With an on-court meltdown reminiscent of the 2014 Rogers Cup, Eugenie Bouchard exits the Coupe Banque Nationale
It felt very much like that fateful night in Montreal two years ago, when a full house ready to cheer her every move watched local heroine Genie Bouchard melt down in Uniprix Stadium.
The season that followed was a washout, cut off abruptly by the concussion incident at the US Open. There were hopeful signs of progress in 2016 – two steps forward, one step back.
But in a flash on Thursday night in Quebec City, the 22-year-old was right back to where it all began going so very wrong.
Bouchard sold out the PEPS tennis arena Wednesday night in her return to the Coupe Banque Nationale after a three-year absence. She pulled out a first-round victory, even if the tennis was pretty ragged.
But Thursday night before another big crowd, came another meltdown. And the 6-2, 6-3 loss to No. 162-ranked Alla Kudryavtseva of Russia leaves her squarely back at square one.
Kudryavtseva is a very capable, experienced player, much better than her current singles ranking and has been as high as No. 15 in doubles. But she didn't have to do much.
"The province of Quebec has good vibes for me, I have to say, I love Canada, it’s amazing. The knowledgeable tennis people always come. They cheer for their favourites, but at the same time they’re not disrespectful, they’re appreciative of a good match," said Kudryavtseva, whose coach/hitting partner, Alain Humblet, hails from Brossard, Que.
Perhaps if Bouchard had converted on one of the three break points she had in Kudryavtseva’s first service game, she might have quelled the nerves and all the doubts and panic that clearly overtook her might have been held at bay.
But she didn’t.
She wasn’t moving her feet. She was falling into Kudryavtseva’s patterns of play without any thought as to how she could neutralize them. She wasn’t getting much on the ball; for the second straight night, her serve was nowhere near where it had been through the summer, when there were so many encouraging signs that the weapon that had let her down the most through 2015 was roaring back to life.
Midway through the first set, Bouchard got even more aggressive, wanting to finish points off quickly but making even more errors.
After back-to-back desultory double-faults into the net, down a second break in the set, it was all but over. The first of those double faults came on a serve that clocked in at … 112 km/hour.
With coach Nick Saviano not in Quebec City this week, she called upon Canadian Fed Cup captain Sylvain Bruneau for a little advice, pep talk – something.
But as Kudryavtseva easily served out the first set, Bouchard put one ball in play in the game – the first ball she hit.
After a long toilet break, she was down love-40 in her first service game in a flash, serving almost at half-speed. She was barely waiting for the chair umpire to call the score before she threw the ball up to serve the next point, and she was broken easily.
At 0-2, the crowd tried to rally her but still, she wasn’t moving her feet, and was rushing through the points as though she had someplace to be.
She managed to hold. Bruneau came out again after that game, urging her on as best he could – even as he walked back to his chair, and she to her baseline, he was still trying to encourage her.
She earned her first break point since the first game of the match in the sixth game of the second set, but missed her second-shot forehand in the net.
After shanking a backhand return that allowed Kudryavtseva to hold, the Babolat racquet paid the price.
No damage was done, but there were a few more boos.
Broken at love to hand Kudryavtseva the match in just over an hour, Bouchard was off the court in five seconds flat to a few more boos, and out the door without doing a post-match press conference.
She’ll get her fair share of criticism for that, no doubt, and a fine from the WTA. But through some of her worst losses over the last two years, she never shirked that commitment even if it was the last thing she probably wanted to do. More than anything, it speaks to her current state.
Bouchard had the crowd in the palm of her hand at the tournament, which was crucially short on star power and in which she was the No. 1 seed. Her face was the face of the tournament, and a lot of the tournament's success obviously rested upon her shoulders.
The seven other seeded players had lost early; there was no one ranked in the top 100 left to stand in the way of her winning her second career title – and on home soil, at that.
She didn’t get a good night’s sleep the previous night, even Tweeting about the noise outside her hotel room. It's not something she would, under usual circumstances, complain about publicly.
If you want a hotel where you can sleep, I would not recommend @HiltonQuebec pic.twitter.com/nWIYv6jiA4
— Genie Bouchard (@geniebouchard) September 15, 2016
It created a big stir, of course – everything involving Bouchard does that. Television crews headed to the hotel to get comment from the management and back to the tennis facility to get comments from tournament officials. Competing hotels in the area replied to her Tweet offering better options. All sorts of websites – even mainstream media outlets – breathlessly covered it.
But a bad night’s sleep doesn’t explain what happened.
One thing’s for sure, this isn’t about tennis.
Was it just a month ago that Bouchard was as happy as she has appeared in a long time, soaking in the Olympic experience in Rio with a smile that refused to leave her face?
It seems like much longer than that.
She arrived in Quebec City looking thinner, her eyes gaunt, a shadow of that happy, enthusiastic Olympian who walked into the opening ceremonies as though it was the best day of her life.
Bouchard was off for a photo shoot outside Quebec on the weekend, has a new Diet Coke commercial running and a new website with her toothpaste sponsor has gone live. After a year during which tennis was pretty much the sole focus, the endorsement monster is rearing its head again.
There have been some off-court family matters to deal with as well as the ongoing lawsuit against the USTA that took up a lot of bandwidth when Bouchard was in New York for the US Open.
The downward curve may have begun there, a sharp reminder that the lawsuit saga has many more months to go and once the season is over will require a lot more of her time. It seems as though it’s all getting to be too much again.
Bouchard’s next scheduled tournament is the big Premier 5 tournament in Wuhan, China, which begins in 10 days.
Two years ago, in its inaugural edition, she was ranked No. 9 and seeded No. 6, and went all the way to the final before losing to Petra Kvitova.
She missed it last year, still recovering from the concussion. This year, she will go in unseeded and clearly not in a good place at all.