BOCA RATON, Fla. – The biggest issue facing rising Canadian tennis star Genie Bouchard at the moment isn’t the competition, or an injury, or bad press.
It’s that, despite her rather grown-up, jam-packed life, someone still has to drive her around.
The 19-year-old is too young to even rent a car in Florida, where she spent nearly a month training in preparation for a highly anticipated 2014 season that starts this weekend at the Hopman Cup exhibition event in Perth, Australia.
Even that is a moot point; Bouchard doesn’t have her driver’s license, not having been home enough to take the required driver’s ed classes.
“When was the last time you were even home for six weeks in a row,” she’s asked.
“Probably never!” Bouchard answers with a laugh.
Mother Julie is on hand, and the rental Hyundai has been piling up the miles as the Bouchards head from their home away from home – a friend’s house in Davie – to coach Nick Saviano’s academy at a park in Plantation, up to the U.S. Tennis Association’s
training center in Boca Raton for practice matches against some of the American players, to the gym, to meetings with her agents, to the occasional concert or Miami Heat game, and back home.
Lather, rinse, and repeat a similar routine nearly every day.
“I actually thought it’s been going by pretty fast. I enjoyed my break, but I was starting to get antsy and wanted to play,” Bouchard said of her ‘off-season’, which lasted all of three weeks and only included one week of true vacation, on the beach in Cancun, Mexico.
“I really did miss it,” she added. “What I loved when I was five years old, I still love. Just hitting the ball, competing. That’s probably what I’m anxious about most, getting back and competing after all this practicing.”
There have been changes over the last few months, most notably that after years of listening to multiple coaching voices, Bouchard will go into 2014 with just savvy longtime mentor Saviano as her main coach.
Former world No. 3 Nathalie Tauziat, who has travelled with her for big parts of the last two seasons and was on hand when she won the junior singles title at Wimbledon in 2012, will work with Blainville, Que.’s Aleksandra Wozniak in 2014.
“The thing is, of course, is that I’ve been with (Saviano) since I was 12, and I’ve been coming back and forth (from Florida) since I was 15,” Bouchard said. “It was just more to have one voice. I’ve done the two coaches thing, and I wanted to do something different and still keep Nick really involved,” Bouchard said.
Saviano, a 57-year-old American with an accomplished playing and coaching resumé, has for decades steadfastly refused to be a full-time, traveling coach.
Clearly, his willingness to partially cave in on that vow with Bouchard (the plan at this point is to be at the four Grand Slams and a few other selected large tournaments) speaks volumes about what he thinks of her potential.
“Many years ago, I turned down Jim Courier, who at 19 asked me to travel with him full time. I turned down Jennifer Capriati, too. I was asked by a lot of great players over the years, and I made it clear at that point that I’m married, I have three children, and I did not want to go out on the tour for 35 weeks a year,” Saviano said.
“I want to help Genie along with her career, and help put her in a position I think she’s capable of being. And I suspect that if she keeps progressing, she’ll get a full-time coach that will take that dominant responsibility."
Bouchard has also hired a hitting partner, recently retired Australian pro Joseph Sirianni. After the long trip to Australia that kicks off the 2014 season, they’ll also look into hiring a traveling fitness trainer and possibly an athletic therapist.
When you get to the upper reaches of professional tennis, having that team around you is no longer a luxury, but a necessity. And Bouchard is right on the brink of that rarefied air.
“That’s the plan; you need to start having everyone around you if you can, because it really does make a difference,” Bouchard said. “If you think you can be at that level, or you want to be at that level, you have to start acting like it.”
Bouchard’s ascent to the top won’t get any easier this season.
Having been around at the top WTA Tour level for most of the last year, opponents and their coaches will start to get a better read on Bouchard’s game.
Her rise in the rankings means there will be a lot more demands on her time.
And her blonde good looks – it’s a fortuitous roll of the DNA roulette wheel, but an undeniable one – mean she has to deal with all “that” extra attention as well.
“It’s all a learning process, whenever it’s the first time you’re going through it. She’s a good person. She’s hardworking, she’s grounded, and she’s learning as she goes along,” Saviano said. “She needs to keep focusing on the right things: the intensity that is required, the philosophical approach, and the striving for excellence every time she’s on the court.
“It’s not about that particular win; it’s about being everything she can be, every time she goes on the court,” Saviano added. “A total commitment to excellence.”
Bouchard said the increasing attention is a sign she’s doing something right.
“If you look at it as a problem, it’s a good problem to have,” she said. “It means people actually care to talk to you and about you, so I take it as I’m very lucky.”
But it did mean Bouchard’s brief off-season was jam-packed.
During the two weeks she spent at home in Montreal, she fulfilled various media obligations nearly every day.
Christmas at home before her Monday departure for Australia lasted all of two days – Saturday with one side of the family, Sunday with the other. And even during that time she was scheduled to film commercials for Tennis Canada and record a segment for a Radio-Canada television show that will air in a few weeks.
And yes, she did need to hitch a ride everywhere.
“Everyone thinks it’s weird (that I don’t have a driver’s license), but to me it’s not weird. I just haven’t had time,” Bouchard said. “It’s only those random weeks I’m at home and I’m like, okay, ‘Can someone drive me somewhere?’
“I don’t mind being driven around. I don’t have to do parking, or the gas. The driver has to take care of that,” Bouchard laughed.
Stephanie Myles has written about everything from Major League Baseball to wheelchair rugby to tiddly winks over the last two decades. You can usually find her on a tennis court somewhere. Tennis musings can be found at opencourt.ca.