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Canadian tennis star Genie Bouchard has parted ways with giant agency William Morris-IMG, a reliable agency source has confirmed to Eh Game after a story by Daniel Kaplan first appeared on the Sports Business Daily website Thursday.
And when the 22-year-old announces who the replacement for now-former agent Jill Smoller will be, it will be the third agent/agency to represent her in the last 18 months.
That’s significant turnover, and it indicates some behind-the-scenes turmoil that only added to all the drama surrounding the Canadian on and off the court since her breakthrough season in 2014.
Longtime agent Sam Duvall and the Lagardère agency were turfed for the behemoth IMG in Oct. 2014, although Lagardère was asked to stop negotiating on her behalf months prior to that.
The front-runner for the job this time appears to be Tony Godsick, the former IMG agent who left to set up his own shop, Team 8 Global, with centrepiece client Roger Federer at the end of 2013.
Among the boutique agency’s other clients are Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina and Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria. Until now, it hasn’t had any kind of presence on the WTA Tour.
Godsick (who is married to former player and current U.S. Fed Cup team captain and ESPN commentator Mary Joe Fernandez), was in the running when Bouchard was looking for a management change back in 2014. But his reported stipulation that Bouchard’s mother Julie Leclair no longer be involved in managing her career may have been a deal breaker.
IMG is the gold standard of management agencies handling, among others, Maria Sharapova, whose success both on and of the court was a standard both Bouchard and Leclair aimed to emulate.
Messages to Leclair, Godsick and Smoller requesting comment were not returned as of Thursday afternoon. We will update this story if they get in touch.
Whose decision was it? Generally, in these circumstances, both parties will say it was a “mutual decision.”
But it’s a curious one.
Bouchard’s one-year IMG contract, made official in December 2014, had expired. The source confirmed the agency was working to renew it despite the myriad challenges it had encountered. Even without a signed contract, IMG continued to work on Bouchard’s behalf.
Certainly IMG had done well by the Canadian, whose ranking dropped in 2015 as she struggled to build upon the impressive results she posted in her breakthrough 2014 season. It was a year of struggle and injury, with a lot of turnover on the personnel side. As well, she is involved in ongoing, potentially blockbuster legal action against the U.S. Tennis Association stemming from the concussion she suffered in a locker-room accident at the U.S. Open last September.
Despite all that, IMG was able to renew Bouchard’s sponsorship deal with Nike for multi-millions. They also added endorsements from Rolex watches, Beats headphones and Aviva Insurance in Canada.
By the middle of 2015, no one remained from the support team around Bouchard during her finest hours.
Longtime coach and mentor Nick Saviano was gone at the end of 2014 although he returned to work with her in Charleston two weeks ago, in the absence of current coach Thomas Hogstedt.
Hitting partner Tom Burn also was gone at the end of 2014. Since then, Bouchard has had a number of people fill that role. Physical trainer Scott Byrnes lasted until this time a year ago before he, too, was gone. Byrnes is currently working with American Madison Keys.
Sam Sumyk, who began coaching Bouchard in February, 2015 after Bouchard began the season without an official coach, was let go after Wimbledon last year. We’re told Byrnes and Sumyk, among others, needed to seek legal recourse to get paid what they were owed.
The status of Thomas Hogstedt, who came on board in October 2015 but who couldn’t really get to work until Bouchard was physically able to return to the grind in the wake of her concussion struggles, remains unknown.
He was not scheduled to be in Charleston with Bouchard two weeks ago, for reasons that are unclear. But he officially remains her coach of record despite the presence of Saviano in Charleston.
A recurrence of the Canadian’s abdominal injury forced her to retire from her second-round match in Charleston against Lourdes Dominguez Liño of Spain. It also forced Bouchard out of Canada’s Fed Cup World Group II playoff tie in Bratislava, Slovakia this weekend.
Hogstedt’s status may not be clear until Bouchard does play again.
With all of this going on behind the scenes, the return of the the abdominal issue just as it seemed Bouchard was ready to get on a roll again can be put into better context.
It has always been the vulnerable area for the Canadian, going back to her junior days. Most players have a physical frailty somewhere – an area that breaks down under stress.
It seems there was more stress than anyone knew.