Genie Bouchard’s 2017 season ended Tuesday in Luxembourg.
Well, not technically, because she’s still entered in the doubles with Belgian Kirsten Flipkens. But in all ways that really matter.
The 2-6, 6-2, 6-3 loss to Johanna Larsson of Sweden was the 23-year-old Canadian’s fourth consecutive first-round loss, dating back to the US Open.
And the grey smudges underneath her eyes on this final day were visual testament of how much of a toll the on-court struggles have been taking.
Bouchard played a total of 20 WTA and Grand Slam tournaments this season. The loss in Luxembourg was her 14th first-round defeat.
In three other events, she lost in the second round.
Only three times was she able to put together back-to-back wins all year long. And two of those occasions came in January.
Bouchard reached the semifinals in Sydney. And then she reached the third round of the Australian Open.
There, she had Coco Vandeweghe in her crosshairs before letting the match slip away.
In retrospect, that was the match that might have done wonders to build some momentum and turn around a two-year slide.
But it didn’t happen. And the ensuing nine months were nothing short of disastrous.
One good week
Bouchard reached the quarterfinals in Madrid in May – her best week of the year, by far. She won three matches, including back-to-back victories over Maria Sharapova and Angelique Kerber (who retired down a set and 0-5 in the third round).
Other than that one week, Bouchard’s post-Australian Open record checked in at 3-16.
Against Larsson, there was more of what was in evidence during the Asian swing, which she joined in progress after pulling out of events in Quebec City, Seoul and Wuhan.
Bouchard was striking the ball well – at least, striking it well crosscourt.
She served well in the first set before losing her rhythm.
But the 6-2 score in the first set was deceiving. Bouchard won just five more points than Larsson did – 33 to 28. And the 29-year-old Swede donated a significant number of those points. In fact, she failed to hold serve the entire set.
Bouchard didn’t play particularly well on the break points. At that point, she didn’t have to.
But when Larsson put up more resistance in the second set, began to find the confines of the court on a more regular basis, Bouchard’s game went south.
Coaching consult for naught
A coaching visit from Diego Ayala was full of good advice.
But Bouchard didn’t heed much of it.
Ayala suggested she needed to keep her shoulder up on the service motion. But for the most part, she couldn’t do it.
He told her to relax, stay in the pocket on her backhand side, and find her optimum level again. But she couldn’t do that, either.
Bouchard bemoaned the fact that Larsson was controlling the points. But in fact, Larsson wasn’t really doing that. She was just getting the ball in the court more often.
The Swede knew – as everyone knows – that Bouchard has had trouble putting two solid sets together. She knew – as everyone knows – that if she hung in there against the Canadian, found a way to be more consistent, that good things might happen.
The third set went quickly.
A few hours later, the WTA Tour Tweeted this. Bizarre to have Bouchard even pose for that in the first place.
— WTA (@WTA) October 17, 2017
0-for-3 on final swing
After skipping three tournaments following the discouraging loss to No. 93 Evgeniya Rodina on Arthur Ashe Stadium, in the first round of the US Open, Bouchard traveled to Asia.
She rejoined the tour for her final three tournaments of the season with Ayala in tow.
The South Florida-based coach had been a temporary solution for Bouchard at the 2015 Australian Open, when she found herself coachless in the wake of the departure of longtime mentor Nick Saviano.
A few weeks later, she teamed up with Sam Sumyk.
She didn’t consider Ayala a potential long-term solution then. It’s hard to know if she might think differently this time around. The fact that she failed to win a match in Beijing, Hong Kong or Luxembourg might weigh on that decision.
2018 will be here before you know it
One big question the Canadian must answer, with just two short months ahead of her to re-group and re-assess, is what her plan will be going into the 2018 Australian Open.
Currently ranked No. 80 after beginning the season ranked No. 47, Bouchard is no danger of dropping much more this season.
So a main-draw spot in Melbourne isn’t in danger.
But right from the beginning of 2018, she will be under pressure to put up results. And she has put herself in a difficult position, both logistically and with her ranking, to try to do that.
More than 40 per cent of the ranking points the 23-year-old currently has on her resumé were earned in Sydney and at the Australian Open. If she fails to defend those points, her ranking would tumble to somewhere around No. 130.
Bouchard already has opted to sacrifice the first tournament week of the season. Instead of playing one of the season-opening WTA Tour events (Brisbane, Auckland or Shenzhen), she chose to take part in the exhibition Hopman Cup.
After that, only one week remains before Melbourne.
Bouchard got into Sydney on a main-draw wild card this year, in an exchange between Tennis Australia and Tennis Canada. That’s unlikely to happen again, although anything’s possible.
Her other option that week is the International-level event in Hobart, Tasmania.
But that’s also problematic.
The main-draw cutoff ranking the last five years in Hobart has averaged No. 66. So Bouchard will be a long way from making that.
And the qualifying begins a day earlier than is typically the case, on Friday. On that Friday, Bouchard will be playing across Australia in Perth, against Belgium.
In all likelihood, her notoriety will still be worth a wild card into the smaller event. But that’s hardly a given.
And if, somehow, she and partner Vasek Pospisil do well in the Hopman Cup round-robin portion and go on to the Saturday semifinals or even the Sunday final, her window closes a little more.
The Hobart main draw begins on the Sunday. Bouchard would have to fly all day Saturday or Sunday (there are no direct flights). Then she quickly would have to adjust to the different courts and conditions (Perth is played indoors). And there is a three-hour time difference.
Between now and then, the Canadian must rebuild the entire team around her, starting with a coach.
If the last few months have been filled with weeklong breaks after early-round losses, the next three months will be significantly more jam-packed and eventful.
And because of the former, the latter has become even more crucial to stop a struggle that has now lasted three seasons.