PARIS – It started with a roar for Canadian Genie Bouchard at the French Open Thursday. Then, things got complicated.
The 22-year-old Canadian jumped out to a 4-1 lead over No. 8 Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland playing solid consistent tennis, with maxed-out velocity on her serve. Her opponent, a semi-finalist here a year ago, was gifting her with uncharacteristic errors that only helped her cause.
And then, the Philippe-Chatrier roof caved in – or would have, if there were a roof. But that’s another storyline.
“Yeah, it's unacceptable, really, to lose 10 games in a row in a match,” a disappointed Bouchard said after a 6-4, 6-4 defeat, which sends out her of the French Open in the second round just when it seemed anything was possible.
“What's the most disappointing is my game feels good. My shots feel good. I feel good on the court,” she said. “I felt like I put myself in a good position in preparation and everything. I've done everything that I possibly could to be ready. I started out strong. The game plan was working and things like that.
“I think that my focus a little bit was the part that let me down, the mental part. Something I've been working on.”
Bouchard came out ready for what she knew Bacsinszky was prepared to throw at her: the variety, the sliced forehands, the drop shots.
The Swiss player said later that she had trouble getting her bearings on the massive main stadium court, with all its extra room on the sides and behind the court. Despite her high ranking at the moment, Bacsinszky has far less experience on the game’s biggest stages than the younger Bouchard does at this point.
But once she did, and realized that Bouchard was hip to the game plan she had used to defeat the Canadian at Indian Wells back in March, she went to Plan B. Bacsinszky has the luxury of being able to win tennis matches many different ways and on this day, she went on the attack.
“Even if I warmed up on (the big court) a half-hour this morning, I had trouble finding my rhythm. She played with different tactics than the last time I played her. I felt she was pretty consistent at the beginning of the match, and she was expecting my variety so I had to find another solution. I was able to change my tactics, my intentions, and put a few more balls in the court,” Bacsinszky said.
“I think she was a bit more aggressive than I expected. What woke me up in that second set was I realized I needed to be that one stepping into the court more.”
By the time Bouchard woke up, though, it was pretty much too late.
From being down 1-4, Bacsinszky was up 6-4, 5-0 and the thing of it was, Bouchard wasn’t playing all that badly.
She made more errors than she had in the early going. But even though she was serving well, and scrambling well, it seemed Bacsinszky was always half a step ahead of her tactically.
For whatever reason on the day, the Swiss player had no problem reading Bouchard’s serve even if it was hitting 175 km/h on the first, and consistently above 140 km/h on the second – nicely above the types of speeds Bouchard was putting up last season.
But at that point, Bacsinszky fell off quickly. Or Bouchard’s level picked up. It probably depends on which player is your favourite, but in truth it was a bit of both.
For those 10 games Bacsinszky hadn’t given the equivalent of a nickel away. But suddenly, the errors returned and the next thing you knew, Bouchard twice was a point away from evening the set up at 5-5.
“At the beginning of the second set her level dropped, in my opinion, and that’s where I really was able to pull away,” Bacsinszky said. “It’s a lot simpler to play with your back against the wall at 5-0. She had nothing to lose, and she found good length on her shots awhile I was missing balls by 2 cm – not even.”
Bouchard broke Bacsinszky to eliminate the ignominious possibility of a second-set bagel.
At 1-5, when Bouchard was serving to stay in it, she was down match point before Bacsinszky failed to put the next three serves in play.
When Bacsinszky attempted to serve it out again at 5-2, Bouchard finally broke – on the fifth opportunity, and then held her own serve at love to once again put Bacsinszky on the hot seat.
The Canadian wasn’t able to take advantage of her opportunities in that game; had had evened the set up, who knows what could have happened?
“I feel like I made up for it a little bit at least coming back and fighting until the end. I'm always going to do that. So I saved face a little bit. It was kind of too little, too late,” Bouchard said. “Soon as I kind of relaxed and played my game, you know, I was coming out on top on a lot of the points. So I wish I had had that mentality earlier in in the match and not four points away from losing.”
The palpable disappointment from Bouchard came from a different place than it did a year ago. Then, she often almost seemed resigned to defeat – certainly that was evident on the court.
On this day, as she travelled from faraway Court 16 to legendary Court Philippe Chatrier on the strength of one match win, the disappointment came from a renewed confidence that her game might just be there in a way it wasn’t a year ago.
But it’s still a loss. And for her, the French Open is done. And she has 10 days to ponder it before she plays her next tournament, which will be on grass.