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BOUCHARD OUT OF WIMBLEDON BUT FULL OF HOPE

Saqib Ali

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Jane Voigt

Eugenie Bouchard had the world’s attention. She even had an army behind her: “Genie’s Army.” There was much to cheer about back then. But the bubble burst and Bouchard fell from grace. Thursday, though, she surfaced at Wimbledon, showing promise in her loss to Ashleigh Barty, 6-4, 7-5.

The match was a face-off between two former Wimbledon junior girls champions, which was encouraging in itself for the sport. Barty won the title in 2011. Bouchard in 2012. Sometimes peak performances from younger players don’t correctly point to immediate career success, yet these two young women were quick to record career highs following those breakout triumphs.

That said, their paths still diverged, as is the case with all seekers of the highest honors in tennis.

In 2013, Barty became a phenomenon alongside Australian friend Casey Dellacqua when they reached the doubles final at the Australian Open, French Open and U.S. Open. Barty also was a finalist in doubles, without Dellacqua, at The French Open. That’s all four majors in one year for the fledgling Barty. Why Barty then left tennis for cricket in 2014 can only be answered with a shrug that’s better left to a young woman’s flight of fancy. Shortly afterward, though, in 2016, she was back on court and rising in the ranks. She broke into the top 20 in 2017.

2018 Wimbledon Championships - 3 Jul

Image – Jimmie 48

A year after her junior Wimbledon crown, Bouchard was named the 2013 WTA Newcomer of the Year. The next year and a half brought more attention, her rise replete with astonishing results: Australian Open semifinal; French Open semifinal; and Wimbledon runner-up to Petra Kvitova. She began 2015 with a bang: a quarterfinal berth in Melbourne.

Then she stumbled mightily, never to advance beyond the fourth round of any Major since.

The marketing of Bouchard blossomed.

She posed for glossy photo shoots in spike heels and short skirts as she casually held a Babolat racquet over her shoulder and smiled for her army of fans. She left longtime coach Nick Saviano, her mentor and father-like figure, with visions of climbing higher and outperforming those women now on the hunt, the target large on the back of her Nike outfits. She was even said to have poached coach Sam Sumyk from Victoria Azarenka, causing a nasty back-and-forth in the press. She would go through two other high-profile coaches until, this year, settling in with 80-year-old Robert Lansdorp, a coach with a golden resume highlighted by five-time Grand Slam winner Maria Sharapova.

Her career grew more complicated after Bouchard slipped in the women’s locker room and suffered a concussion at the 2015 U.S. Open. She sued the U.S.T.A., the legal action going in her favor. However, it did nothing to enhance her tennis career.

Thursday, though, after miserable years of fighting with herself on court, learning to balance business with tennis, and battling in the court of law with the biggest tennis organization in the United States, Bouchard took tiny steps toward a revival. Even though this was the first main-draw Grand Slam she had ever been forced to qualify for, Genie showed real signs of old form, grit and staying power. If she had pulled off the win against Barty, it would have been her first over a top-20 player since 2016 Wimbledon, in which she defeated Johanna Konta.

Bouchard’s recalcitrant style of tennis was on display against Barty. She stood determined and stubborn, on or inside the baseline, staying low, taking short backswings and driving the ball with every ounce of mental and physical strength. Here was the bang-bang tennis that took hostages without apologies.

2018 Nature Valley International - 27 Jun

Image – Jimmie 48

Barty felt that pressure, too. She had to work to get the ball out of Bouchard’s strike zone while trying to push her off the baseline.

“[It] looks like she’s worked out the game style and what she wants to do next,” an ESPN commentator said.

Barty’s serve suffered. She hit four of her five match double faults in the second set. Bouchard didn’t need an engraved invitation. She grabbed the opening, reaching set point. The scoreline: 5-2. She was ever so close to a deciding third, where she has a 2-0 record for the season.

“Can she hold her nerve and take us into a decider?” the ESPN commentator asked.

Barty put her foot down, penetrating Bouchard’s power with finesse, movement and superior shot selection.

“This is where she’s at her best, when she’s manipulating opponents around the court,” ESPN said about Barty. “Look at the beautiful slice down the line.”

Barty broke and planted seeds of doubt in Bouchard’s mind. She didn’t win another game, leaving the disappointing scoreline on the record books.

The win created Barty’s best-ever showing at Wimbledon — a third-round encounter is waiting against Daria Kasatkina (No. 14), another young star who can expertly manipulate a tennis ball.

What we saw from Bouchard, though — some of this praise has to be attributed to her new coaching relationship with Landsdorp — was a more tempered player. She approached the net 16 times, five more than Barty, who — as we now know — is a keen doubles player. Bouchard’s success at the net was also impressive, if graded on a personal curve. She won 50 percent of those attempts, which is not terrible for someone without Barty’s softer hands and doubles prowess. Yet, Genie converted only one of six break points, opportunities she desperately needs to capitalize on as the season progresses.

 

Although ESPN’s comment about Bouchard is true — “[She] has experienced highs and lows of the game and is looking to make her way back” — the remark nevertheless left a pitiful aftertaste which could be justified:

Poor Eugenie, once a star, now a has-been who still can’t pull it all together in the clutch.

The other way to look at that comment? Barty was forced to change her game and her attitude, and ultimately get that serve under control in order to win the match, because Bouchard’s momentum was taking hold. Had it gone three, all bets would’ve been off.

So don’t pity Bouchard. Keep an eye on her throughout the hardcourt season. She just turned a corner at Wimbledon Thursday. The view could improve. Tennis would be the better for it, too.

 

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