MONTREAL – Genie Bouchard supporters, and the lady herself, have often said during the last several years that there would come a time – a match, a week – when things could click, and the long climb back up the rankings would finally begin.
There have been moments like that before. Notably, the week in Madrid a year ago when she looked like 2014-vintage Bouchard in defeating Maria Sharapova, and followed it up with a win over Angelique Kerber to reach the quarterfinals.
On that occasion, the momentum was quickly quashed after an ankle injury suffered on the practice court that affected the French Open and Wimbledon in the ensuingn weeks.
But more often, there has been one solid-looking match that offered hope. And then, the follow-up just wasn’t there.
In that context, Bouchard’s back-to-back singles victories over quality opponents in a pressure-packed situation in Montreal this weekend were genuine signs that her fans – and Bouchard herself – can build on.
If the wins over No. 78 Kateryna Bondarenko and No. 41 Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine, which game Canada a 2-1 lead that they brought into the tie-clinching doubles on Sunday weren’t enough, it was the process – even more than the outcome – that were impressive.
Bouchard began the weekend by answering the much-anticipated “will she or won’t she” handshake question with a firm clasp of the right hand with Bondarenko. And then – when she was just a few minutes away from escaping with a plus on her public-image report card when she erased the plus with a shot at the local media.
It wasn’t that she may not have had somewhat of a point. But if you’re going to point fingers at people in a large, public gathering, you need to make sure that the specific perpetrators you have a beef with are present in the room. And for the most part, that wasn’t the case.
Moving on …
The match against Bondarenko Saturday was a tricky one, against an opponent with variety who also is prone to lapses that an opponent with Bouchard’s current lack of confidence can call into.
But she had that look her eyes get when she has risen to the occasion in recent years. It hasn’t happened all that often; the Olympics match against Sloane Stephens and the match against Sharapova wore notable examples. The eyes get wide open, and the pupils dilate – or something similar – and a look that combines desire, desperation and dedication seems to overtake them.
Bouchard flinched only a little, when she was ahead and looking at the finish line right in front of her. But she righted that before it got away and into a third set, and posted Canada’s first win of the weekend.
The issue in that match was crash into a sponsor’s display located too close to the side of the court. And Bouchard did a number on her left hand. Some painkillers didn’t help much on the spot; she said it hurt every time she hit a backhand.
Perhaps that pain took away some focus on what could go wrong in the match. And that was enough to push it over the finish line.
Against Tsurenko, with the tie at 1-1 and the two other singles players having suffered tough injuries on Saturday, the pressure was on.
The two had a history of plenty of drama in their two previous meetings in Fed Cup and at Indian Wells. But this one took the prize.
On Saturday, it was 17-year-old Canadian Bianca Andreescu who cramped up. But there were obvious reasons for that, including the fact that she was worked far too hard in the gym the previous days, since she wasn’t expected to play. And that she had just had a big breakfast that day, expecting to be on the bench cheerleading only to be called for duty at the last minute.
On Sunday, both Bouchard and Tsurenko cramped.
Struggle to the finish
While Bouchard said in a TV interview that it was her opponent who cramped first, the Canadian was putting ice bags on her thighs after the second set. She had obvious issues with the cramping, but was still able to serve at a good clip. Tsurenko’s issues came later, and were severe enough that at one point, she was just lobbing the serves in.
Not that comparing level of cramp is an exercise that is worth one iota of attention.
It was an arduous match physically. It was a long one. And it was an important one.
And it was Bouchard who came out on top in a third-set tiebreaker, to the jubilation of the Tennis Canada team and the fans on hand (the very sportsmanlike and courteous Ukraine faction were a little less pleased).
If there was a common thread with Saturday, it was that there was a physical issue to manage. And, perhaps, she could forget trying to be perfect and just rely on her fighting spirit. Because that was all she could count on.
Whatever it was, it worked.
If Bouchard was an option to play the doubles given her efforts in singles, she didn’t play. And Andreescu, the offending calf from the previous day wrapped hermetically, managed to do enough on the doubles court with Gabriela Dabrowski to win in three sets and seal the tie.
Andreescu couldn’t run much. But whatever she could get to, she crushed.
Bouchard was on hand, a vocal cheerleader beneath her ballcap. And she led the charge around the arena with her teammates as they carried the flag.
Bouchard’s responses to questions about what the weekend might do for her confidence, about what her plans were – about most things – were delivered in a monotone in as few words as possible.
Her next tournament begins next weekend in Rabat, Morocco. It’s an International-level tournament, the lowest level on the WTA Tour. And she said Sunday that she’s in the qualifying.
As of Monday night, she is seven out of the main draw there.
The last time Bouchard played qualifying at an International-level event was more than five years ago, in Acapulco in 2013. Her record in tournaments at that level over the last two years, in the main draw, is 5-15.
As for the Strasbourg-French Open question, the Canadian said that there had been no final decision made, which we’d have to interpret as her not yet having secured a main draw wild card for the French Open – if indeed that’s a possibility or a likelihood.
She referred to Strasbourg as “an option”. Which might be news to them. But a tournament held the week before a Grand Slam knows the drill with players they want to play their tournament – regardless of ranking.
In three weeks, the points from last year’s Madrid result fall off. And if Bouchard can’t find a way to make some of them up, she will drop below No. 150 in the world.
But with what she gained during a weekend at home – a place that has been the scene of some of the most difficult moments of her career – she’s better armed to start tacking the deficit.