In her Olympic debut, Eugenie Bouchard shines in a victory over American Sloane Stephens

RIO DE JANEIRO – Less than 24 hours after a moment Genie Bouchard said she would remember for the rest of her life, she went out on a packed field court at the Rio Olympics and routinely dismissed a quality first-round opponent in inspired fashion.

Bouchard defeated American Sloane Stephens 6-3, 6-3, advancing to the second round of singles. She will play her first-round match with countrywoman Gabriela Dabrowski late tomorrow afternoon, or possibly early evening.

The 22-year-old won’t know who her opponent is until shortly after lunchtime Sunday and this being the Olympics, when players compete for themselves and also something greater than themselves, anything can happen. No. 2 seed Angelique Kerber will play Mariana Duque-Mariño of Colombia, a solid player who will be competing in the first Olympics ever held on her continent and who will surely have major support even if Saturday’s match proved that Bouchard’s appeal has not escaped Brazil.

But first things first: Bouchard’s effort against Stephens was on point, at every level.

“I’m just happy on many fronts. From a mental perspective she was exactly what we wanted. On her game, she was aggressive yet she was being smart, not checking out of points too fast, waiting for the right opportunities to put pressure,” said Canadian Fed Cup captain Sylvain Bruneau, who is acting as coach this week. “From a physical standpoint she went after every single ball, made some really really good gets, and showed that she’s faster than she was, and that puts pressure on your opponent.”

Bruneau, who spends a fair bit of time with Bouchard at the bigger events throughout, is standing in for coach Nick Saviano. Many players, not all, bring their regular coaches to the Olympics. But Saviano is not a coach who travels with his student every week, so it’s no surprise he’s not here.

Bouchard was still buzzing from Friday night’s opening ceremonies, which she attended despite having a match the following day. Being the fourth scheduled on her court was helpful; she didn’t get on until well after 7 p.m., when it had already been dark for an hour.

A nice smile between players who have known each other for more than a decade after Bouchard's first-round win over Stephens. (Stephanie Myles/
A nice smile between players who have known each other for more than a decade after Bouchard's first-round win over Stephens. (Stephanie Myles/
Bouchard ran, scrambled and prevailed in her Olympic debut Saturday. (REUTERS/Toby Melville)
Bouchard ran, scrambled and prevailed in her Olympic debut Saturday. (REUTERS/Toby Melville)

But it wouldn’t have mattered. She told Bruneau that if she didn’t go, she’d be so sad about it she wouldn’t be able to sleep anyway, so she would play even worse.

“I’m a little tired, I’m going to go to bed early tonight, but it was something I could not miss. Because I came here that was, for me, such a special moment that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. If anything, it motivated me today,” Bouchard said. “The moment I will remember is entering that stadium both hands up, waving, smiling. I had this out-of-body experience knowing that I was going to remember this forever, and it made me so proud and happy. I’m on a cloud.”

If she was weary, it didn’t show on the court, where she took another step forward and built on the visibly improving speed and movement she displayed during the Rogers Cup in Montreal last week.

Stephens is a fine athlete with great speed. And Bouchard stayed with her on every point unless Stephens hit a flat-out, unreachable winner. There were several exchanges that showed just how zoned in the Canadian was on getting to every single ball, even it wasn’t the most graceful, even if the point seemed doomed anyway.

On several occasions, just scratching and clawing to get back one or two more balls resulted in Stephens making an error.

The American made plenty of those.

Stephens’ career has, in some ways, been a mirror image of Bouchard’s. Stephens did it a year before the Canadian did, upsetting Serena Williams and reaching the semifinals at the Australian Open in 2013, and getting up to No. 11 in the world late that season. Since then, her career has gone in fits and starts.

Stephens followed a super performance in winning the WTA tournament in Charleston (and a snappy blue Volvo) with a couple of decent performances in the French Open and Wimbledon. But the rest of her results since then have been far below what she’s capable of.

Saturday, she appeared frustrated, disinterested at times, and certainly not willing to pay the price on the night that Bouchard was more than willing to do whatever it took to move on the Olympic event.

It was a match, going in, that seemed ripe for one of them to play to her level and the other to play well below. Given both have a history of both, there was no way of knowing who would do what.

In the end, Bouchard seized the moment far better.

“I’m proud. It’s my first Games so I’m happy to already have a win in the first round. I put a lot of pressure on her on my serve, and also her serve,” Bouchard said.

“She loves the ambiance here but on the mental side, she really applied herself today – really made sure to be on each ball, each point in every moment. It went well overall; she didn’t have any big crises in the match,” Bruneau said. “We really felt she was taking her time to be 100 per cent mentally. When an athlete does that in tennis, they’re in good shape.”

“And, she played well.”