Genie Bouchard in doubt for French Open

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ROLAND GARROS – Genie Bouchard has had her fair share of niggling injuries over the last few years. Some have been reported, others have gone under the radar.

But with all of it, she’s never been close to missing a Grand Slam.

Bouchard is close to missing this French Open.

The 23-year-old Canadian arrived in Paris Tuesday to get some intensive treatment on an ankle she turned in practice several days ago, while preparing for the tuneup event in Nürnberg, Germany.

Tennis.Life has learned an MRI on the ankle revealed a Grade 2 sprain. Which is significantly more of a big deal with a Grade 1 sprain. Obviously.

Per our most reliable medical authority, Wikipedia: A Grade 1 would be mild damage without instability to the joint. A Grade 2 is a partial tear of the ligament, which is stretched to the point where it becomes loose. A Grade 3 sprain is a complete tear, with instability to the joint.

There was no option but to withdraw from the Nürnberg tournament. The race now is against the Roland Garros clock to be fit enough to play.

A week of treatment

At best, Bouchard will have a week to cram in all the treatment she can. Playing on clay with a wonky ankle, with the instability beneath your feet caused by the loose dirt, is no picnic.

Last year, it was a wrist injury that had expectations for Bouchard tempered coming into the French Open. In practice in the days before Roland Garros started, she was mostly hitting slice backhands. That was a CLEAR sign something wasn’t quite right. 🙂

It didn’t look good. Then she took care of Laura Siegemund in the first round, fairly routinely, before losing to Timea Bacsinszky in the second round. But it turned out not to be so bad. This time might be different.

Doesn’t it seem as though just when Bouchard gets a little bit of momentum going, something always comes up to stop it in its tracks? 

She’ll need to have a stable, healthy ankle on the grass, too. And that short season is coming up right after the French Open. 

We’ll keep you posted on anything we hear about her progress.

 

 

Bouchard out of Nürnberg before 1st rd

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Tournaments held the week before Grand Slams are always on tenterhooks.

The tournament directors likely cringe every time their cell phones buzz, wondering which of the marquee players they worked so hard to get (and committed so much cash and promotional money to) are going to bail at the last minute. Or sometimes they get a niggle in the previous tournament and don’t want to risk it before a major.

Or, in the case of Genie Bouchard in Nürnberg, a practice-court injury.

The Canadian committed to the tournament she won back in 2014 well beforehand. Bouchard remains a marquee attraction for these events despite her current ranking of No. 56, because of her previous resumé. And she can command a hefty appearance fee.

We’re hearing that the WTA event in Quebec City last September, right after the US Open, paid upwards of $150,000 for the pleasure of her company even though she lost early.

Ankle issue just before a major

The reason for Bouchard’s withdrawal is a right ankle issue. 

NürnbergThe tournament reported it happened last week during practice as the Canadian opted not to play the qualifying in Rome last week. Instead, she arrived early to practice in Nürnberg.

Bouchard was to play No. 2 seed Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan in the first round Tuesday. It had already been scheduled as the marquee match. In fact, it’s still on the schedule on the protennislive.com scoring app as well as the official order of play on the WTA Tour website.

The fact that the tournament announced it after 10 p.m. Nürnberg time Monday probably has something to do with that. (Update: 9 a.m. Paris time – and it’s still up).

Then again, it seems they might have had an idea it was coming. Monday morning, the tournament swapped the promotional banner on its Facebook page for one that didn’t include Bouchard.

Nürnberg

The tournament now has had four retirements/withdrawals. And the first round isn’t even over: Bouchard, Maria Sakkari, Alexandra Cadantu and No. 8 seed Monica Niculescu. Bouchard wasn’t seeded.

The other WTA Tour event this week in Strasbourg saw Mirjana Lucic-Baroni pull out late. No. 1 seed Caroline Wozniacki retired early in the second set of her first-round match against American Shelby Rogers Monday with a back injury.

The inaugural edition of the ATP event in Lyon, France hasn’t lost anyone major yet. But Frenchman Nicolas Mahut needed a breather after winning a tough doubles draw in Rome and cited “fatigue”. Steve Darcis also withdrew.

In Geneva, Viktor Troicki pulled out with a hamstring tear.

More commitments ahead for Bouchard

Bouchard already has made commitments to small events in Mallorca, Spain next month and Luxembourg in October, the week before the WTA Tour Finals in Singapore. That pretty much tells you she’s given up on the notion of making a run for the final eight, in a season in which every single spot is up for grabs.

On the tennis side, you hope the ankle thing is just a precaution with the French Open looming.

Here she is practicing on Friday. She does have a short brace on her right ankle.

And here she is Saturday. 

On the tennis commitment side, it’s a tough call. Bouchard’s track record in pulling out of tournaments like this, ones at which she had made early appearance commitments and was very much the focus of pre-tournament promotion, was very sub-par back in 2014 when she was in big demand.

She didn’t do her reputation any good, although she got much better about that the last two years. Apparently the smaller events are more than willing to continue to take that risk. It’s just bad luck all around.

Bouchard to meet Putintseva in Nürnberg

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After four or five years on tour, it’s surprising former junior rivals Genie Bouchard and Yulia Putintseva have never met.

That streak ends in the first round of the WTA Tour event in Nürnberg this week.

It’s not Throwback Thursday today. But here’s a blast from the past, to their one previous encounter.

It happened more than five years ago at the 2012 Australian Open, in the junior girls’ semifinal.  Bouchard was about to turn 18; Putintseva had just turned 17.

As one of the witnesses to that dramatic dust-up, it’s worth retelling here.

Bouchard was the big favourite in that match against the unseeded Putintseva, who was still representing Russia at the time. The Canadian was in the final year of a lengthy junior career that began in 2007. At the Grand Slam level, it began atPutintseva the 2009 Australian Open, when she was just 14. The Canadian was putting a lot of pressure on herself to finally win a big one. (She went on to win junior Wimbledon that summer).

She was the No. 2 seed, one of the few seeded players to make it through to the latter stages. Among those out early were No. 1 Irina Khromacheva, No. 3 Anett Kontaveit, No. 7 Danka Kovinic and No. 8 Anna Schmiedlova. Unseeded Jelena Ostapenko was beaten in the first round. Surviving on the other side of the draw was No. 14 seed Taylor Townsend, who went on to win the tournament.

Not much remains in the archives from those days. But here’s Bouchard in her quarter-final match that year. The win there set up the match against Putintseva.

 
 

Putintseva was the No. 4 seed.

Bouchard began well. She led 3-0, and had break points to go up 4-0. But she couldn’t convert. She also had a 40-15 lead to go up 4-1 but after a 10-minute game, was broken.

The stress, and the heat, got to her. She began feeling dehydrated. But she was in that zone where whatever you put into your stomach just sits there like a brick. She was in some distress. And it was definitely hot.

Putintseva
A visit from the tournament doctor didn’t do much to assuage Bouchard’s distress, mostly due to dehydration. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

“It was a really tough first set – an hour and 20 minutes, really long games, really long points, and starting at 3-2 I started feeling low energy. I started drinking a lot, feeling dehydrated,” Bouchard said back then.

“At about 5-5, it suddenly just hit me. I was kicking my serve, had no energy, my stomach was so full I felt like throwing up every time I would move. When I threw my toss up, I felt dizzy. I think I drank too much. The doctor told me to have gel or eat a bit but I was so thirsty … It was a bad combination, from the heat a bit I guess, the intensity, it was more stressful, maybe because of that.”

Meanwhile, Putintseva was doing what she usually does. Except she did it a whole lot more when she was a junior.

Drama, illness – the match had it all

No doubt she could tell Bouchard wasn’t feeling well – everyone who was watching that day could tell. So every point, there was some combination of “ALLEZ! VAMOS! DAVAI!” 

Fist pumps galore. Those fist pumps after Bouchard Putintsevamissed a first serve were no doubt especially appreciated.

Putintseva was questioning so many line calls that the chair umpire finally told her to cut it out, or she was going to lay some code violations on her.

I was watching from the stands with a group of kids who were there to support Bouchard – including her boyfriend at the time, a British junior. They were regaling me with stories about Putintseva when she was 14 or 15, when she would march onto court armed with a two-liter bottle of Coke – and chug it on changeovers.

All they hoped for back then was that there would be an umpire on the court when playing against her because, well, you know, Putintseva’s eyesight on line calls wasn’t … the best.

PutintsevaThen, as now, Bouchard was pretty stubborn about retiring from matches. So she hung in there, but she lost 7-5, 6-1. 

Fast forward more than five years, and they finally meet again.

Since then, Bouchard has had the highs of the summer of 2014, when she reached the Wimbledon final and later No. 5 in the world.

Meanwhile, Putintseva has scrapped her way along without all the advantages having a well-financed national program behind you brings.

She switched nationalities to represent Kazakhstan to get some help, as several Russian players did. She doesn’t have a multi-million-dollar clothing deal. But Putintseva has made a slow, steady climb and is playing the best tennis of her career. Ranked No. 29 at the moment, she will be seeded at the French Open.

Had Bouchard played Fed Cup last month in Montreal rather than head to Istanbul, Turkey early to meet her promotional commitments there, they would have met. It would probably would have been terrific entertainment.

Much water under the bridge

But it will happen in Nürnberg. Putintseva is the No. 2 seed. Bouchard, despite being a marquee player in the tournament, is unseeded.

Bouchard
The TV people weren’t always clued in, but at this time a year ago, Saulnier was on the clay-court circuit with Bouchard. This time, he’ll be on the other camp, with Putintseva.

To add to the intrigue, former Bouchard coach/hitting partner Cyril Saulnier is on a trial run on the clay in Europe with Putintseva.

Saulnier did good work in 2016 as the coach who was there when main coach Nick Saviano was not, in addition to serving as a hitting partner.

Bouchard didn’t keep him on at the end of the season, feeling he was overqualified to be a hitting partner (which he was) but not up to the experience level she was looking for in a full-time coach.

She ended up returning to Thomas Hogstedt. But with his numerous absences this season, she might well have kept Saulnier on.

Now, Saulnier will be on the other side of the court, supporting her opponent. 

This one has potential.

It happened one night – Bouchard at the US Open

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The account of what happened inside the US Open women’s locker room the night of Sept. 4, 2015 has come out in dribs and drabs over the last 18 months.

But the motion filed by Genie Bouchard’s lawyer Benedict Morelli Tuesday accusing the USTA of inappropriate conduct during the litigation process includes virtually a blow-by-blow description of the events of the night the 23-year-old suffered a concussion.

In a nutshell, everything that had to go wrong, did. For a question of five minutes, Bouchard’s life changed.

It should be noted that what is termed as “statement of facts” in the motion is, in fact, information gathered entirely from the plaintiff’s side and from depositions taken from other relevant parties by the plaintiff’s side.

Click here to read about the motion filed by Bouchard’s lawyers against the USTA for “spoliation of evidence.”

We summarize it here in point form.

The preamble

* The mixed doubles match with Nick Kyrgios ended at approximately 9:45 p.m.

*Bouchard returned to the locker room at about 10:05 p.m. and went to her locker. Then she had a shower.

*Bouchard then talked to the on-duty WTA trainer, Kristy Stahr. Stahr asked Bouchard if she needed anything from the training staff (she wouldn’t, generally, as Tennis Canada had a trainer on hand in New York for the Canadian players).

Bouchard says she told the WTA training staff she would be returning later in the evening for an ice bath.

*Bouchard said she would do her cooldown, her press conference, and “specifically stated” she would return to the locker room to use the ice bath.

*In her deposition, Stahr said she stayed in the locker room to wait for her.

*Bouchard returned to the locker room at about 11:10 p.m. and found all the trainers had left for the evening.

*In the security camera footage provided by the USTA, it was established that they left at 11:05 p.m. – just five minutes before Bouchard returned. Only locker-room attendants remained.

Five minutes.

The search for Bouchard

*Stahr said in her deposition she didn’t go searching for Bouchard before leaving. The WTA’s Eva Scheumann, the senior therapist on duty that night, went to look for her, but couldn’t find her. Stahr said they “had waited long enough”. And the trainers left. When they left, the tile floor in the trainer’s room hadn’t yet been cleaned.

*The locker-room attendants were required to wait for all trainers and players to be gone for the night before cleaning the floor.

*The locker-room supervisor, Karen Owens, said one way she determined whether it was safe to go in and clean – i.e. that everyone was gone – was when the WTA trainers left.

*Owens said this was the first time this particular cleaning substance had been used on that floor, more of a “heavy-duty cleaning substance.”

*Owens said she saw Bouchard come back into the locker room after the floor had been sprayed with it, but didn’t warn her the slippery substance was on the floor.

*There were “no caution or warning signs of any kind” to indicate the floor was slippery or wet. Bouchard took about three steps, fell backwards and hit her head on the hard tile floor.

*The substance “was burning Ms. Bouchard’s skin so severely that she was even heard by one of the locker-room attendants screaming in pain. She then rushed to the shower to clean it off.”

Scheumann’s deposition – Nov. 30, 2016

The WTA trainer’s title is senior manager.

*EVA Scheumann waited an hour, and then says she left the locker rom to look for Bouchard. She says she looked for her in fitness center, the players’ lounge and in the area around the three interview rooms.

happening
Bouchard was in Interview Room 1 doing her press conference when the WTA trainer came looking for her. But she never was able to enter the room. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

*Scheumann says she asked a security guard outside the door of Interview Room 1 if Bouchard was inside, but says the guard answered that she didn’t know. (In fact, that’s exactly where Bouchard was). She says she asked if she could go inside to check, but was refused permission. Scheumann didn’t open the doors to the other two rooms to see if Bouchard, by chance, was there.

*At that point, Scheumann returned to the locker room and told the other staff she couldn’t find Bouchard. They assumed she wasn’t returning as previously planned, And then it was decided (there is contradicting testimony about whose decision it was) to leave at 11:05 p.m.

*Scheumann said she sent Bouchard an e-mail at 11:08 p.m. telling her everyone had left but that they would come back if she needed anything – including an ice bath.

*Just a couple of minutes after that, Bouchard returned to the locker room. And then, the accident.

Timing is everything

If you follow the chain of events to its proper conclusion, it appears the cleaning product was applied during the exact five-minute period between the time the trainers left and the time Bouchard returned to the locker room.

What are the odds? Those five minutes changed Bouchard’s life.

Had they applied the substance even five minutes later, there may well have been a locker-room employee in the training room when Bouchard went through to take her ice bath. And there would have been every likelihood that she might have been warned, or perhaps have someone there to catch her.

Had the substance been applied later, the employee doing the application might have spotted Bouchard in the ice bath next door, and warned her the floor might be slippery on her way out.

They say timing is everything in life. In this case, that’s exceptionally true.

Bouchard lawyer files new motion in concussion case (updated)

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Genie Bouchard’s lawyer Benedict Morelli filed a new motion Tuesday against the USTA and the USTA National Tennis Center for spoliation of evidence, in connection with the incident in the US Open locker room on Sept. 4, 2015 in which the Canadian tennis star suffered a concussion.

The motion asks the judge for several remedies arising from Bouchard’s claim that the USTA destroyed video evidence that “would have been favourable to the plaintiff and adverse to the interests of the USTA”.

Included in those are an adverse interference jury instruction (should the case go to trial), punitive monetary sanctions, and assessment of the costs and fees involved in filing this specific motion.

Attorney Benedict Morelli says in the motion that the USTA destroyed security camera footage despite having been notified to preserve any such evidence, and despite “having had a legal obligation to cease routine data destruction policies and institute a litigation hold.”

Click here to see a play-by-play of what happened in the US Open locker room, according to the plaintiff’s depositions.

This is not new information; this failure to produce security-camera footage to the satisfaction of Bouchard’s side has been brought up in several of the court documents over the last few months.

“The adverse inference would mean that if the case goes to trial, the jury would have to give the plaintiff the benefit of the doubt with regards to the deleted security footage; a punishment to the defense,” a spokesman for Morelli told Tennis.Life via e-mail.

The motion states that it is “the culmination of a pattern and practice by Defendants throughout the discovery process during which they have consistently played fast and loose with retaining and divulging critical information—despite being obligated to do so—all to Plaintiff’s detriment.”

Bouchard’s side claims the USTA has done several things that were unacceptable as this case has gone on – for more than 18 months now.

In response to a request from Tennis.Life, a USTA spokesman referred to the association’s earlier comment on the security camera matter, with no additional comment about the other elements outlined in the motion. 

“The USTA is confident that it preserved all documents and other
materials requested by Mr. Morelli at the time he advised us of Ms.
Bouchard’s claim. Other than that, the USTA followed its standard
retention policies, which make it impossible to accommodate an
additional request that came more than 14 months after the original
notice.

“The USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center is a 43-acre facility
with numerous cameras throughout the site. Although there are no
cameras in the women’s locker room, the USTA did preserve all footage
that it reasonably believed could be relevant to her claim and in
accordance with her counsel’s preservation request.”

If we receive additional clarification, we’ll update the story.

Several points of contention

The first and most crucial is the destroying of nearly all security camera footage, beyond approximately three hours of video from a single camera positioned directly outside the locker room. Bouchard’s side claims there are additional cameras in the immediate areas surrounding the locker room that shot footage the USTA could have, and should have produced.

motion

The second thing, they claim, is that the USTA has obfuscated in confirming which employee applied the slippery cleaning substance to the floor of the training room. That has required Bouchard’s lawyers to go to great lengths to try to get a deposition from the person in question.

The deposition only occurred April 17, 2017 – more than 18 months after the lawsuit was originally fired. They still haven’t satisfactorily determined that specific employee was actually the one who applied the product. She denied it in her deposition even though Morelli says the USTA confirmed she was the one.

“It’s important to know who applied the substance, what if any warning they gave; who, if anyone, instructed them to do so; how the substance was applied; etc.,” the spokesman said. “These are important facts to make sure we know exactly what happened and how to assign liability/negligence.”

Several insurance policies

The third issue laid out in the motion is the USTA’s lack of pertinent and timely disclosure regarding the insurance policies they held, policies that might protect them from this type of incident. And this, despite being required to disclose it.

The motion doesn’t claim that the USTA’s alleged lack of transparency about the insurance issue will prejudice Bouchard if the case goes to trial. But they do point out that in working on the assumption that the USTA only had a single insurance policy, the plaintiffs spent time, money and resources trying to mediate and settle the case, without having the correct information.

Bouchard’s lawyers said that after the second, unsuccessful mediation attempt, the USTA disclosed for the very first time that it had three additional insurance policies that might cover the situation.

They claim that it could only have been done for one reason – “to induce the Plaintiff to accept less than the true value of her case.”

And they use it as evidence to support their claim of an overall pattern of behaviour from the USTA during the last 18 months.

“Plaintiff has been extremely prejudiced by the Defendants’ destruction of the security camera footage. Not only would the destroyed security camera footage have aided Plaintiff in gaining additional information relevant to her case, but the footage would have corroborated the Plaintiff’s account of events on the night of her accident and disproven the claims of the Defendants and their witnesses ,” the motion states.

The USTA has until May 31 to file a reply; Bouchard’s lawyers then have until June 8 to reply to the reply.

Weekend preview – May 13-14, 2017

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On paper, the first Mutua Madrid Open semifinal is the final, as Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will meet for the 50th time in their careers.

Djokovic leads the head-to-head, 26-23. The 50 meetings are an Open era record.

In fact, the Serb leads the head-to-heads with all of his main rivals. That’s a fact much underreported during an era in which there seems only to be room enough for one “great rivalry” – Federer vs. Nadal.

The Djokovic-Nadal clay-court rivalry can be divided into two eras. And the Madrid tournament was the turning point.

Nadal won their first nine meetings on the terre battue. The 10th came in the semifinals of the Madrid Open in 2009. The Mallorcan won, but it was by far the closest Djokovic had come. Nadal had to mount a major comeback before prevailing 3-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (9).

They didn’t meet again on clay for two full years. The 10th meeting came … in Madrid.

Djokovic defeated Nadal 7-5, 6-4 and got on the board. Since that breakthrough, Djokovic leads the clay-court rivalry 6-5. He has won the last three, and their seven meetings overall.

The match will take place exactly a year to the day since their last meeting, in the quarterfinals of the 2016 Italian Open.

Djokovic runs the rivalries

Djokovic is playing his first tournament since dismissing his entire support team. He has been accompanied by younger brother Marko and spiritual advisor Pepe Imaz.

Winner heavy favourite for title

The winner of Djokovic vs. Nadal will be the heavy favourite in Sunday’s final as two long shots reached the semifinals in the other half of the draw. 

No. 1 seed Andy Murray’s level was a concern in a loss to lucky loser Borna Coric. No. 3 seed Stan Wawrinka was far from impressive as he went out to the ultimate conundrum, Frenchman Benoit Paire.

weekend
The young Austrian will attempt to reach his first Masters 1000 final Saturday in Madrid. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

The second semifinal will feature the players who took advantage of those upsets. No. 8 seed Dominic Thiem of Austria (who defeated Coric) will play unseeded Uruguayan veteran Pablo Cuevas (who defeated Paire).

If No. 27 Cuevas can take the title, he would be the lowest-ranked player to win a Masters 1000 tournament since Paris in 2005 when Tomas Berdych (then No. 50) won.

The women’s final

As the week in Madrid unfolded, the women’s field imploded again.

Seeded players Johanna Konta and Garbiñe Muguruza lost before Monday even dawned. No. 2 Karolina Pliskova was eliminated early for the second consecutive week. Top seed Angelique Kerber injured her hamstring in the final game she played against Canadian Bouchard in the third round.

She’s the top seed in Rome this week, but doubtless doesn’t expect much.

weekend
Defending champion Halep has improved with every match this week, and is the favorite in the final. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

The form player has been Romania’s Simona Halep, the defending Madrid champion and No. 3 seed. She is battle-tested after pulling out tight victories against two proven veteran clay-courters, Roberta Vinci and Samantha Stosur.

In the final, Halep will face No. 14 seed Kristina Mladenovic. The No. 1 Frenchwoman is on quite a run during this initial part of the women’s clay-court season.

Mladenovic ended Maria Sharapova’s comeback tournament in Stuttgart and reached the final. Friday, she defeated doubles partner and 2009 French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova to reach the Madrid final.

weekend
Kristina Mladenovic is looking for a big title to consolidate an impressive clay-court campaign. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Women’s doubles

The women’s doubles final on Saturday will feature two relatively new pairings, as the ladies have played musical chairs in this first part of 2017.

Martina Hingis (who went from Sania Mirza to Coco Vandeweghe over the last year) now partners with Yung-Jan Chan of Taipei. Chan had long played with her sister, Hao-Ching Chan.

They will meet Timea Babos of Hungary (who used to play with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova) and Andrea Hlavackova (who played for years with fellow Czech Lucie Hradecka, then with Shuai Peng). Got that straight?

Sock-Kyrgios pull out

On the men’s side, a brash Aussie-American combo blazed through the draw to the semifinals.

weekend
Kyrgios and Sock are mowing through the field – and having a great time doing it. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Nick Kyrgios didn’t have the fortitude or energy to offer more than token resistance against Nadal in the singles. But in his defense, he flew from the U.S. to Australia to attend his grandfather’s funeral, and then back to Madrid.

But his efforts with good mate Jack Sock in the doubles were impressive.

Sock and Kyrgios rolled through Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau (the 2015 Wimbledon champions and defending Madrid champions, unseeded this year). They then upset No. 5 seeds Rajeev Ram and Raven Klaasen (champions at Indian Wells). Both victories came in straight sets. 

On Friday, they beat the well-decorated Bryan twins 6-7 (5), 7-6 (5), 10-7 in a barnburner that featured zero breaks of serve. They out-aced the Bryans 13-0 and gave up only one break point. They saved all six break points they faced.

(Their semi-final opponents were to be No. 4 seeds Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo. Unfortunately, they gave them a walkover.)

The other match will pit home-country favorites (and reigning French Open champions) Feliciano Lopez and Marc Lopez against the French team of Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin.

The Madrid men’s singles and doubles finals will take place Sunday.

Rome already under way

If you needed any more tennis, the qualifying begins in Rome Saturday, on both the men’s and women’s sides.

Nicolas Almagro, who gave Djokovic such a tussle in the Serb’s Madrid opener, is in the men’s field along with the likes of Kevin Anderson and Alexandr Dolgopolov. All three are former top-15 players; they have seen their rankings drop because of injury and couldn’t get straight into the main draw.

A notable qualifying absentee on the women’s side is Bouchard. The Canadian reached the quarter-finals in Madrid and lost to Kuznetsova Thursday night. But she was a late scratch, for reasons still undetermined.

Bouchard a late scratch from Rome (updated)

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Even Friday afternoon, Canadian Genie Bouchard was still on the entry list for the qualifying at the Rome Premier 5 tournament next week.

At the 11th hour, however, the 23-year-old was a late scratch. Her ranking at the deadline did not allow her straight into the main draw at the tournament, which has only 43 direct-entry spots available compared to the 51 this week in Madrid.

After her resurgent effort this week, it’s a bit of a momentum-killer in a season of fits and starts. As well, she’s often said Rome is one of her favorite cities.

Tennis.Life was told that rather than rush from Madrid to Rome to play the qualifying on little sleep, with little turnaround time to adjust to the conditions, it was decided to do a training week instead. Bouchard still has the tournament in Nürnberg, Germany the following week to make final preparations for Roland Garros.

She is currently in London, and has already begun working on a few elements that will come in handy when the grass-court season begins, right after Paris.

Encouraging week, after a tough season

The Canadian began the season in fine fashion, reaching the semi-finals at the Sydney tournament and playing good tennis at the Australian Open.

scratch
Per Snapchat, fans assumed Bouchard’s flight was on its way to Rome so Bouchard could build on her effort in Madrid. Instead, she headed to London.

Then, she didn’t play for more than a month.

She bypassed the Middle East swing through Doha and Dubai and returned only for a tournament in Acapulco just before Indian Wells.

After that, a series of first-round losses sapped her confidence.

She finally turned the tide in Madrid, posting wins over Maria Sharapova and Angelique Kerber before falling in the quarter-finals to No. 8 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova.

No word on the reason for the withdrawal, although the slide in the quality of movement during her loss to Kuznetsova compared to her wins earlier in the tournament might have been an early hint of an injury.

Genie Bouchard’s Madrid run ends

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After three consecutive victories, each one momentous for Genie Bouchard in its own way, it wasn’t surprising she had a letdown in the Madrid Open quarterfinals Thursday night.

That the 23-year-old Canadian came up against a nearly impeccable performance from Russian veteran Svetlana Kuznetsova only added to the challenge.

Bouchard came out on the wrong end of a 6-4, 6-0 defeat which ends a run that could end up changing the direction of her season.

There were a few warning signs during an indifferent second set that wrapped up in a flash, despite a rain delay. But for the moment, considering how different the circumstances were from similar sub-par efforts over the last few months, it was hopefully just a consequence and not a return to the past.

Kuznetsova’s final stats were intimidating: 28 winners, just seven unforced errors. The numbers were about evenly split between the two sets.

Bouchard’s legs had little of the spring they had during her victories over Maria Sharapova Monday and world No. 2 Angelique Kerber Wednesday. Her post-match handshake had nothing of the intense eye contact, either.

And it couldn’t have been because the match against Kerber had taken much out of her physically. But the visible lack of energy didn’t help as she tried to track down what Kuznetsova was dealing up. Often, Bouchard was caught flat-footed; occasionally, she stumbled.

Kuznetsova’s brand stands apart from most of the other women on the WTA Tour. Most hit the ball very flat; Kuznetsova’s ball is heavy, with a lot of spin. And she has quick enough hands to be able to pull the trigger on a straight-out winner when she sees the opening, without appearing to expend much additional effort on the swing.

Coach Thomas Högstedt came out after the early break of serve in the first set. He assured Bouchard that while Kuznetsova had gotten off to a good start, her level was going to drop.

It’s a reliable go-to play for Högstedt during these on-court consults. But in this case, he predicted incorrectly. It never happened.

Bouchard had a small sliver of an opening at love-30, as Kuznetsova served for the first set at 5-4. But even that only came about after a couple of lucky breaks, including a let cord.

Once Kuznetsova saved that, she rolled.

“I played quite a good game,” Kuznetsova said afterwards. “I was a little bit not returning so well, and in the second set I played better.”

Bouchard didn’t earn her first break point until she was already down two breaks herself in the second set. Kuznetsova took care of a quality service return with a forehand winner from way behind the baseline.

Madrid
No extended eye contact for Bouchard after this handshake. Short and sweet from both parties.

The Canadian’s pace of shot in the second set was definitely lacking. She clearly had already made up her mind that it wasn’t going to be her day. And there was evidence to support that contention. But unlike the previous matches, she didn’t keep her competitive level up until the very last ball.

She also was far more agitated than her opponent during a fairly lengthy rain delay, when she was already down 0-4 in the second set. That likely spoke to her state of mind. If anything, a break like that can slow a hot player’s momentum, so it should have been welcome.

It had appeared the roof over the Caja Majica was closing. But when the rain came, the players had to wait until it did actually did close before resuming play. It took several minutes.

In a wide-open field, Kuznetsova is quietly making a case for herself as a French Open contender. She began the week ranked No. 9. If she can defeat No. 14 seed Kristina Mladenovic in the semifinals, she would move all the way up to No. 5.

Kuznetsova was 19 when she won the 2004 US Open. She was 23 – Bouchard’s age – when she won at Roland Garros in 2009. It seemed then that there could be plenty more to come.

As consistent as she has been around the top of the game, as relatively injury-free as she has been, the Russian has never won another major. She may yet have another deep run in her, though.

Meanwhile, Bouchard exits with a long sought-after dose of confidence.

With her win over Kerber, she also will leave having finally risen in the rankings. Bouchard could have squeezed back into the top 40 with a win Thursday. Instead, she’ll settle for a rise of six spots, to No. 54, and can hope for more next week.

Unlike much of the season, Bouchard won’t wait weeks – or even a month – to get back on court. Her ranking wouldn’t grant her direct entry into next week’s Premier 5 tournament in Rome, which has eight fewer main-draw spots than Madrid. So she will have to take her chances in the qualifying.

Armed with some Madrid momentum, that task suddenly became a little less daunting.

Bouchard backs up Sharapova win with Kerber upset

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Beating Maria Sharapova Monday night backed up Genie Bouchard’s words.

Backing it up with an upset over world No. 2 Angelique Kerber of Germany Wednesday night backed up her deeds.

The 23-year-old Canadian got a lot of help from Kerber, who retired from the match down 6-3, 5-0 with a hamstring problem. She said she felt it on the second-to-last point. Kerber visibly pulled up on what turned out to be the final point, not even attempting to go after Bouchard’s return.

Before that, Kerber served seven times, and failed to hold serve … seven times. That wasn’t the hamstring. 

The German never even earned a game point; Bouchard was 7-for-9 on break-point conversions as she posted a second consecutive bravura performance. 

Kerber attributed the defeat to a number of factors.

“It was a little bit difficult to get in the match and finding the rhythm. She plays actually not bad. She plays good,” Kerber told the media in Madrid. “(Bouchard) was going for it. She hits the ball really fast.

“Still, I mean, yeah, I couldn’t find the way because it was, yeah, different. The conditions are little bit different than the last days. But that’s not the excuse, so …”

It was clear once Bouchard earned an opening break in the second set that Kerber just wanted to get it over with. She opened that second set with a double-fault and by the time it was 0-2, she was rushing between points as though she still had a shot at making the Madrid early-bird special.

Wind, cold – not Kerber’s night

Genie
Kerber calls for the trainer at 3-6, 0-5. It was a brief episode before she pulled the plus. (Screenshot: TVA Sports)

Whatever she was feeling physically, she knew she hadn’t taken the court with enough to try to come all the way back. So she pulled the ripcord.

There was a certain irony in Kerber retiring without giving Bouchard the benefit of a legitimate victory.

For as many things as Bouchard is criticized for, she rarely has pulled out mid-match during her career. She’s had her share of nagging injuries, too. But she’ll usually stick it out.

This is the first time the Canadian has posted three consecutive victories since January in Sydney, Australia. There, she defeated Shuai Zhang, Dominika Cibulkova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova – all fine players, all in straight sets. She lost in the semis to eventual champion Johanna Konta.

These victories in Madrid somehow feel a lot more significant, don’t they?

The win over Alizé Cornet in the first round broke the string of losses that had weighed down Bouchard’s shoulders like a pair of 50-pound barbells. Her dramatic victory over Sharapova was a watershed moment both physically and emotionally.

Winning record vs. Kerber

Bouchard certainly had reason to have some confidence going in.

She defeated Kerber both at the French Open and Wimbledon in 2014, when Bouchard was playing her best tennis. But the Canadian also prevailed in Rome a year ago, 7-5 in the third set, when nothing was going particularly right for her and everything was going swimmingly for Kerber.

Bouchard now will face No. 8 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia in a late-night quarter-final Thursday (not before 9:30 p.m. Madrid time, 3:30 p.m. EDT, after Rafael Nadal vs. Nick Kyrgios at 8 p.m.).

They have not played each other for nearly three years. Kuznetsova won both previous encounters; they neatly bookended the Canadian’s big run through the French Open and Wimbledon in 2014.

Where have you been?

The more popular musings in the wake of Bouchard’s victory questioned where the 2014-vintage tennis has been the last two years.

The unspoken implication there – the wagging of the virtual finger – is that Bouchard wasn’t trying hard enough, not working hard enough. All neatly buttressing the prevailing narrative that she’s more about social media and photo shoots than tennis.

Most should know better. The level Bouchard demonstrated over the last two night in Madrid has everything to do with getting a measure of confidence back. It’s not as though she hasn’t been trying to win and play top tennis. More than many other players, the 23-year-old’s game demands that confidence level because of its high-risk, fairly one-dimensional nature.

Bouchard spoke to that in her press conference.

“I think mentally not being in the right place, allowing outside voices kind of in, allowing the pressure to get to me. You know, quite a few things here and there that just affected me at different times over the past couple of years,” she said.

The evidence is there that some gym work has been paying off. There seemed to be little hangover from the tough physical battle against Sharapova Monday night. Bouchard’s feet were almost dancing. She looked so eager; she was seeing and seizing opportunities to step in and make a play earlier than she has over the last few months, when nerves and an abject lack of confidence often turned those size 9 1/2 Nikes into feet of clay.

Genie
Bouchard looked for every opportunity to move forward and take control Wednesday against an opponent who clearly didn’t the heart for the fight on this night.

Bouchard’s second serve has improved kick to it and is proving highly effective on the clay. And having coach Thomas Högstedt back after he was absent for several tournaments seemed to have helped coalesce her game plans during the last two matches.

She will move up to No. 54 with the victory. It’s first time her ranking has headed in the right direction in quite some time. If she can defeat Kuznetsova, she could rise as high as No. 40.

“It’s been a long, hard road for sure. Like I said, this is three matches. I want to do 50 more this year,” Bouchard said. “It’s a long road ahead of me, as well.”

Doubles Kyrgios – a different Kyrgios

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If you’re not a big fan of the volatile Aussie Nick Kyrgios, but you’re keeping an open mind and you’re willing to see another side to him beyond some of his less-endearing on-court moments, here’s a suggestion:

Watch him play doubles.

The 21-year-old is a different guy on the doubles court. He’s much more relaxed, he smiles a whole lot more, and perhaps he lets more of his real personality shine through. He also takes it very seriously.

Kyrgios and Jack Sock are into the quarter-finals of the Madrid Open doubles after a pair of straight-set wins against two very accomplished doubles tandems. They defeated Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau in the first round, and upset No. 5 seeds Raven Klaasen and Rajeev Ram 6-4, 6-4 Tuesday.

Kyrgios
Kyrgios and Sock hug it out after beating Rojer and Teacu in the first round of doubles at the Madrid Open. (Screenshot: TennisTV)

These two, good mates, have often tried in the past to team up on the doubles court. For a few years, Sock and Canadian Vasek Pospisil were a steady duo (they won Wimbledon in 2014 in their first tournament together).

After that, one circumstance after another prevented it. Only once has it happened. But they had to retire after the first set of their second-round match in Toronto last summer against Pospisil and Daniel Nestor.

But they practice together often – to the reported mild dismay of Australian Open captain and Kyrgios advisor Lleyton Hewitt.

Hewitt, as serious as a heart attack during practice when he played, thinks they don’t work hard enough because they joke around too much.

Court comedians

He’s not totally wrong. Check out this footage of the pair entertaining the crowd thoroughly at the Rogers Cup in Montreal in 2015.

The thing about these two is that the kids LOVE them. And that’s the demographic that will make the game grow during the next era, the one without Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

Teenaged boys follow them around as though they’re a pair of pied pipers. In the video above, all the boys from Tennis Canada’s high-performance junior program were on hand and watched most of the practice. Félix Auger-Aliassime (then 14, in the red shirt on the left) is probably the best 16-year-old in the world right now. He won the boys’ title at the US Open last summer.

Kyrgios plans to play doubles at the French Open with fellow Aussie Jordan Thompson. He also hopes to play mixed doubles with his girlfriend, Ajla Tomljanovic of Croatia.

Here he is at Wimbledon playing mixed with Madison Keys.

And here he is playing mixed with Genie Bouchard at the US Open last summer. It was just a couple of hours after that match that Bouchard had her fall in the women’s locker room. 

Different guy, huh?

Next up for Sock and Kyrgios are either No. 4 seeds Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo or the alternate American pair of Brian Baker and Nick Monroe.