There’s an old saying, “See a penny, pick it up. All day long you’ll have good luck.”
After the coin (not a penny) tossed by a local volunteer ended up on her side of the net before her first-round match in New Haven, Conn. against Italian veteran Roberta Vinci, Canadian Genie Bouchard didn’t pick it up and hand it back.
She left it lying on the court for the chair umpire to come all the way around and collect as she skipped back to the baseline to begin her warm-up.
Was that an omen? Well, in retrospect, Bouchard probably should have grabbed it; she needs every bit of luck and karma she can get.
The match that followed was a big step back for the 21-year-old from Montreal in her fight to regain her confidence and stature in the game. The 6-1, 6-0 defeat only edged over the one-hour mark because of the bathroom break Bouchard took after dropping the first set.
The defeat puts Bouchard’s record this season at 9-17; it was the 10th time she dropped her first match in a tournament in 2015.
Having chosen to serve upon winning the toss of that coin, Bouchard faced break point in the very first game. She held on, but that was the only game she won; Vinci reeled off 12 in a row with a devastating brand of all-court tennis, seemingly able to not only choose whatever shot she wanted, but make it.
When there’s little resistance from the other side of the net, that task is made exponentially simpler.
It was a warm day – 27C with about 70 per cent humidity during the first set, which began shortly after noon – but no warmer than it was in Cincinnati last week or in Toronto the week before that. Still, Bouchard was fussing with the ice towel from the very beginning.
She was going to have to be patient against the tricky Vinci, who has had a very good singles career but a stellar doubles career. She was going to have to handle the world-class slice – a rarity on the women’s tour – absorb the net approaches and be prepared to run and bend and run some more. Complicating matters was the fact that this was the first meeting between the two.
It seemed clear early on that she wasn’t equipped to do that. There was never a moment when Bouchard’s game clicked in even a little, when she got on at least a brief roll, when there was a glimmer of hope she could turn it around.
She was broken in her second service game, at love, on a double fault, as she faced the sun.
In her next service game, she produced a nifty backhand touch volley after approaching to Vinci’s forehand to take a 40-15 lead. The next point, she tried it again. But this time, she was far too deep in the court; Vinci saw it coming and in a flash, it was break point.
Vinci hit a routine slice down the line that completely froze Bouchard, who was way over on the other side expecting a crosscourt, far too committed to that possibility. She never even flinched in that direction.
The first set took 26 minutes.
After the bathroom break – Bouchard brought her ice towel with her on the journey – she had an opportunity to start the second set with a little momentum as Vinci double-faulted to give her break point.
Bouchard shanked a backhand.
She had two break points in the next Vinci service game, but couldn’t convert those, either. The second set was a runaway; at that point, Bouchard took so little time between serves and points that the ball kids had to scramble to clear the court.
By 0-4, she stopped even trying to run down unreachable balls. By 0-5, Bouchard spent much of what would be the final changeover with her face buried in her towel.
She didn’t even bother with the ice towel.
Vinci wrapped it up with a break at love, punctuating an impressive performance with a cheeky backhand drop shot at match point, on Bouchard’s second serve.
What happened? It’s a head-scratcher, although there were elements of the game-style matchup that definitely worked in Vinci’s favour on paper. There’s no doubt the Italian’s game can be troublesome at its best; it contains so many changes of pace and direction that it doesn’t allow a big hitter to get into a rhythm.
A few years ago in Montreal at the Rogers Cup, Vinci handed Ana Ivanovic the dreaded double-bagel on the stadium court with the same brand of tennis, and there was absolutely nothing Ivanovic could do about it.
On this day, Bouchard had to be so careful in handling the slices, which went overwhelmingly to her backhand, that she was rarely able to get into a position where she could dictate a point.
Vinci has a good forehand, but Bouchard needed to create a forehand-to-forehand dynamic and stay away from that backhand – especially once it was apparent that it was playing her, not the other way around. She didn’t; she hit far too many of her forehands inside-out, and those went … directly to the Vinci backhand.
As well, Bouchard doesn’t hit her backhand down the line often enough, or all that well. She would have had to do that to get away from Vinci’s forehand, and she couldn’t. At least, she didn’t. It’s a confidence shot for her, and it’s no secret her confidence is in the dumpster at the moment.
Taken in isolation, you could write it off as a bad day at the office against a crafty opponent. But in the grand scheme of things, where there might have been a little something to build on after a match win in Cincinnati a week ago, it’s back to the drawing board with no time or matches to work with.
The US Open begins in a week. The stadium court in New Haven, by design, is like a mini-version of Arthur Ashe Stadium. Bouchard reached the fourth round in New York a year ago.