Remember when Eugenie Bouchard and Simona Halep met in the 2014 Wimbledon semifinals? Bouchard was making her third straight appearance in a major semifinal, Halep her second straight appearance after a quarterfinal in Australia earlier in the year. These two women were consistently strong at the majors in 2014. Bouchard was 20 years old, Halep 22, and it was very reasonable to think that these two players would meet many more times in the latter rounds of big tournaments.
Five years later, in 2019, they met in Dubai in the round of 32. Halep — coming off a taxing run to the Doha final — had enough petrol in the tank to fend off Bouchard, 7-6, 6-4. Bouchard didn’t win, but she stood up to Halep to the point that she can feel there’s something she can build on as her 2019 season moves forward. Both players, in their own ways and on their own levels, can take something of value from this match… which flows into the larger conversation this piece is meant to create.
Life is complicated and takes twists and turns we often can’t control. For Bouchard, the 2015 accident at the U.S. Open — which occurred precisely when she appeared to be rebuilding her game after a difficult first half of her season — was one such moment. It represented a moment of great frustration. It was an interruption of her tennis life and of the internal clarity athletes need to perform at their best.
I won’t try to litigate the question of how well Bouchard might have fared if the accident hadn’t happened. No one will ever be able to answer that. I can only say that one year after reaching a settlement with the United States Tennis Association over that accident, Bouchard — about to turn 25 years old — should be at a point in her life and career where that scar no longer carries fresh pain. It still hurts as a memory, but it is now well and truly part of the past, not the present moment. Bouchard, in this final week before her 25th birthday, still has a lot of tennis ahead of her.
She can look at the player who defeated her on Tuesday in Dubai as a source of inspiration.
Simona Halep went through her own valley as a tennis player after that 2014 Wimbledon semifinal meeting with Bouchard. In her next 10 major tournaments, she made only one semifinal, and that semifinal was a loss to Flavia Pennetta at the 2015 U.S. Open, the same tournament in which Bouchard suffered her fall and concussion. When Roberta Vinci upset Serena Williams in the other U.S. Open women’s semifinal that year, Halep had lost not only a chance to play in a second major final (her first one being in 2014 at Roland Garros). She had lost a chance to play Roberta Vinci for a major title, a proposition she surely would have savored.
Halep’s one semifinal in a series of 10 major tournaments carried a stinging sensation. The semifinal loss overshadowed the quality tournament she had produced in the previous five rounds.
Guess when Halep reemerged as a top-tier player? At age 25.
In 2017, at 25, Halep returned to the Roland Garros final, her first major final in three years. Halep’s high level of tennis over the past two years was not the product of a constant existence at the very top of the sport. Halep wandered through a forest of doubt and stepped on many sharp rocks in her tennis journey. She needed to go through her own dark night of the tennis soul before witnessing a brighter day and earning a long-coveted major championship last year at Roland Garros.
Eugenie Bouchard can look at what Halep began to rebuild at age 25 and say to herself, following her loss to Halep in Dubai: “I can do this.”
We will see if she can.
2014 might be five years ago, but it feels like 85. Maybe Eugenie Bouchard can draw from 85 years of accumulated wisdom. The player who beat her on Tuesday certainly learned the lessons tennis was waiting to offer.