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PARIS – While most of the tennis world's attention was focused on the outskirts of Paris, where qualifying was wrapping up and players were making final preparations before the French Open begins Sunday, Genie Bouchard was busy elsewhere.
The 20-year-old Montrealer was busy winning her first career WTA Tour title.
Bouchard, the No. 2 seed, defeated unseeded Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 to win the (deep breath) Nürnberger Versicherungscup, a French Open warmup event in Germany.
There were moments. Bouchard let 6-2, 4-2 before Pliskova won four straight games to push it to a third set. And in that third set, there were enough breaks of serve – despite both women having very good serves – to make it a roller-coaster of a ride.
Not yet having won a title was something Bouchard has been criticized for in some quarters; for whatever reason, the trophy from a small International tier event ($250,000 U.S. in total prize money) seems to count more than making the final four at a Grand Slam event, which Bouchard did earlier this year at the Australian Open.
And longer she went – longer, at age 20 and in her first season playing all the top tournaments, is a relative term – the more critics sharpened their pencils and tuned up their keyboards to draw parallels to that other much-typed tennis blonde of a previous era who received a lot of publicity for her good looks, Russia's Anna Kournikova.
But that imaginary "monkey" is now off Bouchard's back, even though those types of criticisms likely rolled right off that back.
Bouchard had a similar opportunity earlier in the year, when she played a small event in Acapulco, Mexico right before the Indian Wells tournament. But she fell to France's Caroline Garcia in the quarterfinals. In Portugal last month, where Bouchard was the No. 2 seed, she was beaten by Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarterfinals.
Bouchard also made the final of a small event in Osaka, Japan last fall, losing to Samantha Stosur of Australia.
As a top 20 player, those smaller events are going to become more rare, as most of her tournament play will be at the Grand Slams and the Premier-level events – such as Indian Wells, Madrid, Rome and the Rogers Cup – where all the best players in the world are represented. It's a big challenge to win one of those events – not that she might not do it eventually.
It was such a big deal, it was probably even worth having to wear this get-up for a "Ye Olde"-themed player party earlier in the week.
Bouchard moves up three spots in the ranking with the Nürnberg title, jumping over American Sloane Stephens, German Sabine Lisicki and Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro to what will be a new career high of No. 16, made official when the new list is released.
Before the win, only the American Stephens had a higher ranking among the top WTA Tour players without a title. Stephens is still searching for her first trophy. Bouchard is the first Canadian to win a tour title since Aleksandra Wozniak – who qualified for the main draw in Paris today – won Stanford from the qualifying in 2008.
Best of all, after a difficult clay-court campaign, the Canadian comes into her second French Open, her first as a seeded player, with a welcome dose of confidence.