MONTREAL – Tuesday night was the night the light went out of the Rogers Cup. And a player named Rogers had everything to do with it.
That's not to be confused with the lights actually going out – that happened, almost on cue, approximately five minutes after hometown heroine and tournament headliner Genie Bouchard's shocking 6-0, 2-6, 6-0 defeat at the hands of unheralded young American Shelby Rogers.
"I just felt a little, yeah, not great on the court. But it's a situation where I'll learn a lot, not so much about the tennis, but everything else but," Bouchard said afterwards.
It wasn't just that the 20-year-old from nearby Westmount lost. It was also how she lost, in a three-act drama that ran counter to just about every single moment of the last six months of Bouchard's incredible rise to the top of women's tennis.
Whatever was thrown her way, whatever excessive hype she had to manage, however the expectations for her kept growing exponentially, Bouchard stayed on message.
This is what I wanted, she said. The pressure is a privilege. The attention must mean I'm doing something right. I don't worry about the expectations of others.
It was a mantra she repeated in Australia, at Fed Cup, at Indian Wells, in Paris, at Wimbledon and again before this tournament started – perhaps often enough that she truly believed it.
But on Tuesday night she looked her age. She looked frightened, and intimidated, and unsure exactly how to handle it. It was as though all the pressure she swallowed whole all season long had been sitting there fermenting all this time, compelled to explode exactly at the wrong moment.
"I want to leave the court," Bouchard said to coach Nick Saviano said when he took the court for a consultation, after Bouchard had dropped the first five games of the match.
"I understand. You're overwhelmed," he responded.
There were tears, and looks of despair. After she dropped the first set, she quickly went down 15-40 in the opening game of the second. Saviano, perhaps not realizing his microphone was still on, said this: "She's not listening. This match is going to go quickly."
Bouchard threw a plaintive look over to Saviano and the rest of her support team sitting courtside, but somehow managed to come back and hold that game. The partisan crowd exploded; Bouchard reacted with a slight shake of the head.
But Rogers's momentum had been broken. Bouchard broke her– then proceeded to yell over at her people. And then she rolled to a 6-2 win in the second.
Whew. Crisis averted. Surely she would roll now?
It didn't happen. And that was the surreal part.
One thing Bouchard has done so well the last year is to turn the tide in matches she was losing, keep fighting until the end. This time, she didn't fight. She couldn't fight, really. It wasn't so much a lack of effort as the fact that her feet were encased in cement. She just stopped moving; that happens when the nerves take over.
The other option was for Rogers, a 21-year-old who, after struggling with fitness through her junior career and early in the pros, has made massive strides in that area and has steadily been climbing in the rankings, to go away.
To her tremendous credit, Rogers did not. Perhaps going through the qualifying and winning her first-round match on Monday gave her a comfort level Bouchard didn't have.
"After the match, I'm sure you heard me say, 'I'm sure you don't want to hear from me (to the crowd during an on-court interview)," she said, drawing a laugh. "I mean, I knew she was going to up her game in the (second set) , for sure. She's got so many weapons, such a great arsenal. I knew it was going to be tough to keep it up. Clearly it was. She played unbelievable the second (set)," Rogers added. "I just tried to reset for the third. Today it worked, so I'm very happy."
Rogers served well, remained consistent on her groundstrokes, and hit winners. A lot of winners. She was pulling a Bouchard on Bouchard, dictating play and not allowing the Canadian to do what she does best. She also neutralized Bouchard's fearsome service return by directing a lot of her serves into the body, jamming her opponent and not allowing her to get a good cut at the ball.
"I think she was pretty solid the whole match, you know, so... She never really sprayed too many balls, and she was always there," Bouchard said. "Whenever I let up a little bit, which I think I did in the third, she was all over it. You know, she definitely took the match."
In the end, as well as Rogers played, Bouchard is a superior player and the outcome of the match was overwhelmingly in her trembling hands.
It wasn't as though the warning signs weren't there. The first was Bouchard's decision to skip a warm-up tournament in Washington, D.C. last week in favour of another week of downtime before taking on the huge challenge the Rogers Cup poses for her on every level.
The result was that this was Bouchard's first match in nearly a month, and her first competitive match on an outdoor hard court since she played in Miami in late March. It was a calculated risk, one that didn't pay off. Bouchard herself even tried to gently lower expectations before the tournament started, for that very reason.
"My last real match was in the final of Wimbledon. It was tough playing here. I knew it was going to be tough from the beginning, but this is how the schedule was and I had to play. This is the way it is," she said in French.
Bouchard added that the pressure of playing in front of the home crowd was similar to playing in the Wimbledon final. "Wimbledon was a very important moment for me. Here it was a second round, but I knew there were many expectations from many people here," she said. "Also, becoming a top-10 player and reaching the final in Wimbledon played a part in the extra pressure I felt here."
Bouchard just wasn't ready to manage a tough match after the long layoff. It didn't appear that Rogers would offer up that quality of opposition. But she did.
Add to that the surreal nature of a challenging day. The power went off through the entire complex, and a big chunk of the area north of it, after the second set of the Venus Williams match about 2 p.m.
Whatever time was spent in the players' lounge was spent in darkness. The match itself was delayed more than hour as two generators sent over by Hydro-Québec were set up. The scoreboards didn't work. The Hawkeye challenge system didn't work. For a large part of the match chair umpire Emmanuel Joseph's microphone didn't work.
There were an incredible number of distractions – all of which added to Bouchard's distress and perhaps relieved Rogers's stress; the American said later that all of it almost calmed her down, because it gave her something else to think about. There were even some sprinkles of rain at the start of the match; rain and even thunderstorms had been called for and expected all day, but they never materialized – the only blessing during a trying day for the tournament, media and fans.
The loss was almost like setting the reset button on everything that has been happening to Bouchard this year. But she will recover quickly from this, using the same fortitude that got her there in the first place.
In the end, she showed she was human. Not that there was any doubt about that, but things were rolling along so sweetly you almost started to wonder.