Eugenie Bouchard: ‘All The Hard Work Is For Something’

WASHINGTON, September 17, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

A win is a win in Eugenie Bouchard‘s book these days. Even though the former World No. 5 lost a hard-fought, three-set final to upstart Romanian Patricia Maria Tig on Sunday, which capped a week of matches on clay in Istanbul, she still came away from her journey to Turkey a big winner.

That’s because on Monday, the French Tennis Federation awarded the 26-year-old Canadian with a prized wild card entry into the main draw of the French Open, which begins on September 27 in Paris. The 2014 Roland Garros semifinalist was the only non-French woman to receive a wild card following a week in which her ranking shot from No. 272 to 167th after going 6-1 in Istanbul.

Indeed, lost in the shuffle of Naomi Osaka winning her second US Open title in three years, 5,000 miles and an ocean away in Istanbul at the TEB BNP Paribas Tennis Championship Istanbul, Bouchard went about the business of rediscovering how to play the sport she loves to play – albeit six years after her 2014 dream season in which she reached the semifinals of the Australian Open and French Open, was a finalist at Wimbledon and advanced to the fourth round of the US Open. She was the first Canadian-born player representing Canada to achieve that distinction as well as the first Canadian tennis player to be ranked in the Top 5.

Since then, Bouchard has struggled after suffering a concussion while competing at the 2015 US Open. With her world ranking in decline due to paltry results and inactivity from injuries, Bouchard dropped out of the Top 100 in 2018 and ever since has been trying to recapture her past glory.

In Istanbul, Bouchard needed a wild card just to gain a berth in the qualifying draw, but she made the most of her opportunity. She toiled away both mentally and physically, well out of the Grand Slam spotlight in New York. But guess what? She started winning.

After gaining a berth in the main draw through winning a pair of qualifying matches, Bouchard upset top seed and 34th-ranked Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia, 7-6 (3), 6-7 (5), 6-2 in the second round. Then, she followed it a day later with another three-setter, defeated 92nd-ranked Danka Kovinic of Montenegro, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5, in the quarterfinal round. Bouchard’s winning ways continued in the semifinals as she beat Spain’s Paula Badosa, 6-3, 6-2, to reach Sunday’s final against the 88th-ranked Tig.

Bouchard, who had not competed in a WTA tour-level final since 2016 in the Malaysian Open and hadn’t won a title since Nuremberg six years ago, started well in the final and won the first set 6-2 before Tig found her rhythm. The Romanian rebounded to win 2-6, 6-1, 7-6 (4) in two hours and 29 minutes, but not before Bouchard saved an incredible seven match points with a variety of skill and luck before Tig prevailed in the end. At her best, Bouchard exuded confidence, ripped her ground strokes on the red clay for winners and dictated play.

During the trophy ceremony that followed the final, Bouchard thanked the Istanbul tournament for giving her a wild card into the qualifying event. “My ranking wasn’t even good enough to get into this tournament,” she said. “So, thanks to you I had a chance to play and get all the way to the final. This was a very memorable week in Istanbul and I hope to be back.”

In three virtual interviews building up to the final, Bouchard spoke about how she built her confidence, round by round, with each quality win – leaving it all on the court.

“It’s definitely helping my confidence. I’ve already had confidence because of the hard work. Matches like this are just the result of this. It takes a lot [of hard work] to get to this point. It’s a long time coming. It’s more a validation that all the hard work is for something.”

Asked why she’s suddenly winning, Bouchard said: “Not giving up, fighting through being tired physically and mentally. I’m really proud of that. I can turn things around, there’s always hope. I’m proud of being able to reboot and getting back to focusing on playing. It gives me a sense of confidence, even when things aren’t going well, to give myself a chance to win.”

When Tennis TourTalk asked her what she’s learned about herself on clay, Bouchard answered:

“It’s been physical, learning to be patient, waiting for the right ball to go for it, just trying to improve on defense. I’ve been able to grind out points. It’s been worth it. …

“It’s pushing me out of my comfort zone, but I like all surfaces. Hopefully, it will help me grow. I try to not change my game too much with different surfaces.”

During the five-month hiatus from the pro tour, Bouchard spent much of her downtime in Las Vegas working on her fitness with Andre Agassi’s former fitness trainer Gil Reyes. Then, before heading for Europe where she was a quarterfinalist on clay in Prague, she spent much of July playing World TeamTennis in West Virginia as part of the Chicago Smash franchise.

“I didn’t have an end goal, a tournament to look forward to, but I still decided to focus on my fitness because it’s so important to my game,” she said. “It’s been one of my goals. It’s shown me that it’s worth it. It gives me the trust I’ve done the right thing and the [wins are the] results of all that hard work.”

Because Bouchard’s ranking was not good enough to get into this year’s US Open main draw once the tour resumed – and with the qualifying draw cut as a cost-savings measure due to the coronavirus pandemic – her focus switched to playing on clay in Europe.

“It wasn’t a choice to forgo the US Open. I couldn’t get in because of my ranking. I’m just going where I have a job basically,” she said of her decision. The last Grand Slam main draw she competed in was the 2019 US Open.

When asked to describe her goals for the remainder of the year, Bouchard replied:

“The rest of the year is so unpredictable. I’m just kind of living week by week, day by day. Tournaments are popping up every day, tournaments are being cancelled day by day. It’s kind of crazy. So, I’m not even looking that far ahead. I don’t even know what I’m doing next week. …

“It’s hard because with my ranking I don’t know what I can get into. I want to play as much as possible, so anywhere I can get in with my ranking or get a wild card, we’ll go and play.”

Fortunately for Bouchard, the French Open gives her something to focus upon in the near term. She’s also been getting some sound coaching advice from former Australian pro turned ESPN analyst Rennae Stubbs. Meanwhile, looking back on her highly-successful week in Istanbul – in which she bettered her ranking by 103 places – Bouchard answered:

“I don’t want to compare it to other weeks – I’ve done great things in my career in the past – but I’m proud with how I’ve handled myself every day because I’ve had to play a match every day.

“I try to look at every tournament as being important to me. I came in here with goals of what I wanted to do on the court. It’s my job. Physically, mentally, tactically on the court. Every day, I’ve done my job and improved. I’m grateful to win and get another opportunity to play. I haven’t had a lot of opportunities recently. Just to get this many matches makes me really happy.”

On Tuesday, Bouchard happily tweeted:

WTA Rome – Wednesday at a glance

World No. 2 and top seed Simona Halep advanced into the third round with a 6-3, 6-4 win over over 99th-ranked Italian wild card Jasmine Paolini that lasted one hour and 23 minutes on Pietrangeli. Halep broke her opponent eight times in 10 tries and won 61 percent of her return points en route to her 16th victory on tour this year.

“I was a little bit tight at the beginning,” said Halep during her virtual press conference. “Actually, the whole match it was a little bit difficult to get the rhythm and to get relaxed. But the first match of the tournament is always tough and she played well. 

“Her forehand was strong but so was the backhand. It was tough to find out what to do because we had never played before. 

“But I’m happy I could win the match. It was a very tough one.”

Halep, who has been idle since winning the Prague Open in mid-August, next will face No. 29 Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine in the third round. Yastremska defeated No. 27 Amanda Anisimova of the United States, 4-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4.

Meanwhile, in a battle of former No. 1 players, US Open finalist Victoria Azarenka picked up where she left off in New York and beat Venus Williams, 7-6 (7), 6-2, in the last first-round match of the tournament. The newly-ranked No. 14 Azarenka, who was a finalist in Rome back in 2013, gutted out a first-set tie break and took control for the remainder of the two-hour and one-minute match on Centrale. She capitalized on 22 winners and six breaks of Williams’ serve.

“Different surface was definitely challenging,” said Azarenka during her virtual press conference, “but I feel like I adapted very well. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I knew I wasn’t going to play a perfect game today, but it was all about trying to find the right intention of what to do today. I think it worked out okay.

“I felt that this was a great match for me to figure it out, the first match on clay. Venus played a really good match. It was good to see her also adapting to clay, changing and trying different shots. So, I’m pretty happy.”

Next, Azarenka will face No. 3 seed Sofia Kenin in a featured Thursday evening match on Centrale.

Elsewhere, No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova beat fellow Czech Barbora Strycova, 6-3, 6-3; No. 4 Elina Svitolina bested Anastasia Pavlyucheknova, 6-3, 7-6 (4), in her first match since February; No. 10 seed Elena Rybakina defeated Marie Bouzkova, 7-5, 7-6 (3), No. 11 seed Elise Mertens advanced over Magda Linette, 6-2, 6-4, and No. 6 seed Belinda Bencic was upset by 86th-ranked qualifier Danka Kovinic, 6-3, 6-1, after losing nine of her final 10 games.

What they’re saying

World No. 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas, who was seeded this in Rome, was upset by 81st-ranked Italian teen Jannik Sinner, 6-1, 6-7 (9), 6-2, on Wednesday. Earlier this week, he was asked about Rafael Nadal, who played his first match since February on Wednesday evening and beat 18th-ranked Pablo Carreño Busta, 6-1, 6-1:

“I don’t think Rafa will be struggling much playing here. Regardless of how he feels, I’m sure he’ll find a way [to win]. He always finds a way every single year. Clay is his surface. I’m sure he’s going to do well. I will definitely won’t be surprised.”

Karolina Pliskova, the No. 2 seed in Rome, on adjusting from American hard courts and European clay courts:

“I think it’s very strange year, so I don’t know what can happen. I mean, you can feel great, but I feel like still not having enough matches and not having enough tournaments can be maybe a little weird for me. So, no matter how good you feel on the practice court, still you have to somehow put it into matches. That’s what I think everybody is going to try to do now.

“I don’t think there is big difference of playing America, or playing just in Europe. Most of the girls, they just played some tournaments. So, I think we just start from zero. So, I think now anything can happen every day. Every week there can be strange results. But that’s how it is. I just think it’s still good that tennis is back.”

By the numbers

Happy Birthday, Rosie Casals

What they’re sharing on social media

Novak Djokovic / So much love in Rome ❤️

Elina Svitolina / Late night shift