Genie Bouchard isn’t the first player to struggle after making a breakthrough to the highest level of world-class tennis.
There’s something about the innocence and fearlessness of a young player climbing the ranks that creates a state of grace, a blissful unawareness of the difficulty of what they are accomplishing.
It all seems so natural and even logical…until the weight of it sinks in and other players, now cast as the underdog, begin to ramp up when they play against the erstwhile phenom.
In the case of Bouchard, it’s possible to pinpoint the match when things began to unravel. She had won two matches at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells in March, easily dispatching Lucie Hradecka and Coco Vandeweghe before losing a third-round match 6-7(5), 7-5, 6-4 to No. 85-ranked qualifier Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine. It was madcap match with Tsurenko injuring her ankle late in the first set, Bouchard leaving the court midway through the second set for treatment on an abdominal strain, then serving for the match at 5-4 and subsequently taking a 4-0 lead in the final set only to lose six games in a row.
“The match was very close and tough and stressful and I got hurt,” she recalled during this year’s French Open about playing Tsurenko at Indian Wells. “I knew I could win it if I played my tennis. But I was a bit hesitant during the match. I think I lost some confidence after that match, even if I shouldn’t because it’s just one match. After that I felt less confident on the court in Miami (Tatjana Maria) and Charleston (Lauren Davis).”
Bouchard lost those three matches on her way to a 2-12 record in her last 14 outings.
There have been endless ideas of what is wrong with her after a 2014 when she reached the semifinals of the Australian and French Opens, the final at Wimbledon and career-high No. 5 ranking in October.
One thing most people seem to agree on is that she has lost some muscle-tone and looks a little thinner than a year ago. Still, it seems that it’s mostly in her head, and she said as much two weeks ago in an interview with TSN. “I guess just a bit more on the mental side in terms of believing in myself, having that confidence that I can make that backhand down-the-line nine out of 10 times. Whereas recently I feel more shaky on some things.
“I’ve been saying all year that maybe a bit of patience is required but now I’m tired of being patient. I want to see results. I want to feel good on the court most importantly. So that’s my goal, I’m still motivated to turn this around.”
After pulling out of the CITI Open in Washington this week because of the abdominal issue that was diagnosed as a “grade two” tear before Wimbledon, Bouchard is in the line-up for next week’s Rogers Cup in Toronto. It’s to be hoped that she will be ready. But with her current No. 25 ranking, she will not be seeded and won’t receive a first-round bye. But, in either case, it precludes an opening match meeting with someone like Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova or Petra Kvitova.
While Bouchard has struggled and seen her ranking tumble out of the Top 10, Simona Halep is also in a down phase, although her ranking has remained stagnant at an impressive No. 3 behind Williams and Sharapova.
Still, she has been a mediocre 5-5 since April and suffered humbling losses at the French Open – second round to No. 70-ranked Mirjana Lucic-Baroni after finishing as runner-up a year ago, and at Wimbledon – first round to No. 106-ranked Jana Cepelova after being a semifinalist in 2014.
Halep was somewhat jolted by threats from a man that required additional security when she played the Stuttgart tournament in April. She has also endured some harsh criticism in the Romanian media after her lackluster results of late.
Following the 5-7, 6-4, 6-3 loss to Cepelova, who had almost disappeared after a startling run to the final of the 2014 Family Circle event in Charleston, Halep sounded confused and lost. Asked what she struggled with against the 21-year-old Slovak, Halep said, “I think emotional. I wasn’t there. I couldn’t handle it very well. She was pushing me a lot. She was aggressive. But I can say that I let her come in and play aggressive.
“Actually about my game, I’m confident in my game. But emotional and, like, inside power, it’s not there 100 per cent.”
After winning titles in Doha in February and Indian Wells in March, as well as being a semifinalist in Miami, the 23-year-old Romanian has lost touch with the tennis that made her an “it girl” along with Bouchard in 2014.
“Now I had a few losses which gives me more to think too much about what I have to do on court,” she said. “And that’s why maybe I’m more stressed.
“I have no problems with my game. But inside and, you know, emotional I have to work more to take the stress out.
“I want to go on court and say, I don’t care what I’m doing, just to go play tennis. It will come soon. I believe and I have this confidence.”
About her homeland and the pressure she feels there after reaching a ranking as high as No. 2 a year ago this month, Halep said, “I was surprised, very surprised in the last few weeks, I can say. But now I’m used to hear bad things about me in Romania.
“I can say it’s difficult to go there now. But, you know, I don’t care about what the people are saying, if they say bad things about me. I know what I’m doing. I know how hard I work every day.
“So I don’t have to explain to someone what I’m doing. I play for myself. I play for the country, of course, because I’m still there. But I just want to handle it very well and just be patient because I love this sport and I do what I think is good for my tennis.”
Halep will be seeded third next week at Rogers Cup at Sobeys Stadium in Toronto and it will be fascinating to see if the vacation she planned to take after Wimbledon has had a rejuvenating effect.
It may be worth noting that both Bouchard and Halep parted ways with their coaches at the end of 2014 – Bouchard with Nick Saviano and Halep with Wim Fissette.
Other players have experienced declines like Bouchard and Halep. Ana Ivanovic has never been quite the same since she won the French Open and reached the No. 1 ranking seven years ago in 2008.
Her contemporary Nicole Vaidisova was two points from the 2006 French Open final and ranked as high as No. 7 in 2007. But a debilitating case of the ‘yips’ set in and the Czech was out of tennis by 2011 at just 22. Now 26, Vaidisova has recently returned and managed to get her ranking up to No. 258.
Bouchard and Halep both seem to be made of sterner stuff, so they can be expected to rebound and regain their lost form. How completely and how soon are the crucial questions that remain to be answered.
No Montreal birthday for Federer
The first inkling that Roger Federer might not be playing the 2015 Rogers Cup in Montreal came on Saturday, June 27, at Wimbledon when he gave his pre-tournament media conference.
In responding to a question about Wimbledon being a week later this year, he said, “yeah, it’s changed everything, to be honest. You might think that a week is not a lot, but a week is so much for us players. Obviously that week we have now, we have less after Wimbledon.”
Later during Wimbledon, I spoke with a member of the Federer team about Montreal and was told about his planned trip to Africa. That ended up being about a week after he lost in the final to Novak Djokovic.
HERE is a clip on ATPWorldTour.com about his visit to Malawi.
That Roger Federer Foundation commitment seemed like another possible impediment to Federer missing Montreal.
Finally, two weeks ago when he and Stan Wawrinka announced they would play the Davis Cup World Group Play-off round at home against the Netherlands the weekend after the US Open, it was obvious that his schedule was getting over-crowded.
In fact, it would have been five out of six weeks if he had played Rogers Cup in Montreal – a lot to ask of a guy (above with 19-year-old Swede Elias Ymer during practice recently) who turns 34 this Saturday, the 8th of August.
The only quibble here is that it’s really not that short a summer. The way the yearly schedule works, there are three-year cycles of seven weeks and then eight weeks between Wimbledon and the US Open. Those cycles have now been shortened to six and seven weeks by Wimbledon finishing a week later.
The time frames here are set by Wimbledon always beginning five weeks before the first Monday in August – and the US Open always being played over the Labour Day weekend.
So 2015 being a year that’s part of the longer cycle, this summer there’s actually seven weeks between Wimbledon and the US Open, which is the equivalent of the previous shorter three-year cycle when Wimbledon began a week earlier. So, it’s actually not abnormally shorter this year.
Still, at this stage of his career, it’s understandable Federer has to the right to manage his schedule as he sees best.
A final note: with the first Monday in August being the 7th in 2017, Wimbledon will not start that year until July 3rd. For most tennis followers, it’s hard to imagine a Wimbledon beginning anytime but in the month of June.
Tennis teapot tempest
On Monday evening in Washington, Vasek Pospisil and Jack Sock were beaten 6-7(2), 7-6(5), [10-8] by Grigor Dimitrov and Mardy Fish. Pospisil and Sock led by a set and 5-3 before losing.
It appears all is well between Sock and Dimitrov but there was a fairly harmless incident between the two at the Hopman Cup in 2012. Watch HERE:
Mediterranean pair heading westward
These two popular WTA players will be arriving in North America shortly, and can first be seen next week in Toronto at Rogers Cup.
— Garbiñe Muguruza (@GarbiMuguruza) August 4, 2015