For Genie Bouchard, today is almost like Groundhog Day.
Finally back at her home base in Miami for the first time since before the US Open more than three months ago, Bouchard should shortly begin preparations for a new season that will be the most important one in her still-young career.
As she does, it’s very much like déjà vu all over again in the Bouchard universe.
Eh Game has confirmed that the 22-year-old Montrealer and longtime mentor Nick Saviano have once again called it a day.
That’s not news that will come as a major shock. But there has yet to an official announcement from either side.
Exactly two years ago, on this very Monday in November after Bouchard returned from a high-rent exhibition event put on by British mogul Richard Branson on Necker Island, she and Saviano split after a season that saw her reach a career best No. 5 in the world, the Wimbledon singles final and the WTA Finals in Singapore.
That 2014 announcement didn’t come from Bouchard but from Saviano himself.
This year, no official announcement from either side.
After that, Bouchard went through her preseason training without an official coach and without making overtures to most of the well-regarded coaches out on the market.
She started the season coachless. We know how the 2015 season turned out.
For all intents and purposes, Bouchard’s 2016 tennis season ended with her dramatic defeat at the hands of Alla Kudryavtseva in Quebec City in mid-September.
Since then, as her rivals kept playing, took brief end-of-season holidays and began their pre-season training blocks, the 22-year-old Montrealer has been around the world.
She skipped the WTA Tour’s Asian swing but made brief stopovers in Linz, Austria and Luxembourg to fulfil contractual commitments, losing in the first round at both tournaments to players ranked well below her.
After that, (roughly in chronological order), Bouchard made pit stops in:
-Geneva, Switzerland (to tour the Rolex installations)
-Ankara, Turkey (for an exhibition with Turkish player Cagla Buyukakcay)
-New York (no doubt to begin depositions related to her lawsuit against the USTA)
-The Bahamas (for a quick vacation with friend and fellow Canadian player Heidi el Tabakh.)
-Las Vegas, where Bouchard’s agents are based, was the latest on Monday.
We know all this because the social-media queen has documented nearly all of this on her Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat accounts, culminating in a series of racy bikini shots from a resort in the Bahamas that had her trending on websites like this one:
There were some rather direct hints from Tennis Canada high-performance chief Louis Borfiga and Fed Cup captain Sylvain Bruneau during a French-language television interview a few weeks ago that Bouchard needed a coach to be with her full-time on the road.
That is not, and will never be, Saviano.
And Eh Game has learned that Tennis Canada has reached out to at least one WTA Tour coach to initiate discussions about a possible alliance. That coach likely wasn’t the only one.
The fate of coach Cyril Saulnier, who travelled often with Bouchard this season when Saviano wasn’t with her, is unclear.
Borfiga and Bruneau also alluded to the fact that Bouchard was lacking a full-time physio and physical trainer in 2016; the last such member of Team Bouchard, trainer Scott Byrnes, left more than a year and a half ago and is currently working with American Madison Keys.
All of those key hires need to be made, and it’s not always easy to find a good fit. Bouchard hired Sam Sumyk in February of 2015 mainly on reputation and resumé; she barely knew him, and they had only a few practices together in Montreal while the Canadian Fed Cup team was playing in Quebec City that week before a deal was struck.
It turned out he was not the right coach for her; Sumyk lasted six months.
Only 40 days remain until Bouchard is scheduled to begin her 2017 season in Brisbane on New Year’s Day. That period includes some sort of a Christmas break and up to a week of advance travel time to Australia to properly recover from jet lag and acclimate to the steamy summer conditions Down Under.
That’s not many days to train, especially as she has done little of that the last two months. It’s not much time to try out potential coaches and interview support staff candidates. It’s not much time to hire them, and even less time to gel as a team.
It could have been worse; Bouchard had signed on to play some matches in the off-season IPTL exhibition league, which would have required a long flight to Asia and back – another week wasted. But it appears the league won’t operate this year.
Bouchard has done some media interviews in the last few weeks – nearly all set up with agreements that her toothpaste sponsor be prominently mentioned. That includes a podcast with Sports Illustrated and this bit probing the contents of her sponsor-laden tennis bag. A Montreal radio station discussed her “foufounes” at length this morning.
She did an “Ask Genie” on Twitter while she waited out a flight delay in the Bahamas Sunday, which yielded answers to burning questions about whether her booty is real and the state of her Chee-tos supply.
And, of course, this:
But amid all of the superficial questions about selfies, training methods, social media and Halloween costumes there have been no questions asked, and no answers given as to what her plans actually are.
Preparing the 2017 season properly is more important than ever for Bouchard, who has suffered through back-to-back difficult years since her shining moments in 2014 and whose ranking now hovers barely inside the top 50.
Her once world-beater confidence has taken a beating; a slow start in Australia, where she must defend more than 25 per cent of her current ranking points total, would take a toll on her ranking as well.
One recent development is that Bouchard now has a new agent handling her affairs with her new agency, the Las Vegas-based PRP.
When Bouchard signed with the agency after not renewing with giant star-making outfit IMG, she was managed by Colin Smeeton.
In recent weeks, those responsibilities have been turned over to John Tobias.
It’s a full-circle type of situation. Tobias was the long-time head of tennis for the Lagardère agency, which represented Bouchard through her professional career until she left them and signed with IMG at the end of 2014.
While at Lagardère, Tobias handled Americans Sam Querrey and Bob and Mike Bryan, who are now also with PRP. A non-compete clause Tobias signed upon leaving Lagardère is now expiring, so the move is a logical one for him. But Bouchard didn’t leave Lagardère – and Tobias – on especially good terms.
As well, the second phase of Bouchard’s reported five-year deal with Nike is kicking in. And a well-placed source tells Eh Game the contract structure changes quite a bit in the third year of the agreement. The first two years of the multi-million dollar deal were guaranteed. As of this year, the contract is significantly more incentives- and results-based – that is to say, if her ranking remains where it is, she could take a major financial hit compared to the two previous years.
That’s likely true of most of her endorsements; these contracts generally contain hefty clauses that kick in dependent on top-10 or top-20 rankings.
No one’s about to start a Kickstarter fund for Bouchard – she has made out just fine the last few years. But it could be another added element weighing upon the Canadian as she tries to return to her best level, after spending much of 2016 trying to wipe all those outside expectations and pressure off her radar.
Bouchard’s tentative early 2017 schedule is completely different than the one she played a year ago.
She began 2016 at the WTA Tour event in Shenzhen, China – in large part because it is run by IMG, which represented her at the time. She then went to play a small tune-up event in Hobart, Tasmania.
This year, instead of Shenzhen, Bouchard will play Brisbane. Shenzhen and the other women’s event that week in Auckland both are lower-level “International” events while Brisbane is a “Premier” tournament that offers more ranking points.
At the entry deadline Monday, her ranking of No. 46 meant Bouchard squeezed into the main draw – barely, with one spot to spare. With five current top-10 players (and nine of the top 20) entered, she could face a tough challenge from the very first match of the new season.
Bouchard is then entered in the larger Premier tournament in Sydney, which traditionally has a rankings cut-off in the low 30s. That was a big reason Bouchard played the smaller Hobart tournament a year ago; she would have had to play qualifying in Sydney while she could gain direct entry into Hobart. She ended up reaching the final and got a nice boost of confidence heading into the Australian Open the following week.
Eh Game also has learned that the 22-year-old will get a wild card into the Sydney main draw there if she needs one – not necessarily on the basis of her marketability, but because Tennis Canada traded a main-draw wild card into the WTA tournament in Quebec City with Tennis Australia for the privilege. Unless a very top player wants in at the last minute, Australian tournaments rarely hand out wild cards to non-Aussie players.
There again, the field should be very, very strong.
Many challenges lie ahead for the Canadian. And the clock starts now.
In the meantime, she does now have her own personalized Diet Coke bottle.
(Lawsuit update: After two months of little to no official activity in the lawsuit filed by Genie Bouchard against the USTA back in October of 2015, there was a little action Monday.
The Bouchard side has requested an extension of several Nov. 30 deadlines for discovery – notably because they are having trouble getting a US Open locker-room attendant on duty the night of the incident that ended with Bouchard suffering a concussion to come in and give her deposition voluntarily (the defendants, per the request letter, are having the same issue).
The official document states the plaintiffs are going to have to subpoena her, and consider she may well have crucial information about the events of Sept. 4, 2015 including when, and by whom, the slippery substance applied to the trainers’ room floor was applied. Both sides have asked for a 30-day extension in the delivery of other discovery reports, citing upcoming Thanksgiving holidays and the availability of some experts.
And so, the saga looks to continue well into 2017)