A poor serving day and a solid, feisty opponent combine to send Eugenie Bouchard home from the US Open in the first round

NEW YORK – Genie Bouchard had never lost in the first round at the US Open. And while she ruefully said afterwards that there was a first time for everything, being out of the final Grand Slam of the 2016 season on the first Tuesday was not part of the plan.

Bouchard’s 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 loss to No. 72-ranked Katerina Siniakova on a steamy hot day was not short on heart. Far from it; time and time again she was in trouble, and most often she was able to escape.

What Bouchard, who was really downcast after the loss, most regrets was the level of her tennis.

“I feel like I didn’t really play well. My opponent played really well, I think. I tried my best, I fought my hardest. I have no regrets in that sense. But I wish I could have had better feeling on the court, served better, things like that,” a downcast Bouchard said in a packed small interview room afterwards. “I thought (Siniakova) was really going after it, and very consistent while doing that.”

The first set really came down to one awful game while on serve at 3-4. Four forehand unforced errors from Bouchard gifted the break of serve to the 20-year-old Siniakova, who closed it out.

The second set was better. Bouchard extricated herself from some pretty dicey situations to hold serve when she had to, and Siniakova made a few unforced errors at the right times as well.

But after the set, while Siniakova went off for a bathroom break, Bouchard had to take back-to-back medical timeouts to deal with blisters on both her feet.

“Sometimes when it’s really hot, and I sweat a lot, my socks get really wet and the friction causes (my feet) to get a bit sore. I’ve had it a few times in the past.  But it didn’t affect the match,” she said.

It did, though, on a few levels. For one thing, there was a long break – more than 10 minutes – just when Bouchard had the momentum in the match. She also ran a little gingerly at times in that third set. And Siniakova certainly tried to test her out by luring her to the net.

It was the first career main-draw victory for Siniakova in New York, a place Bouchard was just three years ago, at age 19, when she defeated then No. 72 Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic in her first US Open in 2013.

Siniakova a player without any particularly notable characteristics; some of her strokes look a little homemade, and there’s certainly nothing smooth or graceful about her game. She’s a feisty one, though. It worked against her a few times when she let her emotions linger a little. But overall it was a plus for her on this day.

It's not a graceful-looking game. But for Siniakova, it was a winning one Tuesday against Genie Bouchard. (Stephanie Myles/
It's not a graceful-looking game. But for Siniakova, it was a winning one Tuesday against Genie Bouchard. (Stephanie Myles/

The turning point came in the second game of the third set, when Bouchard saved six break points (two of them with aces), but ended up on the unlucky end of a successful challenge as she tried to save No. 7.

One of Bouchard’s groundstrokes was called out. Upon her Hawkeye challenge, it was revealed to be on the line. But a point in which Bouchard was in control had to be replayed – a pretty crucial point – and she lost it. That gave Siniakova a 2-0 lead that she took to the finish line.

For Bouchard, it wasn’t a loss that had much in common with some of the tough ones she has suffered over the last 18 months. She didn’t have a meltdown. Her game didn’t go away. She didn’t break any racquets. She just didn’t bring enough of a level to the court to beat a game opponent on the day. A first-serve percentage exactly at 50 per cent was the standout statistic.

“I thought she played an extremely high level at times. But she didn’t sustain it – in particular kind of played herself into a hole and then fought herself out time over and over and over again. You just can’t do that at this level,” coach Nick Saviano said. “She didn’t serve as well as she’d been serving, and didn’t go after the returns as much as she should have on the second serve. You look at some of her other matches, she was serving at over 70 per cent. So this was somewhat of an aberration. Maybe she was trying a little too hard to serve well, instead of being a little more relaxed and flowing.”

Here’s what it looked like.

It’s too soon to tell what the effect on Bouchard’s ranking (currently at No. 39) will be, although it’s entirely likely she will drop out of the top 50 after working so hard to get back into it.

Lost in all the drama of the Canadian’s concussion issue a year ago here was the fact that she reached the fourth round of the singles before having to withdraw before the scheduled match against Roberta Vinci. By losing in the first round, she fell way short in defending those ranking points.

“My goal right now is to try to do well in the last few tournaments of the year, still have a couple of big ones in Asia. I want to prepare well for those,” Bouchard said. “Right now obviously I’m disappointed, so I won’t give a positive answer on that. Ask me in a few days.”

Before that, Bouchard returns to Quebec City for the first time in three years as the headliner at the Coupe Banque Nationale, the small WTA Tour event there the week after the US Open ends in mid-September

Bouchard’s ranking is good enough to gain direct entry into the two biggest tournaments the rest of the season in Wuhan and Beijing. She also has entered the small indoor event in Luxembourg in the mid-October.

“She’s played some of the best tennis of her life the last month or two – in stretches,” Saviano said. “She just has to sustain that, and she will. It’ll just take a little time.”