It all looked so promising for Eugenie Bouchard in 2014. For the first six months of the year, she could do no wrong and blazed trails in Canadian tennis that no player had ever done before. 2015 started off much the same as the bulk of 2014 had – a highly respectable quarterfinal appearance in the Australian Open. Then, she blinked.
Since then, Bouchard has won two matches and lost her last five. She appears lost. Although a lot of armchair analysts and so-called tennis fans have called it ‘the sophomore slump’ and ‘this is the real Bouchard’, the origins of this period of despair for Bouchard can be traced back to when she was the most successful.
After her first title in Germany in May 2014, then her record-breaking run to the French Open semifinals, she played through Wimbledon with a minor injury. Since then, Bouchard has been fighting these minor injuries it seems on a constant basis as they have crept up on her. They don’t hinder her from taking extended periods of time away from the game, but they have to have gotten into her mind.
With little strains, pulls and the like, players like Bouchard can’t train and push themselves to the limit or beyond in practice. This limits their training, and probably more importantly, plants that little seed of doubt in their minds when they step on the court for a match. They aren’t fully 100% physically and thus, even more importantly, their minds start to play tricks on their game – serving balls many feet long or into the net, splaying balls way wide, etc. The already heavily-stacked, important mental side of the game suddenly becomes the elephant in the room. It’s like a golfer with the yips. They’re constantly questioning themselves and their abilities and have no confidence in their game.
I believe Bouchard’s problems are rooted in the mental side of the game. These minor injuries are affecting her mentally. Her coaching change has affected her mentally. The huge expectations to duplicate the greatest season a Canadian tennis player has ever had has affected her mentally. No one is privy to what is really going on with Bouchard, so all of this is pure speculation. But all signs point to the stress and the strain and push and pull on a young lady just out of her teens.
Looking back at the first six months of 2014 for Bouchard, it does truly seem like a fairy tale: three consecutive Grand Slam semifinals (including the Wimbledon final) and her first title. She was the toast of the tennis world. Tennis fans and sports fans (and just fans of Canadians who do well on the world stage) have to keep in mind that at the time, Bouchard was still only 20 years old. It was amazing that, even at that young age, she had nerves of steel, was mentally strong and threatened to take the original ice queen’s title from Chris Evert.
For me, the first hiccup that was a worrisome sign for Bouchard was her appearance at the Rogers Cup Canadian Open in her hometown of Montreal – a month after the Wimbledon final. She was as nervous as an introvert having to perform public speaking. Later at the U.S. Open, her aggressive, slash and burn style of tennis was beginning to be found out and deconstructed by her opponents. For the first time, I saw her get frustrated and unforced errors began to appear out of that frustration. At the end of the year, the third thing that signalled something was up with Bouchard was her separation from her coach Nick Saviano – after all the unparalleled success they had together.
All seemed fine at the 2015 Australian Open. Bouchard picked up where she left off by making the quarterfinals and her game was sound. However, after she hired Sam Sumyk as her new coach immediately after the Australian Open, Bouchard has been a different player. She has been injured constantly – an almost mirror image to her last six months of 2014. But this time, the minor injuries seem to have taken more of a toll on her. She took heat for not playing for Canada in the Federation Cup World Group tie and played in Belgium instead in early February. She lost in the first round. She looked like her old self in her first two matches in Indian Wells a month later but hasn’t won a match since. Her record after the Australian Open is 2-6 including five losses in a row.
She looks completely lost on the court and very fragile – both emotionally and physically. Again, it’s pure speculation as to what is going on – only Bouchard and those closest to her know. Her team can provide insight and consultation, but it is up to Bouchard to solve the problem. It is a tall task. When a player is in a slump, working their way out of it is the biggest challenge and it is what we are witnessing right now. It is not a pretty sight to see, especially after all the mind-spinning success Bouchard has had. The unforced errors come in bunches and that is not good to see, but it is the on-court demeanour that is more painful to watch. Bouchard doesn’t look like she is having any kind of fun on the court and nothing is working. I saw a photo of her smashing her racquet recently – something that I never thought I’d ever see.
Bouchard has so much talent, drive and personality. Along with Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil, she has put tennis front and center in Canada. It is not fun watching her self-destruct and not find a way out of the darkness. It is also not fun to read all the mean-spirited comments from so-called “tennis fans” who engage in social media schadenfreude by relishing in her downfall.
There are two possible outcomes for Bouchard: she will struggle to regain her form and rebuild her game while settling in to the lower echelon of the top women players; or she will fight through this struggle, regain her form, rebuild her game and take her place as one of the top female tennis players on the planet. After seeing her play on clay last year, I stand by my prediction that the surface will end up being her most successful and the French Open will be the first major that she wins. Whether that happens this year or years down the road, it’s entirely possible.
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