TEBBUTT: C’EST GÉNIAL EUGENIE
That basically translates as “that’s awesome Eugenie,” and it was one of the shouts from a largely pro-Bouchard crowd during the 20-year-old Montrealer’s lopsided 6-0, 6-2 first-round win over Shahar Peer on Monday at the French Open.
She had hit a good shot and the combination of “genial” and “Eugenie” had a nice alliterative sound to it.
Bouchard deserved all the praise for a strong performance against the No. 88-ranked Israeli veteran. She hit 27 winners to just 8 for Peer during the 59-minute match.
It could not have been easy to make the adjustment from the nice weather Saturday in Nuremberg, where she won her first WTA title, to a constant, light drizzle on 379-seat Court 5 at Roland Garros where she covered her head with a towel (above) right before an 80-minute rain interruption at 6-0, 3-1.
“I think I played really well,” said the normally self-critical Bouchard, “especially with the rain delay. It’s always tough to go back out and keep the momentum. That can often switch the other person’s direction.
“So I’m happy that I really stayed focused. (There) were just a few little things…just always trying to improve everything – but nothing glaring today.”
Bouchard has now won six matches in a row since beginning the European clay-court season with a modest 2-3 record. But those three losses were all to quality players – Svetlana Kuznetsova in Oeiras (Portugal), Agnieszka Radwanska in Madrid and Francesca Schiavone in Rome.
“I feel like I have been playing well,” she said, “and sometimes in the matches that didn’t quite translate from practice to the matches. I do look back and think, ‘okay, I played two former Roland Garros champions (Kuznetsova and Schiavone) on clay and No. 3 (Radwanska) in the world.’ I wasn’t, you know, feeling horrible about myself or anything.
“So I was just trying to keep my head up and practice and work really hard. You know, in life and in tennis you always have ups and downs.
“If that’s considered a down, well, I don’t know. But I felt like I was right there, and I kept working hard and things turned around.”
As a result of winning the Nuremberg title, Bouchard moved her WTA ranking from No. 19 to a career-high No. 16.
“I’m confident, usually always believe in myself,” she said. “Whenever I walk on the court, I always believe I can win the match.”
Bouchard related how there had actually been some discussion of her not playing Nuremberg after she lost in her opening-round match to Schiavone at the Italian Open. She had discussions with the team around her and confirmed, when pressed, that “I was the one who wanted to play.”
The cascade of stuffed animals after her wins continued, and she received a “Hello Kitty” cat from a Chinese fan. “This one is personalized,” Bouchard added, raising the Hello Kitty with material on it showing her name and a red maple leaf.
A year ago at Roland Garros, Bouchard made her Grand Slam tournament debut, defeating Tsvetana Pironkova in the first round before losing 6-2, 6-4 to world No. 2 Maria Sharapova.
She will have a chance to go one better than that result when she plays on Wednesday against Julia Goerges, who defeated Michelle Larcher de Brito 6-2, 6-3 on Monday. The German, 25, ranked as high as No. 15 in 2012 but currently is No. 107 and has a 15-14 record so far in 2014. Bouchard is 26-11.
“It’s going to be interesting,” Goerges said about facing Bouchard. “She’s a great player who’s playing really well now. It will be a tough match. I’ve seen her play some matches but I’ve never played her.”
As usual, Bouchard is her hyper-focused self – putting the breakthrough win just two days earlier in Nuremberg firmly in her past. “I’m just trying to take it one week at a time,” she said. “Last week was last week. I have another tournament this week. That’s all I’m focused on.”
If Bouchard’s win was straight forward and simply a matter of her being a much better player than Peer, that was definitely not the case with Vasek Pospisil against No. 58-ranked Teymuraz Gabashvili.
Seeded No. 30 at Roland Garros, Pospisil was ineffectual in a 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 loss to the Russian. Gabashvili, 29, is playing the best tennis of his career but it was mostly a matter of one-way traffic with Pospisil looking uninspired and lethargic throughout the match.
One of the only positive moments was when he pulled off the above successful drop shot in the third set.
I spoke to Vasek briefly last Friday and he said that he had finally found out what the problem was with his back – an issue that first arose in the first week of the year when he had to retire in the semifinals of the Chennai, India, tournament against Stan Wawrinka.
He didn’t want to reveal exactly what the problem was but said he was taking some medication and seemed confident that he was definitely on the mend.
In probably the first match that he played as his “normal self” since withdrawing from the Australian Open third round in January, Pospisil lost 7-5, 7-6(4) to No. 20-ranked Kevin Anderson in Rome two weeks ago.
In his post-match media conference Monday, it became clear right from the outset that Vasek did not want to say what was going on with him during the match. But he was bitterly disappointed with his effort.
Here are some snippets of what he said.
“Against Anderson, I played a normal match – one of the very few. It was also one of the ones where I was able to fully able to focus on competition, which hasn’t been the case lately.”
Asked directly about the back, he replied, “I’d rather not talk about the back, to be honest, but let’s just say that Rome was the first time where I played pain-free and that was really good.
“It’s much better now, but there’s still some demons I have to face obviously.
“It’s a combination of a lot of things. But I didn’t recognize myself on the court today. That’s the disappointing part.
He said he didn’t want to say much about how he might be able to turn things around. “I’d rather not talk about it actually. I’m going to have to make some phone calls and figure out what to do exactly the next couple of weeks.”
Pospisil added the following about him and coach Frédéric Fontang: “We’ve just been trying to make the best decisions with the information that we’ve had. Obviously, some of them, you don’t know how you’re going to feel or the future or anything. We really found out what was happening (with the back) just a couple of weeks ago and so we kind of know how to manage it.”
He said he will play in the doubles event at Roland Garros and was insistent that he will also play Wimbledon.
Pospsil is one of the most likeable and popular Canadian players, and it was tough to see him so obviously flummoxed by what is happening to him.
To finish on a positive note, asked if what is going on is fixable – he replied with a clear “yes.”
Two other Canadians were scheduled to play on Monday. Aleksandra Wozniak’s match-up with Sorana Cirstea was postponed until Tuesday while Sharon Fichman was locked in an intense battle with No. 6 seed Jelena Jankovic.
Fichman (above) won the first set 7-5 with a screaming forehand service return off the baseline on set point but then fell behind 4-1 in the second. At that change-over with darkness closing in, she told the umpire “I’m not playing.” Supervisor Brian Earley came onto the court and said they would have to stop on an even number of games. So, they played one more game. Jankovic held serve and will lead 5-1 in the second set when the match resumes on Tuesday.
In another first–round men’s match – Jiri Vesely, a 20-year-old Czech, defeated his compatriot Lukas Rosol 6-2, 7-6(6), 7-5.
The 6-foot-6 lefthander will now play Milos Raonic in Wednesday’s second round. “I think I have a chance,” the No. 81-ranked Vesely told the Czech press about facing No. 9 Raonic. He added that he hoped the weather would be rainy and damp to take some of the sting out of Raonic’s booming, bouncing serve.
A CLASSIC TWEET
— Steve Weissman (@SWeissmanESPN) May 26, 2014
POST CARD FROM PARIS
A rain poncho was the fashion statement of choice on a mainly overcast, rainy Monday at the French Open. At the Roland Garros store between the Court Philippe Chatrier and the Court Suzanne Lenglen, this salesgirl was doing all she could to drum up sales.