WIMBLEDON – The first set against No. 25 seed Carla Suárez Navarro Monday at Wimbledon looked like a fresh start for Canadian Genie Bouchard.
But her confidence is so fragile these days, it can turn on a dime.
And when the tide did turn early in the second set of a 1-6, 6-1, 6-1 first-round defeat, it felt a little like déjà vu.
There have been several such defeats this season for the 23-year-old Canadian, who often starts well, but can’t sustain it. Or, she fights back and plays a good second set, but can’t keep the momentum up for a decider.
“I started the way I wanted to, and after that I got a bit nervous. My opponent started to play better, and stopped missing the balls she missed in the first set. Just couldn’t find the solution to get out of it,” Bouchard said. “I just wanted to win so much, that I think I got myself out of the moment. I was thinking about so much about winning. … For the rest of the match I tried to get back in that moment, but I couldn’t do it.”
Bouchard said that whenever she loses, she gets angry with herself. But losing at Wimbledon hurts even more.
“It was very, very good first set. Impeccable. She followed her game plan. She was aggressive, changed the direction of the ball, and focused on Suárez Navarro’s forehand. You really felt she was confident,” Canadian Fed Cup captain Sylvain Bruneau said. “In the second set it all turned on a few points in early in the second set. She had the opportunity to break, but she didn’t make it. And then on her own service game, she had points to make it 1-1. Same thing – a few mistakes. And then you saw the confidence swing to the other side.”
Bouchard’s 2016 tournament here was encouraging; it was as though just being in her favorite tennis place helped to up her level.
She won a first-round match against Magdalena Rybarikova that began on Court 12, and ended up under the roof on Centre Court. It was perfect preparation for a second-round against Brit Johanna Konta on the same court. And even though she lost in the third round to Dominika Cibulkova, it was a good tournament by the standards of her post-2014 career.
For this one, she had a tough first-round opponent but one against whom she had a reasonable chance of success. But at the first smell of victory, the doubts kicked in.
“I was thinking about, ‘Okay, I have to a chance to win this match.’ I knew it was a tough first round. But I always believed I could win. It was coming so easily, I was playing so well, so maybe I was less concentrated point-by-point, kind of thing,” she said. “I do feel I gave her opportunities to come back. I started making a couple more errors, maybe being less aggressive, and she totally took advantage and started going for her shots, which she wasn’t in the first set. So a little bit of both.
“She did raise her level and start playing more aggressive, but I feel like I gave her chances to do that,” Bouchard added. “I haven’t played that many matches this year, and haven’t had a lot of wins this year. I had momentum, I just kind of felt myself losing it and I couldn’t quite get it back. With more match play, I feel like I have more match toughness, and I definitely feel I was lacking that today.”
Best game hinges on health
The ongoing issue with the ankle, which remains at less than 100 per cent, didn’t help – especially on the slippery, early-round grass.
“Having the injury, not practicing enough, still being hesitant to move. Seeing everyone slip on these courts and kind of just being terrified to move is one thing. And when I’m not physically 100 per cent, that affects my game,” Bouchard said. “My game is athletic. I like to move, take the ball early. I can also run down a lot of balls. So if I’m not 100 per cent physically, it affects my whole game. It affects my confidence as well.”
The injury certainly was a momentum killer. In Madrid, with back-to-back victories over the returning Maria Sharapova and world No. 1 Angelique Kerber, the mojo was starting to kick back in – finally.
Then, she rolled her ankle in Nürnberg.
“It’s just so unfortunate that as soon as I started feeling like myself again, started playing well, I had a setback. I got an injury and ever since my injury I still haven’t felt like I had that good form. Just don’t quite the same feeling on the court as I had,” Bouchard said. “Guess it’ll take more time and more practice to get back to it.
“I felt like myself on the tennis court – I was playing free, but had that balance of consistency and aggression. Playing my game to the best I can play it, and playing the right way. I don’t quite feel like the rhythm that I had.”
July now a write-off
The problem with early losses in extended tournaments is that there is too much time to think about it before the next tournament opportunity comes.
It was like that for Bouchard with first-round exits in both Indian Wells and Miami. Those are 10-day events, extended over two weeks, really. So that means two weeks to sit around and stew about it before you have a chance to do something about it.
It’s the same thing at Wimbledon. Bouchard was ousted on the first day of the tournament, and that’s it for a while.
Her first official tournament won’t be for another four weeks, at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. the week before the Rogers Cup in Toronto. That’s the beginning of August already, which means that the month of July is a total write-off.
On the plus side, she can certainly get back to more aggressive rehab on the ankle.
Bouchard has a couple of commitments to play World Team Tennis for the New York Empire, a franchise that plays its home dates on the site of the US Open.
She also will play an exhibition with Venus Williams the week before the D.C. tournament
In the meantime, it’s back to the practice court, back to the gym, as she tries to turn the page.
After the down, comes the up?
This season, tennis hasn’t been a lot of fun overall for Bouchard. She’s still waiting for that renaissance year as she struggles through a third consecutive season after her 2014 breakthrough.
“This year’s definitely been a struggle. Really enjoyed it some moments, been tough other moments. You just always have to have faith that after some low moments, there have to be some ups coming soon,” she said.
She admits that it’s mental, at this point. And while she’s working with a sports psychologist, she knows it’s ultimately up to her.
“I do work with one, like a lot of athletes do. I think it’s a good tool if it helps,” she said. “But you also have to work on yourself.
“It’s all about you and your head, and I could have done a better job there today, for sure.”