier twice in 2014 – beating Gilles Simon 4-6, 6-3, 2-6, 6-2, 7-5 in the third round before losing 7-5, 7-6(5), 6-4 to Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals.
In general people in “la restauration” (the restaurant-café-bistro business) in France are hard workers and very professional about their chosen field despite a reputation for occasional rudeness. The waiter here was in full flight last Saturday afternoon in a café not far from the Eiffel Tower.