NEW YORK – As tennis star Genie Bouchard enjoyed some downtime in New York City with twin sister Beatrice after her unexpectedly-early dismissal from the U.S. Open by Russia's Ekaterina Makarova (clearly she stil has a name-recognition issue among the fashionistas - see above), she didn't look like a women headed to Hong Kong for the inaugural WTA Tour women's event there this week.
It's a long trip. There is the inevitable jet lag. And the hot and humid conditions there make what Bouchard faced in New York look like a meat locker, and need a few days to adapt to.
Nevertheless, the tournament's organizers announced only Saturday afternoon that Bouchard, who would have been the top seed and star attraction and was in large font on the tournament's promotional posters, was "withdrawing".
That was actually factually incorrect; to withdraw from a tournament, you have to enter it in the first place. And Bouchard never actually did.
If she did play it, she would have bypassed her home-province WTA Tour event in Quebec City, held at the same time. The Coupe Banque Nationale organizers certainly were open to holding a last-minute wild card for her. But it turns out Bouchard isn't playing anywhere.
The Hong Kong organizers absolutely crushed the 20-year-old Montrealer in the media, especially in the South China Morning Post in an article published Sunday.
"She lost in the fourth round and it took her until now to give us a written reply that she would not be coming. ... We had her on posters everywhere. We feel let down that she did not honour her agreement to turn up in Hong Kong."
"If Bouchard was injured we could understand and wish her well. But she is simply tired. When she agreed to come, as an athlete she should understand there is the possibility that she could do well during the spring and summer and be a bit tired. But surely she should have kept her word."
The first-year tournament's other attraction, China's Shuai Peng, became an even bigger deal after she reached the U.S. Open semi-finals. But Peng also isn't playing after suffering heat illness in her match against Caroline Wozniacki and being taken off the court in a wheelchair. She looked pretty good, considering, in her press conference a few hours later. But she's out; she will, however, reportedly show up at the tournament to do some promotional stuff, sign autographs, the types of commitments players who withdraw from a tournament do to avoid a penalty.
Hong Kong Tennis Association president Herbert Chow Siu-lung used that to take another shot at Bouchard.
"Peng will still turn up in Hong Kong even though she will not be able to play. She is someone who understands what 'honouring a commitment is' and this is true sportsmanship," he said.
Chow said that when the deal was being negotiated during the French Open, Bouchard's ranking was "20-something" (she was at No. 18 in Paris) and her agent asked for an extra ranking incentive bonus to be added to the appearance fee, which they agreed to. Chow concluded that if this were on the table, Bouchard should have expected to have a played a lot of tennis leading up to the event to raise her ranking to that level – in other words, if she were tired after a deep U.S. Open run, that shouldn't have come as a surprise to her and shouldn't have affected her commitment.
"To say she is tired and cannot turn up because she is fatigued is poor form. Bouchard and her manager asked for a top-10 bonus and after reaching the top 10 she did not honour her commitment," Chow said.
According this earlier story, Chow may have seen it coming - happy that he signed Bouchard up before her Wimbledon final but concerned that a big run in New York might cause her to pull out. That she ddn't end up making that big run may have been a fool's paradise.
As of a month ago, Eh Game inquired and was told that the only Asian tournaments officially on Bouchard's schedule were the back-to-back Premier events in Wuhan and Beijing. Even then, Hong Kong was not a done deal – at least in the Bouchard camp – despite the fact that she was on the tournament website's entry list.
By Thursday, when Bouchard still hadn't sent in whatever paperwork is necessary to confirm her presence, the organizers really should have seen it coming. But they said they were still hopeful.
This is the kind of stuff tournaments do when their big attractions bail out on them; they delay announcing their absence until the very last minute, to squeeze all the ticket sales they can out of it.
And you can't blame them. In this particular case, the Hong Kong Open is a first-year event, – the first in that part of the world in 20 years – and the tournament reportedly paid the WTA Tour $2 million just to buy the spot on the schedule. There are two other WTA events this week - a ludicrous number the week right after a Grand Slam.
The tournament made a big splash with a press conference in early July to announce their "big get" along with the announcement of their title sponsor.
But in truth, the fact that Bouchard wouldn't enter outright, preferring to have the flexibility of a wild card that would allow her to pull out without consequences should have been a red flag from the get-go.
It's sort of a grey area, but Bouchard had until Noon Sunday, the doubles sign-in deadline, to provide written confirmation to the tournament supervisor on-site that she was accepting the wild card.
So the organizers sat all week and waited – and sweated – with no news or confirmation coming even though they thought they had a firm deal two months ago. It was all pretty thin soup, indeed.
The other reality of the situation, and this is something that affects all three tournaments being held this week, is that most top players do not play the week right after a Grand Slam tournament. There used to be two events on the schedule; now, there are three, after some reshuffling to squeeze in a new Premier event in Li Na's hometown of Wuhan later this month. All part of the WTA Tour's big push to add tournaments and revenue in Asia.
Before the last-minute addition of Venus Williams, the top player entered in Quebec City this week was American Madison Keys, ranked No. 27. Keys is out, though. After Williams, ranked No. 20, the next-highest ranked player in the field is No. 55 Ajla Tomljanovic. In Tashkent, Uzbekistan, the top seed is No. 36 Bojana Jovanovski of Serbia, and she's the only played ranked in the top 60.
In Hong Kong, which is a similar "International" event (all of the tournaments this week offer $250,000 in prize money) they obviously had more seed money to lure players. But the top seed after Bouchard's no-show is Sabine Lisicki of Germany – and she's not even on the posters. The second seed is Daniela Hantuchova, who dropped out of the top 50 with the new rankings released today.
Through all the doubt and hand-wringing on the other side of the world, Bouchard was all over New York City, including at a Yankees game last Friday, where she caught two foul balls.
— Eugenie Bouchard (@geniebouchard) September 6, 2014
And enjoying New York Fashion Week.
— Eugenie Bouchard (@geniebouchard) September 5, 2014
She didn't even have to say she wasn't coming. It was pretty clear.
The official reason for Bouchard's no-show was that her medical team advised her to take two weeks off. She, of course, professed her disappointment in an official statement the tournament released.
Not that Bouchard can't use the rest. She's had a tough summer physically, and it all came to a head in that overheated U.S. Open loss to Makarova. But it's somewhat specious, on both sides.
We reached out to Team Bouchard Monday afternoon, but received no response.
But it would be surprising to see Bouchard in Hong Kong during her career, except perhaps for a brief layover on a flight to Australia. Or a shopping trip.