PARIS – The whole match seemed to go by in a flash - and yet it seemed like an eternity before 22-year-old Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic succeeding in serving it out – on her third attempt.
The 6-4, 6-4 loss sent 2014 French Open semi-finalist Genie Bouchard packing in the first round, as the 21-year-old Canadian's worst-case scenario came true on a gloomy evening in Paris that undoubtedly matched her current state of mind.
Adding insult to injury, Mladenovic is a big-serving, big-hitting, shotmaker. And yet, she basically defeated Bouchard with ... her drop shot. During one stretch, she went 7-for-7 with it.
Bouchard probably wasn't aware of this, but her post-match press conference was broadcast live across the country, in both official languages. Never in recent memory has she seemed so lost, so shell-shocked, really. In a way, she has rarely appeared more sympathetic, more human.
The mask of false bravado she has worn for most of the 2015 season was gone; Bouchard didn't even try to put any kind of positive spin on a decisive defeat that was at once surprising, yet hardly surprising at all.
"Practice has generally been better. So I have just been kind of waiting for it to click on the match court," Bouchard said.
How much she has been playing sets against other WTA Tour players during the clay-court swing is hard to determine. But in Paris over the few days leading up to Tuesday, she played against both Kaia Kanepi of Estonia and Andrea Petkovic of Germany. And many of the same issues that were in evidence against Mladenovic on Tuesday were in evidence over the weekend as well.
The only thing about the loss to Mladenovic that was close, after the first few games, was the scoreline. And that was a mirage. The Canadian's on-court demons didn't take long to appear, just as they appeared at Indian Wells, in Charleston, during Fed Cup in her hometown of Montreal, and then in Madrid, Rome and now in Paris.
Overall, Bouchard kept her cool. There was a one-two punch of racquet tosses when she was broken for a second time to go down 0-4 in the second set. There was plenty of muttered profanity. But in the end, it was almost as it there were no longer any point in any public displays of frustration and dissatisfaction; Bouchard has learned, having lost tennis matches in just about every way you can, that the churlish on-court behaviour hasn't done her a single bit of good.
The problem, as ever, isn't the new coach. It's isn't the game that, when fueled by confidence, is plenty good enough. It's the mind game that continues to be her biggest foe right now.
"I think it's hard to not try to think about what's going on when it's not going well. I think, but I do think when I'm playing my best tennis is when I'm being more instinctive. I think that's something I need to get back, just, you know, trusting myself, because I know I can play well," Bouchard said.
Bouchard signed up for mixed doubles with Max Mirnyi, a veteran of the doubles wars and a former partner of Canadian Daniel Nestor. It might be the good for her to play with virtually nothing at stake, remember what it's like to have fun on a tennis court and not overthink everything. In fact, it's somewhat surprising she elected not to play doubles in Madrid or Rome, for that very reason.
That, of course, is if she plays. Given Tuesday's developments, Bouchard might well prefer to get out of town sooner rather than later.
Bouchard's record in her last nine matches is a telling 1-8. With this defeat, she likely will make what most people think is a long-overdue exit from the top 10. That she hasn't been playing like a top-10 player is not in doubt; in the "road to Singapore" race, which gives you a good idea of the players' form in 2015, Bouchard sat at No. 34. With this loss, she'll drop even further.
She first broke into the top 10 nearly a year ago, at Wimbledon. Now she will return there and from the sound of it, plans to add a second warmup tournament to the single event she had signed up for.
Asked by the British media whether returning to the scene of the most successful tournament of her career so far might trigger some positive feelings, Bouchard said she hoped so.
"Hopefully. I mean, hopefully the grass will be good for me. Plans are to go and play and play a couple of warmup tournaments, and, yeah, hopefully enjoy it," she said.
What a long, long journey it has been from the standard Genie Bouchard quotes from a year ago, which were small variations on this stock statement: "I'm not surprised when I do well. I expect to do well."
Bouchard's high expectations are long gone, now. Now, she said, she has no expectations at all and doesn't expect to have any for the foreseeable future.