Future still bright for Eugenie Bouchard
MONTREAL -- There were always going to be many miles and tournament draws to travel before the lofty predictions came true about rising tennis star Eugenie Bouchard. But here's the easiest way to explain why the 20-year-old Canadian was already a sensation beyond the record ticket sales she sparked for her first-ever pro tournament in her hometown of Montreal: She's had a better year at the Grand Slam majors than even top-ranked Serena Williams, whom Bouchard was on a collision course to meet here in the quarterfinals at the Rogers Cup if they both kept winning.
That won't happen now after Bouchard swooned to a 6-0, 2-6, 6-0 loss to American qualifier Shelby Rogers Tuesday on a strange day in which growing pains weren't the only problem Bouchard had to deal with.
The electrical power at Uniprix Stadium was lost for more than eight hours, starting at 2 in the afternoon, and didn't completely return even after some emergency generators at least made it possible for Bouchard and Rogers to play under the lights on Center Court. Still, half the match was played in silence because neither the public address system nor the umpire's microphone were immediately restored, forcing the crowd to pay close attention or lose track of the score.
Afterward, Bouchard was frank and unsparing about her performance after all the hype. "I think I was feeling the pressure a little bit on the court," she said. "I think I was match rusty. ... It's a situation where I'll learn a lot -- not so much about the tennis, but everything but the tennis."
And still, rocky as it was, it will take more than this result or the last shutout set Bouchard played in the Wimbledon final to quell the talk she's tennis' next Big Thing.
It was telling how even 32-year-old Serena Williams answered a question Monday about whether she agrees with Chris Evert that Bouchard is going to be the "next face of tennis." Williams said, "She's already proven to be one of the faces of tennis now. Why wait for the future?"
Williams had just arrived in Montreal fresh off winning the title at the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford a day earlier, so she hadn't even been in town long enough to see that among the many Top 20 players in the Rogers Cup draw, only Bouchard -- a semifinalist at the Australian and French Open and runner-up at Wimbledon -- had two bodyguards assigned to escort her across the grounds Sunday to keep the swarming crowds at bay.
Bouchard is also the only player here whose face is splashed on the cover of this month's Canadian edition of Elle magazine. And so far, only Bouchard had several organized groups of fans -- they call themselves "Genie's Army" -- who showed up at Uniplex Stadium Tuesday chanting her name and wearing custom-made T-shirts to announce themselves. One of the fan clubs is based here in Montreal, but another is a group of five male fans who flew all the way from Australia.
No wonder Rogers apologetically told the crowd during her on-court interview, "I'm probably the last person you want to hear from right now."
Bouchard's troubles started almost immediately after she got a loud and long standing ovation when she first took the court -- and before she'd struck a single shot.
The Rogers Cup is her first tournament since she lost to Petra Kvitova in the finals of Wimbledon four weeks ago. And though that match started well enough for Bouchard, it ended with Kvitova going into a can't-miss zone and absolutely blasting her off the court in the second set for a 6-3, 6-0 win. Bouchard's troubles in this match were different. Her unforced errors and serving troubles contributed to her problems as much as anything Rogers did.
But going forward, there are many concrete reasons to believe in Bouchard's promise. She still brings far more than just the sort of cover-girl looks that Sloane Stephens or Caroline Wozniacki or a lot of players before them have had.
Other players say Bouchard already has the sort of aggressive, risk-taking game that makes her hard to play. She takes the ball early, which cuts down on her opponent's time to react. Though she has a deceptively effortless-looking swing, the ball cracks off her racket, and she figures to gain even more power on her groundstrokes as she gets older. She already moves well and serves well.
Tuesday, Rogers rated Bouchard's return of serve "incredible."
But perhaps Bouchard's most impressive traits are how she already seems able to translate her game to any surface -- the hard courts of Australia, the clay at the French Open, and the grass at Wimbledon, where she won the 2012 junior title -- and how her best pro results have all come at the Grand Slams, against the world's stiffest competition.
"That's what I've noticed about her," said Martina Hingis, a former kid phenom herself, after playing her doubles match before Bouchard took the court. "The first time I saw her four years ago [at a junior tournament] I thought she was one to watch. It was just the way she carried herself, not just how she played. Even then she just seemed different. And so mature."
That's why no one would be shocked if Bouchard won next month's US Open, even after this flop, and resumes becoming tennis' next ingénue.
Bouchard is such a potent combination of skill and temperament, it shouldn't have been a surprise that Maria Sharapova -- who Bouchard publicly calls a role model -- hemmed and hawed a little when asked the other day if she's given Bouchard any career advice. Sharapova is tennis' current queen when it comes to off-court earnings (though she's a few gold bricks shy of Serena's 17 Grand Slam singles titles), and Sharapova gave an evasive answer about hardly believing she's been around long enough now to stride two eras, having a good team around her, blah blah blah. Mostly, she sounded like a star who is not yet ready to be put out to pasture at the age of 27 by some new kid.
"No advice has been given," Bouchard's coach Nick Saviano admitted Tuesday.
And that's OK.
Bouchard's homecoming was a temporary setback. But it should hurt nothing more than her feelings. She admitted she's felt her life change since she rocked to No. 7 in the world after Wimbledon, but then, with a sigh, she added, "This is a position I want to be in. Next time I just have to deal with it a little better."