With Eugenie Bouchard's arrival in Montreal for the Rogers Cup, the harsh headlines begin

With Eugenie Bouchard's arrival in Montreal for the Rogers Cup, the harsh headlines begin

Admittedly, there are times when Canadian tennis star Genie Bouchard doesn't help her own cause (and yes, I'm going to come to her defence here). 

But given the headlines as the Montrealer returns to her hometown to try and get on a roll at next week's Rogers Cup, you can hardly blame her for, however briefly, thinking about delaying her arrival for a few days. During a week when all of her focus will be needed to navigate a tough WTA Tour Premier 5 field, it has already begun.

From the Journal de Montréal's Réjean Tremblay.

A rough headline, and a quote unrelated to the actual issue the story has with Bouchard's Montreal participation. But hey ... (Journal de Montréal)
A rough headline, and a quote unrelated to the actual issue the story has with Bouchard's Montreal participation. But hey ... (Journal de Montréal)

The legendary québécois columnist's disdain for Bouchard has been well-documented. But in this one he talks about the Rogers Cup tennis dedication of a woman who was a telephone operator at his former newspaper for 40 years and, with a little literary license, "tells" her that Bouchard "doesn't give a s..t" about her."

Of course, that didn't actually happen. Bouchard was thinking out loud after a tough first-round loss Tuesday in Washington, D.C. against Italy's Camila Giorgi about "maybe" delaying her highly-anticipated arrival in Montreal by a few days and hitting some Washington, D.C. museums. She made the "don't give a s..t" remark regarding the criticism she receives both in the regular media and anonymous social media, not about the fans in Montreal.

It definitely could have been put more diplomatically, but she has said it before: Bouchard is trying to shut out all of the hype around her, good and bad, and focus on the task at hand without taking any of the praise seriously when things are going well or too much of the criticism to heart when she is struggling. Misusing the quote in this case is, to say the least, ironic.

Ruining a good narrative, it seems, is that Bouchard re-thought what was just an off-the-cuff notion and in fact left D.C. the following day and headed straight for Montreal, albeit with a four-hour delay for her flight. She was in downtown Montreal by Thursday afternoon for a public promotion for the tournament and will do several sponsor commitments over the next few days.

She also had three hours of practice scheduled on the big courts at Uniprix Stadium Friday – and you know the selfie requests after those practices will be exponentially higher than at regular events. From past observations, Bouchard will smile and fulfil as many as she can; she does this even after her warmups on match days. A lot of players don't do that. As much as some of the criticism of her can be justified, what is not in question is the way she treats the fans who come to tournaments to see her around the world. Even during her worst struggles in 2015, that rarely wavered.

Tremblay then goes on to question Bouchard's dedication to being a professional athlete with the same old saw about her preferring to be a celebrity, positing that she can be rich and famous on social media without having to put in all the hours on the court and even taking a shot at the eating struggles she discussed earlier this year. Bouchard discusses this here, at Wimbledon.

Tough crowd.

Next up, Bouchard's young career"in peril," also from the Journal.

The Journal de Montréal is not being kind to Genie Bouchard this week.
The Journal de Montréal is not being kind to Genie Bouchard this week.

Columnist Marc de Foy says that following her loss to Camila Giorgi in Washington, D.C. Tuesday, Bouchard "demonstrated disinterest, arrogance and conceit – in short, nothing to make herself desirable to companies on the lookout for product endorsers."

Having interviewed her one-on-one after that defeat, that was not my impression. I sensed frustration, anger at herself and some dismay that she was unable to take all the hard yards she has been putting in on the practice court since Wimbledon into practice on the match court. It helped explain why she was, well, a little flip in her press conference.

De Foy draws the parallel to another blonde Canadian star from 30 years ago, Carling Bassett, with her multi-millionaire father (which Bouchard's father Mike most assuredly is not), her modeling contract (Bouchard said at Wimbledon that she didn't do a single modeling shoot for the modeling arm of IMG during the year they represented her) and, most inaccurately of all, compares the lifelong battle with anorexia and bulimia Bassett-Seguso has struggled with to Bouchard's far less dangerous and severe struggles of a year ago. He states Bassett-Seguso "abandoned" tennis at age 21 to make her own life, which also was not the case.

"The easiest thing to say is that Miss Bouchard doesn't have it any more, and that she's not long for the courts. Personally, I'd think that she's not the young woman shown to us on a loop on television for the last two days," de Foy graciously admits.

He theorizes that as with many athletes who start at an early age, Miss Bouchard possibly didn't have a childhood nor an adolescence, that she's probably had it up to here with tennis and is putting the blame for her on-court struggles on her coaches, the media and the fans who criticize her. Impressive psychoanalysis from someone who has likely never had any sort of conversation with her. I'm not sure I've ever heard her blame anyone but herself for her struggles. But not to acknowledge everything that has surrounded her would be disingenuous.

On Saturday, there was this epic from Le Devoir – headline is "Eugenie Bouchard: it's so difficult to like her" - political in tone and blaming Bouchard for everything from not having an accent aigu in her first name to – horrors – not feeling that Montreal was an adequate place to train outdoors in the heat and decamping for a place where such conditions existed. The writer also quotes Tremblay liberally in the piece, the man whose dislike for Bouchard is well-documented but who is never around tennis, and his contention that the Bouchard's "reputation among journalist and players" is that of a "petite baveuse" - a Quebec expression that basically means both "pretentious" and "mean".

The most dramatic effort was an "open letter" to Bouchard published in La Presse and taken up by various media outlets in the province. The author is Quebec businesswoman Francine Laplante, president of a growing Quebec natural food store chain.

"Dear Eugenie," the letter begins, "I think that you don't realize the luck you have in life. ... It's never too late to transform your life, to change your behaviour, to look at the world that goes on around you. Life, Eugenie, real life! That of your fans, the people who allow you to afford all your desires. The fans who wipe the sweat off their brows, struggling to make ends meet, the fans who go to see you, who save up to buy your sponsors' products. The fans who love you despite everything and whose love you currently don't deserve."

Laplante proposes that instead of going to "visit museums," Bouchard spend the way with Laplante visiting young people her age who are dying of cancer. She also suggests a coach for Bouchard: former Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban, "who excels in the art of giving, giving to his fans, his community, his sponsors."

She wites that to deserve the admiration of all and earn your spot amongst the greats, you must give, give and give some more. "And unfortunately, that's impossible when one only wants to receive."

Bouchard is lucky that the fairly sensationalist TVA Sports network is the official French-language broadcaster of the Rogers Cup as of this year; otherwise, they'd likely be on her, too.

Bouchard wasn't at the Smithsonian Thursday; she was interacting with fans in downtown Montreal. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)
Bouchard wasn't at the Smithsonian Thursday; she was interacting with fans in downtown Montreal. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)

The criticism is part and parcel of Quebecers who have become famous, an outgrowth of our inherent inferiority complex in the global scheme of things. They call it the "tall poppy" syndrome, where average normals try to cut anyone who breaks out and has huge success outside the homeland back down to size. It happened to Céline Dion when she first made it big, too. Add to that the fact that Bouchard's French (decent, given how rarely she uses it) is spoken with a distinct English accent, and that's strike two. Strike three is the fact that she has chosen to take up residence in the ... UNITED STATES, specificially Miami where the weather is better for training, close to where her coach lives, and where the tax laws are friendlier.

She even gets criticized for not putting an "accent aigu" on the first "e" in her first name, which legally doesn't have one. (I know this feeling well).

And first impressions are nearly impossible to overcome. Andy Murray, the two-time Wimbledon champion, still has legions of haters in Great Britain because of some off-the-cuff remark about England and soccer a decade ago, as a naive teenager. That he has grown into a thoughtful, progressive, kind husband and father and gracious champion doesn't seem to matter.

Two years ago, after her Wimbledon final, Bouchard was greeted in Montreal with a story about her divorcing parents' complicated finances. Three years ago, when the tournament was in Toronto, La Presse dissected some some old news about her father Mike's unsuccessful attempt to make her training expenses as a junior tax-deductible.

In the end, Bouchard's D.C. press conference was unfortunate (as were some of the questions). Coming in off a tough-to-swallow defeat, she definitely had her guard down and made comments ripe for quick-hit reactions. She needs to take much better care of those situations given the spotlight that is nearly always on her; she has to know by now that she is a polarizing figure who can do no wrong for her legion of admirers and no right for the legions in the opposite camp. It would be smart not to give the detractors more material to feast upon.

Yes, some young athletes her age handle it all a lot better. Many handle it a lot worse.

As well, she'd take a lot of the pressure off if she'd announce a decision about the Olympics, especially as she said this week that it's not likely any of the criteria will change in the next week.

This is hardly the first time the 22-year-old has gotten herself into hot water with off-the-cuff smart remarks and actions. But at the same time, if Bouchard opted to address the situation by ending up as yet another politically-correct robot athlete who toes the line, says all the right things over and over again – none of it the least bit interesting – she would get reamed out for that as well.

It's a no-win situation. And in the end, it's easy to see why the Montrealer has made the determination that she shouldn't care about anything that's said to her or about her other than from the people closest to her.

From what we've seen, Bouchard has learned quite a few life lessons in the last couple of years. The lady still has a lot of growing up to do, and the sharp edges to her personality that show up from time to time aren't going to disappear. It's who she is.

It's just a shame the critics who are so quick to hop on anything they perceive as negative don't give her the credit she has deserved over the last year for the grace with which, week after week, interview after interview, country after country, she politely and honestly answered questions about her "fall from grace" and her struggles on court.

Perhaps they were enjoying it too much to notice.