Genie Bouchard’s abdominals have been prominently displayed over the years, especially in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.
Ironically, they are also the most vulnerable part of her anatomy.
The old ab injury struck again Tuesday, just hours before the 24-year-old was due to play her opening-round match against Germany’s Andrea Petkovic at the $100,000 ITF event in Cagnes-sur-Mer Tuesday afternoon.
Per the Open de Cagnes tournament director, the report from the medical staff on site was that Bouchard was suffering “abdominal pain (douleur abdominal)” felt during her warmup earlier in the day,
And so, in her first ITF-level tournament in over a year, only her second in the last five years, she’s out before she was even in.
A recurring theme
Even going back to her junior days, Bouchard has always been susceptible to abdominal strains.
It’s not because she doesn’t work them in the gym.
Every athlete has a weak spot, a place that’s especially vulnerable when the nerves hit. And for Bouchard, the tension goes right to the abs.
Notably, she strained the muscles back at Indian Wells in 2015, when she was in the top 10 and took the court for her fourth-round match of the tournament against Lesia Tsurenko Ukraine.
She lost that one, 6-4 in the third. And there were a lot of emotions spilling over.
The season got away quickly from her after that with opening losses in Miami and Charleston, two losses at home in Fed Cup against Romania. Then, first-round losses in eight of her 10 tournaments before the infamous locker-room incident at the US Open.
It happened again in Eastbourne, just before Wimbledon later that year, when she retired down 6-4, 3-0 to Belinda Bencic in her second match, after defeating Alison Riske in the first round.
In Charleston in 2016, she suffered the same injury against Lourdes Domingues Liño in the second round, and was forced to retire.
It was a fairly dramatic scene. Reunited with longtime former coach Nick Saviano just that week, Bouchard didn’t want to stop. She has rarely retired from matches in her career. But as she wanted to soldier on, Saviano was urging her to pull the ripcord.
ITF level no easy ride
The common denominator in these recurring issues is … pressure.
For all the career advice from the armchair quarterbacks about dropping down to the lower levels to gain match wins and confidence, the move is fraught with a lot of downside.
In this case, though, if Bouchard wanted matches, she didn’t have a lot of options.
With her ranking at No. 117, Bouchard wasn’t going to make the qualifying at either top-level WTA event the next two weeks.
Not in Madrid this week, and not in Rome next week. She remains 20 spots out of the qualifying there even with seven withdrawals from that entry list already.
Meanwhile, the level of competition at these higher ITF events is very strong. Because what’s true for Bouchard is also true for many others.
The Cagnes-sur-Mer draw is filled with players who opted to play the ITF event even if they would have made the cut for the qualifying in Madrid.
Bouchard’s opponent Tuesday was to be Petkovic, a fellow former top-10 player who has beaten her five of the six times they have met. That included a match during her brief comeback effort in Asia in the fall of 2015, when she was still suffering concussion systems.
Bouchard’s only win against Petkovic came during her dream run at Wimbledon in 2014.
Big hurt on the ranking
Adding to the scenario Bouchard found herself in this week is the fact that the ranking points from the her quarter-final run in Madrid last year are coming off this week.
By going deep in the Cagnes-sur-Mer tournament, she could have mitigated some of the damage. But that won’t happen now.
As it stands, Bouchard sits at No. 167 in the live rankings. And with many other players below her still in their various tournaments, there are as many as a dozen players who could theoretically leapfrog her before the new list officially comes out on Monday.
If there is a rock-bottom in this four-year struggle, this might well be it.
It will be the first time in almost exactly five years that Bouchard won’t be No. 1 in Canada. Françoise Abanda and Carol Zhao will jump ahead of her.
The positive to that is that it can only go up from here.
Injuries a momentum-killer
On some levels, Bouchard has been the master of her own misfortune. But intertwined with that have been some cruel twists of fate.
It feels as though every time she seems to get some momentum going, something comes along to stop it in its tracks.
In 2015, after her year-long struggles, Bouchard was putting together an enervating run at the US Open. Then the incident in the locker room resulted in a concussion, and her withdrawal from the tournament.
And, indeed, it compromised the rest of her season and off-season in a significant way. That spilled right into the start of 2016.
A year ago, with the momentum of Madrid on her side, Bouchard went to Nürnberg the week before the French Open. It was the site of her first and, so far, only WTA Tour title.
There, she badly sprained her ankle on the practice court. It was blue and brown and everything in betwee. And as she arrived in Paris for the French Open, she was unsure if she could even compete.
But while Bouchard got through her first round against Risa Ozaki, she was visibly hampered in her next match against Anastasija Sevastova, losing 6-3, 6-0.
She then lost her first-round matches at all three grass-court events she played: Mallorca, Eastbourne and Wimbledon. All in three sets.
Encouraging moments in Montreal
This year, Bouchard decided to play Fed Cup in Montreal two weeks ago. Her hometown has been the site of some of the tougher moments in her career. But it was also a chance to turn things around.
She pulled through two singles matches, against Kateryna Bondarenko and Tsurenko, in impressive fashion.
The win over Tsurenko, notable for its length and the fact that both players were cramping by the end of it, should have been something she could build on. She also injured her hand on court during the Bondarenko match, but kept going despite feeling pain every time she hit a backhand, and prevailed.
Bouchard nipped that momentum in the bud by pulling out of the smaller clay-court event in Rabat, Morocco last week.
Instead, she opted to fly from Montreal to California to do more training under the eye of Robert Lansdorp. And then she went all the way to Europe from there.
So there were only a few days in Cagnes-sur-Mer to adjust to the very different red clay surface, as well as the maritime conditions. The Har-Tru that she practiced on in California, while somewhat similar, is in fact very different.
And now, this injury, with another $100,000 tournament planned in Slovakia next week and then, the French Open qualifying.
Tough times. If there’s a star-crossed player on the WTA Tour right now, it’s her.