After three consecutive days of practice in Beijing, there was every hope Genie Bouchard's return to tournament play Monday would be without incident.
Unfortunately, that was not the case as the 21-year-old was forced to stop, down 2-6, 1-1 in her first-round match Monday against No. 13 seed Andrea Petkovic of Germany.
The 21-year-old took the main stadium court at the China Open with a vastly different look than Bouchard fans are used to.
In sharp contrast to her usually colourful Nike attire, she was clad in serious-looking basic black – right down to the shoes – with only a white and purple visor and a new pair of pink earphones as colour as she looked to finish a difficult season on a positive note.
It wasn't overly hot in Beijing – 23C at game time even if the city appeared to be having a particularly noxious smog day – and the humidity was under 60 per cent. But Bouchard had already asked for an ice towel by the second changeover as coaching candidate Thomas Hogstedt looked on, observing his charge for the first time in actual match action.
The first set had some "good" Bouchard, some more typical Bouchard from earlier in the season before she returned to some semblance of her 2014 form at the US Open last month. It would have been a lot to ask for her to pick right up where she left off at the US Open, before the concussion incident took her out of the tournament.
Her main issue was that Petkovic wasn't having much trouble returning her serve, and therefore was able to strike first in the points. Meanwhile, Bouchard couldn't put a dent in Petkovic's serve, and the German's stock play of serving her out wide on the deuce side, then sliding a forehand down the line worked time and time again.
After a 28-minute opener in which she vacillated between aggressive and patience, with neither being particularly successful – Hogstedt did not get called down on the set break for a consult - Bouchard came out with a more aggressive mindset in the second set.
Early in the set, on occasion, she was pinching the area between her eyebrows as one typically does when they have a headache. After an impressive swinging backhand volley won her the first point of the third game, she grimaced and gestured to chair umpire Eva Asderaki to call the trainer.
The tears came as she slowly walked to her chair. Through the consultation with the medical staff, the tears didn't stop. Petkovic came over to express her concern as it was announced that Bouchard was retiring, and she waved to the crowd, still in tears, on her way out.
The official reason for the retirement was "dizziness." Bouchard didn't do any interviews after the match.
"I thought I was physically ready but unfortunately the symptoms of my concussion came back," Bouchard said in a statement. Petkovic, who spoke to Bouchard on court, told the media in Beijing the Canadian told her she was dizzy. "I asked if it was the same, if it was still the concussion. She said it tends to come back when she gets physically very active," Petkovic said, paraphrasing the conversation.
"Obviously I knew what happened during the US Open and her struggles before. But I thought that she played really well in the match. Obviously she probably wasn't as focused as normally, I would say, or maybe she couldn't keep up the focus for each and every point," Petkovic told the media in Beijing. "But also with the stress, when it's a lot of people, adrenaline, it does stuff with your brain if you're healthy, so imagine having an injury. That's just my interpretation maybe of the whole situation. ... I feel like she was hitting the ball really well, which I didn't see in the first half of the year maybe – like the impact was really good."
No doubt Bouchard had been told that there well could be setbacks as she returned from the concussion, suffered Sept. 4 in the women's locker room at the US Open late at night, after Bouchard's triumphant third-round win over Dominika Cibulkova and her first-round win in mixed doubles with Nick Kygrios of Australia. Last week in Wuhan, she felt concussion symptoms on the practice court the Saturday before her scheduled Monday match, and withdrew before the match.
But how discouraging it must be, just the same.
Bouchard has only one tournament remaining on her official schedule, a smaller event in Hong Kong next week. Her future plans are obviously, at this point, up in the air.