There have been encouraging moments for Genie Bouchard on the road back to what she was just two years ago.
But every time it seems the Canadian was about to gather some momentum, there has been a setback.
The latest is the return of an abdominal injury last week in Charleston. Bouchard retired during her second-round match against 35-year-old Lourdes Dominguez Lino of Spain, ending a promising effort there.
The Volvo car Open draw developed gaping holes with top players going out and there was every reason to think the Canadian, with the way she played in the first round and her positive history in Charleston, could make a serious run. But the injury means, to no one's surprise, that Bouchard won't be able to keep the date she made with the rest of the Canadian Fed Cup team in Bratislava, Slovakia this weekend.
“I am disappointed that I won’t be a part of the team, I was looking forward to defending my country’s colours and joining my teammates in Slovakia,” was the word from Bouchard in the press release from Tennis Canada. “However, I need to take the time to heal my injury. I wish our team the best of luck.”
Joining Aleksandra Wozniak, Françoise Abanda and Sharon Fichman in Bratislava will be 17-year-old Charlotte Robillard-Millette, who was competing in the ITF Junior Masters Cup in Chengdu, China last weekend and has spent the last few weeks in Asia.
The abdominal injury (which first occurred when she was a junior) returned in 2015 at Indian Wells in March, in a dramatic third-round match against qualifier Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine. It was Bouchard's second tournament with new coach Sam Sumyk, hired a month previously. Despite the injury, Bouchard continued to play but until she arrived at the US Open in September and made a run (one cut short by her concussion), she went 3-14.
The abdominal strain turned into a 1.5 grade tear the week before Wimbledon. But Bouchard still played there and lost a shocker in the first round to Ying-Ying Duan of China. She said later that it was probably a mistake to play.
Clearly this time, with several top-level tournaments and two Grand Slam events coming over the next three months – tournaments where Bouchard has everything to gain in terms of ranking points – she needs to get it right.
Bouchard told Eh Game in Charleston that it wasn't one consistent issue that affected the abdominals. At times, she tried to play through it, to her detriment. On another occasion, she re-aggravated it when she was working to change her service motion. But it's clearly a weak spot for her, a part of the body that takes the brunt of it when she's tight or nervous, as the knee or shoulder can be for other players.
Without her, the Canadian team is a serious longshot against Slovakia, which will have former top-10 player and former Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova (who won the tournament in an indoor hard court in Poland last week) in the lineup. When the teams met on Canadian soil in 2014, Slovakia came without its top players.
Wozniak hasn't played for a month, dealing with a bursitis issue in her foot that only rest could cure. Abanda, a 19-year-old who has had her best career moments in Fed Cup, has bumped up her ranking in recent weeks at small events but will be in tough against a player like Cibulkova.
The Canadian squad (with the exception of Robillard-Millette), have already arrived in Bratislava to get in some practice for the tie, which will be held indoors on red clay. They are essentially a forgotten bunch.
The men's World Group Davis Cup tie against France in Guadeloupe last month was well-attended by the Tennis Canada suits – including president and CEO Kelly Murumets and board chairman John Le Boutillier. That is not expected to be the case for this one, even with the expectation last week that Bouchard would be on board. It has not escaped the players' notice.
But the tie is crucial for Canada's Fed Cup hopes. If the Canadians lose, they will be relegated into the Americas zonal competition. Unlike the two-day weekend ties at the World Group I and II levels, the zonal competitions are week-long events against teams like Colombia, Brazil and Argentina, most often held in South America on the slow, red clay.
It's a grind the Canadian team thought it had left behind for good three years ago when a win in a playoff tie against Ukraine on the road – a victory led by the emerging Bouchard – propelled them into the World Group picture.