In her first public comments since the US Open, Canadian tennis star Eugenie Bouchard won't commit to January's Australian Open

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Stephanie Myles
In her first public comments since the concussion incident at the US Open Sept. 4, Canadian tennis star Genie Bouchard was circumspect about her return to play (from CP24.com)
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More than 2 1/2 months have passed since Canadian tennis star Genie Bouchard slipped in the locker room at the US Open and suffered the concussion that effectively scuttled the remainder of her 2015 season.

There hasn't been a single public comment from her since then (press-release quotes and comments relayed through her New York lawyer aside).

But after flying from Miami to Toronto for an early-morning promotional appearance Thursday in conjunction with Nike's new Canadian launch – you can now order their products online and have them delivered north of the border – she was circumspect and non-committal about an actual return to competitive tennis.

"I’m okay, thank you. And I’m really looking forward to being healthy and playing next year. It’s all a process," Bouchard said, when asked how she was by a reporter from CP24's breakfast show this morning.

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Asked about whether she was looking forward to January's Australian Open, the first major of the 2016 season and her best tournament effort of the 2015 season, Bouchard was vague.

"I don’t know yet. I don’t want to make any comments or commitments in terms of that. Just doing my best to try to get healthy, and yeah, just want to stay positive," she said.

It was thin soup, indeed. Clearly the ground rules about the media opportunity – little more than a breezy, live, breakfast-show hit with dozens of Nike-clad early-morning exercisers in the background – were laid out in advance. There were no questions about what took place in that locker room, or anything after that including Bouchard's aborted attempt at a return to play in China. That's fairly understandable.

That much was clear when Bouchard called the interviewer out on her off-camera pledge that she wouldn't bring up Bieber's name, smiling through gritted teeth.

Despite an apparent pre-interview promise not to bring up Justin Bieber, Bouchard was still asked about him, and she wasn't pleased. (From CP24.com)
Despite an apparent pre-interview promise not to bring up Justin Bieber, Bouchard was still asked about him, and she wasn't pleased. (From CP24.com)

It is impossible to know how Bouchard is truly feeling and what her plans are given the backdrop of the Montreal native's ongoing legal action against the USTA, which filed its response to her original negligence claim last Friday and was rather categorical in its legalese. Anything she says and does now is under closer scrutiny than ever before.

In a TSN interview earlier this week, Bouchard lawyer Benedict Morelli said Bouchard had been feeling concussion symptoms as recently as 2 1/2 weeks ago and had to repeat the concussion protocol before being cleared to resume practicing, which he said she had returned to Florida to start doing. He added that he "didn't know if she had gotten over the symptoms."

"I've spoken to Genie (on the telephone). Genie is going to try to her best to be able to come back. She really has a very big problem with this concussion and this traumatic brain injury. We are hopeful this will not be a permanent situation. She is starting to practice as we speak, and trying to get back into shape to be able to play," Morelli told TSN. "We believe that ultimately she’s going to be okay. But her ranking is dropping precipitously. Most people don’t realize that if you don’t play, you lose so much, not only in your ability to win, but in your ranking."

Morelli told ESPN.com that the Bouchard told him the USTA was "being really aggressive" with her. "She wasn't really angry about this. She was just upset," he said, adding that none of Bouchard's big sponsors have yet indicated they had any issues. "But that’s another problem, potentially," he said.

Genie Bouchard's New York lawyer, Benedict Morelli, told TSN that God willing, she will be okay. (TSN.ca)
Genie Bouchard's New York lawyer, Benedict Morelli, told TSN that God willing, she will be okay. (TSN.ca)

Morelli reiterated his stance that despite Bouchard's struggles in 2015, the 21-year-old had a legitimate shot at the US Open and the accident cost her a legitimate opportunity.

"My argument is, this is a young woman, at 21 years old, has already reached the semi-finals in two majors, the finals at Wimbledon, and was once ranked five in the world. The woman who won the US Open (Flavia Pennetta), was 32, never won a major and as soon as she won, she retired. And Serena didn’t win, obviously," he said. "Genie was already in the round of 16. She was playing really, really well, and anyone who knows tennis knows the round of 16, not that bad. Not bad at all."

What's the next step? Morelli told TSN that given the level of court that was hearing the dispute, he didn't feel as though it was going to be "years" before it was resolved.

"We now will do discovery, we will get documents from them. We will take depositions from witnesses. After that they will see the light, hopefully. If they don’t see the light and want to go further, that’s what I do," he said. "I believe if they would look at this thing in a realistic manner instead of a defensive posture, they would see that they’ve really damaged this young woman, and the USTA should be protecting their women players – not trying to hurt them more than they already have." 

Bouchard's early 2016 schedule remains unconfirmed.

She reportedly was not interested in returning to Perth, Australia the first week of January to take part in the Hopman Cup, a mixed exhibition event she played in 2014 with Milos Raonic and this year with Vasek Pospisil. It would have been a perfect, no-pressure way to easy back into competition after what will essentially be four months away.

Rather, reports this week were that Bouchard is already entered in the WTA tournament in Shenzen, China, which takes place the same week and is arguably the most low-profile of the tournaments on the schedule that week. (The others are in Brisbane, Australia - a Premier event with a tougher field and more prize money - and Auckland, New Zealand, which is a lot closer to the site of the Australian Open in Melbourne).

As for the week before the Australian Open, which begins Jan. 18, Bouchard's currently-fallen ranking is likely to keep her out of another Premier event in Sydney, one she has played twice before. It's a 32-player draw and the average ranking cutoff over the last six editions has been No. 31 – a long way from Bouchard's currently WTA Tour ranking of No. 48.

She would need a wild card to avoid the relative ignominy of qualifying, and the tournament generally awards its available free passes to Australian players.

The other option would be a tournament Hobart, Tasmania, an International-level event. That's the lowest tier on the WTA Tour; Bouchard played just one tournament at that level in 2015, a grass-court tuneup in 's-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands before Wimbledon.

She will be unseeded at the Australian Open, and therefore at the mercy of the draw gods to avoid facing a top player as early as the first round.

All that is assuming she is fit, eager and ready to go as 2016 dawns. If she is, she will be under pressure from the get-go.