Bouchard preps for 1st career RG qualies

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PARIS – From the time Canadian Genie Bouchard made her Roland Garros debut back in 2013, she was in the main draw.

This year, with her ranking down to No. 167, she is in the qualifying for the first time. And she’s not even seeded.

Bouchard will face No. 13 seed Dalila Jakupovic of Slovenia in the first round on Tuesday.

They are last up on Court No. 6, which is the court that is being streamed. So if you get Tennis Channel Plus, you might be able to watch it.

Jakupovic is a 27-year-old who is ranked No. 121 in singles, and No. 55 in doubles.

Her singles ranking is a career high. Her doubles ranking is one off a career high established last month. So she is playing the best tennis of her career, and reached the semifinals of the WTA Tour event on clay in Bogotá, Colombia last month.

Draw full of possibilities

There are no “easy wins’ for Bouchard these days. So to say that her draw is a cake walk would be to overstate the case, especially because the No. 7 qualifying seed, Mariana Duque-Mariño of Colombia, is a good clay-court player.

Bouchard and Duque-Mariño have met twice, eons ago when Bouchard was just starting out. The Canadian defeated her both times, both on clay, in the Acapulco qualifying, and also in Fed Cup.

Bouchard has played little tennis on Tour in recent months – just four matches since she reached the quarterfinals of the small WTA event in Taipei City after the Australian Open.

She won just one of those, a first-round qualifying match against American Allie Kiick in Miami during which her former coach Harold Solomon, with whom she had split just days before, was sitting in the opposing camp.

Here are some pics of Bouchard and Zhao in action.

The two other matches she did play, at Fed Cup in Montreal a month ago, loom larger in terms of her confidence.

Bouchard injured her left hand in her first match against Kateryna Bondarenko of Ukraine. And she was cramping up in her second match, against Lesia Tsurenko. But she managed to win both of them, a big confidence boost.

But she hasn’t played since.

The 24-year-old had entered a pair of $100,000 ITF events, in Cagnes-sur-Mer, France and Trnava, Slovakia the last two weeks. But an abdominal strain suffered in the warmup just before her first-round match in France resulted in her withdrawing from both

She has spent the last week or so training at the Mouratoglou Academy in France.

Pared-down Team Bouchard

Bouchard practiced with fellow Canadian Carol Zhao Monday at Parc Jean-Bouin, a practice facility just down the street from Roland Garros.

There was no sign of hitting partner/assistant coach Robbye Poole. Indeed, Poole wasn’t in Montreal, either.

Here’s some video of Bouchard in practice.

And, of course, there is no official coach at the moment, although Bouchard has been to California to work with Robert Landsdorp on two occasions – after Charleston (and instead of Bogotá), and after the Fed Cup (instead of playing Rabat).

Physical trainer Scott Byrnes appeared to be giving Bouchard a lot of tennis advice. Fed Cup captain Sylvain Bruneau also was on the court.

Zhao, who will be playing her first French Open qualifying, had her right elbow wrapped both above and below. She pulled out of the Trnava tournament after the draw.

She will play former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone in the first round. The match also will be on Court 6, just before Bouchard’s tilt.

Currently ranked No. 265, Schiavone, 37, was at No. 156 at the entry deadline for the qualifying, so she made it. Even as a former champion, the French federation saw fit to award their multiple wild cards to a bunch of their players who, let’s face it, aren’t exactly top prospects.

And so, the Italian will try to get through three matches this week.

Zhao does have a little intel on Schiavone, even if it’s not on her beloved clay.

She practiced with her at Indian Wells in March, and even got her to drop some salty language.

 

 

“Abdominal pain” puts Bouchard out of Cagnes-sur-Mer

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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.

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Bouchard’s abdominal injury flared up in Eastbourne in 2015, just few months after similar drama at Indian Wells.

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.

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The abdominal injury flared up again during a long, dramatic match against Lesia Tsurenko at Indian Wells in 2015 – the catalyst for a brutal stretch of season that culminated in the locker-room incident at the US Open. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

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.

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Bouchard was forced to retire from her match against Belinda Bencic at Eastbourne in 2015 with an abdominal injury.

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.

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An emotional Bouchard tried to carry on in Charleston in 2016, but was forced to retire with the abdominal issue that has been a recurring theme during her career. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

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.

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Bouchard got through her first round in Paris last year, despite an ankle turned all sorts of nasty colours. She couldn’t recover for the next one; Bouchard got only three games against Sevastova in the second round. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

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 Landsdorp. 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.

Renaissance weekend at home for Bouchard

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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.

Renaissance

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.

Sunday drama

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.

Next steps

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.

Canadian Fed Cup team bumped, bruised, but tied 1-1

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MONTREAL – Canada’s World Group II Fed Cup playoff tie hadn’t even begun, when the first bad news hit.

No. 2 Françoise Abanda, already slowed a little by a knee issue, was doing some final warmup exercises just a few minutes before the teams were to take the court for the opening ceremony. 

And then, she slipped and fell.

Abanda hit her head on the court. Immediately there were a half-dozen Tennis Canada personnel around her, everyone looking concerned. 

It wasn’t long before the decision was made to put in 17-year-old Bianca Andreescu as a last-minute substitute. And Abanda – her head still hurting several hours later – went back into the locker room.

That’s a tough ask for anyone, never mind an inexperienced 17-year-old. Planning to sit courtside with some figurative popcorn, Andreescu expected to work out her cheering muscles and nothing else on Saturday. 

Without a proper warmup, or eating at the right time, or all the myriad preparations that go into a match, she took on world No. 41 Lesia Tsurenko.

Andreescu played brilliantly, taking the first set. But by the middle of the second set, she began to tire. And by the beginning of the third set, you could see her shaking out her leg and trying to fight off cramps.

A few games later, she collapsed in a heap. A cramp that began in her calf moved up into the rest of her leg, and she was really in pain. 

She was carted off the court in a wheelchair, forced to retire from the match.

Two down, Bouchard up next

It was left to Genie Bouchard to salvage a tie on the day. 

And she did, with an impressive 6-2, 7-5 win over world No. 78 Kateryna Bondarenko. It was a victory that never felt as though it might get away from her, despite a couple of nervous moments when she was close to the finish line.

Here’s what it looked like.

But …

Early in the match, Bouchard whacked her left hand on a towel display installed just to the left of her bench. Running at a good clip, she tried to brake, using the left hand, and was left in some pain.

She said that every backhand she hit for the rest of the match hurt – a lot.

But she could still joke with captain Sylvain Bruneau about there being “Three down, one to go.”

Here’s what she said about it.

Canadian infirmary

The release from the ITF about Abanda’s injury said she had a “pero-orbital contusion” – medical speak for a black eye.

But she didn’t, even though the eye was swollen. 

While the medical personnel were monitoring Abanda through the day, they certainly couldn’t rule out a concussion. And that’s scary, especially if there’s even a desire on Abanda’s part to try to play Sunday in the fourth singles rubber.

As for Andreescu, she’s likely to be awfully sore where the cramps hit.

And there’s no predicting how Bouchard’s hand will feel when she wakes up on Sunday morning.

Here’s Bruneau with the medical report.

Dabrowski to the rescue?

You would expect Bouchard to give it a go in the first match of the day Sunday against Tsurenko.

After that, Canada will either be in a position to clinch, or in a position where it needs a victory to stay alive.

Gabriela Dabrowski, a fine singles player but one who has put that discipline aside for the most part to focus on her top-10 doubles career, is ready to go in singles if needed.

If it gets to a fifth and deciding rubber, Bruneau may have no other options left but to put Bouchard and Dabrowski on for the doubles.

It may be a sleepless night for a few people on the Canadian side.

Canada and Bouchard underdogs vs. Ukraine

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MONTREAL – Fed Cup draws – with the first name selected basically setting the entire weekend’s lineup – are essentially a two-minute affair at most.

So the ceremonies themselves are generally long on speeches.

When the Canadian Fed Cup team plays at home, it usually means a guest appearance by Sauveur Menella, the French, Montreal-based vice-president of BNP Paribas Canada.

BNP Paribas, of course, is the title sponsor for Fed Cup and Davis Cup.

The name of Françoise Abanda was drawn first – as she joked to her captain, Sylvain Bruneau, she always ends up going first.

With Abanda the No. 2 player on the Canadian team behind Genie Bouchard, that will mean she leads off Saturday at 1 p.m. EDT against Ukraine’s No. 1, Lesia Tsurenko.

Following that will be Bouchard against Ukraine’s No. 2, Kateryna Bondarenko.

For the reverse singles Sunday, Bouchard will start against Tsurenko, followed by Abanda vs. Bondarenko if the outcome is not decided.

The rankings disparity is fairly large.

Tsurenko is ranked No. 41, Bondarenko No. 78.

Bouchard stands at No. 117 (although obviously her career high is higher than that of anyone else on the two teams). Abanda is currently ranked No. 127.

So on paper, it’s a bit of a mismatch even if three of the best Ukrainians are not here. World No. 4 Elina Svitolina and Marta Kostyuk, the rising 15-year-old star, are absent. Also not here is Kateryna Kozlova, ranked No. 68. But she appears to be injured.

Svitolina also didn’t play in early February, when Ukraine was defeated by Australia Down Under. In that tie, Kostyuk upset top-25 player Daria Gavrilova on the first day.

Ukraine’s captain, Mikhail Filima, joked that even if he only had three players this weekend (excellent doubles player Olga Savchuk is the third), it was a lot better than having two.

He talked about schedules, and priorities, and the like. But there’s obviously seems to be something amiss with the federation, because a lot of the top players are in action this week. The ties are counting down and they need to get their Fed Cup criteria met to ensure their eligibility for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Svitolina is due to play in Stuttgart, indoors on the red clay, next week. 

Kostyuk is in the Stuttgart qualifying, and the Kichenok twins, Nadiia and Lyudmyla, are both in the doubles draw.

Handshakes, photos and niceties

After the draw, the players gathered for the handshakes and photo opportunities.

More on that here, as Canada averted a massive diplomatic crisis when Wimbledon finalist Genie Bouchard congenially shook Bondarenko’s hand.

And then came a question-and-answer period with the media, mostly Canadian and mostly French-speaking.

Most of the questions were to Bouchard, who was asked about her confidence level and how she hoped to turn around a tough season. One, about whether she accepted the “blame” for her struggles, was very poorly-worded and came out sounding rather aggressive.

Somewhere in the middle, a journalist Bouchard assumed was from Ukraine (because of his accent) asked a long-winded question about her playing doubles with Grand Slam champions (Sloane Stephens and Jelena Ostapenko) and about whether she and teammate Gabriela Dabrowski hoped them might some day have an all-Canadian team in a Slam doubles final and …. well, even Bouchard wasn’t quite sure what, exactly he was asking.

Just when things were going well …

And then, it went off the rails a bit.

A collective intake of breath, a few quiet laughs, some frozen smiles on the dais. And then Bouchard wouldn’t let it go.

Mistaken identity

The irony is that the journalist Bouchard was thanking for his adoring deference to royalty wasn’t even from Ukraine. According to TVA, his name is Andras Ruszanov. He’s a Hungarian (not Ukrainian) native, a freelancer who has lived in Montreal for several years.

Why she would deliberately put a whole room full of people on her back, 24 hours before she can use all the support she can get to try to pull off two victories against quality opponents, is unknown.

Head-to-heads

Bouchard and Tsurenko have met once, at Indian Wells in 2015.

Bouchard was then ranked No. 6; Tsurenko was a qualifier. Tsurenko took it 6-4 in the third, in a dramatic matchup that had Bouchard ailing with an ab problem, and Tsurenko with an ankle issue. It was a pretty tough day for the Canadian, who was then fresh off the breakthrough 2014 season during which she was a Grand Slam finalist and in the early phase of her ill-fated coaching association with Sam Sumyk.

Between the two of them, Bouchard and Tsurenko made 133 unforced errors.

Later that year, Bouchard defeated Bondarenko in Cincinnati in two tiebreaks. The two had met in the qualifying at the Rogers Cup all the way back in 2009 when Bouchard was just 15, and Bondarenko was turning 23. Bondarenko won that one, 6-2, 6-0.

Bouchard and Tsurenko met in Ukraine in Fed Cup, all the way back in 2013. It was similarly messy and Tsurenko multiplied the double faults. But Bouchard took that one 6-4, 7-5.

As for Abanda, she will meet both Tsurenko and Bondarenko for the first time.

“Local press” reaction

The reaction to Bouchard’s jab was about as you would expect.

One would expect that “Eugénie Bouchard, Grand Slam finalist” might be used quite a bit over the next two days.

Handshakes galore at CAN-UKR Fed Cup draw

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MONTREAL – It was never in doubt, right?

As the part of the Fed Cup draw ceremony that involved handshakes and photographs drew near, the suspense built.

Would Genie Bouchard shake her opponent’s hand for the cameras, as she had failed to do on two previous such occasions at home?

Would there be awkwardness? Would the photos be beamed around the tennis world and a hush and a gasp fall over the large crowd in the downtown hotel salon?

It was third time lucky for Bouchard, who also had the presence of mind to notice that the teams were on opposite sides of their country names on the drawboard.

And so she shepherded her Saturday opponent, Kateryna Bondarenko, to the other side as the photographers gathered.

Then – not being all that well-versed in the protocol, of course – she asked someone, “Am I supposed to shake her hand? 

And then, she held out her hand, and Bondarenko shook it. And they both had beautiful smiles.

Here’s how it all went down.

And that was that. Both seemed to come out of it unscathed. And, it likely will have no bearing at all on the outcome of the match.

Potential diplomatic crisis averted

A potential crisis was averted as Ukraine No. 1 Lesia Tsurenko pointed out that they were supposed to also have handshakes and photos with the reverse singles pairings.

In other words, Bouchard with Tsurenko, and Françoise Abanda with Bondarenko.

Amid the confusion, for whatever reason, that idea was abandoned as the teams gathered for the group shots.

So now … on to the tennis!

Will she, or won’t she? A shaky question

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If there is one moment in Genie Bouchard’s tumultuous career that, all on its own, turned a lot of tennis fans against her, it was the handshake.

Rather, the non-handshake. And then, the non-handshake sequel.

So as the 24-year-old from Montreal returns home for Fed Cup this weekend, in the lineup for the first time in three years, the exercise in watching grass grow that is the Friday draw ceremony – especially the part where the prospective opponents shake and smile for photos – will become a flash point.

You wouldn’t want her to swung and miss for strike three.

Currently ranked No. 117, Bouchard has enough challenges this weekend.

She will try to kickstart a tough season and post one, ideally two, victories against Ukraine for herself and for her country.

Strike one: 2014 vs. Slovakia

If Canada can’t take the tie, it would have to go back down to the zonal competition in 2019.

And on the other side, despite the absence of Elina Svitolina, there are two very solid, experienced players in Kateryna Bondarenko and Lesia Tsurenko to try to stop them.

The Genie Show

The draw ceremony takes place Friday, at noon, at a downtown Montreal hotel. And the handshake moment likely won’t be the only awkward part of the event.

Strike two: 2015 vs. Romania

Bouchard hasn’t really met the local Montreal media since the Rogers Cup in the summer of 2016. It’s been an eventful 20 months.

And there were no opportunities through the week, or at least since Bouchard arrived from California on Wednesday.

New Fed Cup guidelines have removed the obligation of all team members to attend at least one pre-draw press conference during the week. 

If the concept was to somehow “lessen the load” in a bid to encourage the top players to play more often, as was the case with the men, it’s a double-edged sword. (Plus, we’ll note that, unlike the men in Davis Cup, the women haven’t eliminated the rubber-chicken banquet on the Thursday night).

Fed Cup is such an afterthought here during the NHL hockey playoffs that the national sports network that owns the television rights isn’t even broadcasting it on television, only online. 

So getting Bouchard out there in the media would definitely give the event a boost. But with a modest, 1,500 seat stadium setup, Tennis Canada has hedged its bets.

And so there has been no opportunity to get all the Bouchard “business” out of the way before the serious stuff of playing tennis begins.

Well, that’s not quite true. A group of young children were invited in for a “press conference” with her. Which is just making fun, really.

Fed Cup captain Sylvain Bruneau stood in for Bouchard on Wednesday, talking about Bouchard.

All within the rules

No one, including Tennis Canada or Bouchard, is breaking any rules (there’s a fine of up to $10,000 if they do). 

But what’s going to happen on Friday if past history is any indication is that in the only Bouchard media opportunity, the other three players will also be sitting up on the stage. And nearly every question will be directed to Bouchard.

And it will be awkward for everyone: her teammates, and the media.

Here’s what happened four years ago, for the Feb. 2014 tie against Serbia.

Along with that, all eyes will turn towards the Fed Cup draw board, and the official photos.

Flash back to April, 2014 and exactly a year later in April, 2015 (pardon the quality of the video; it was early days).

So the big question will be answered on Friday: will she, or won’t she?

Bruneau did tell Tennis.Life Wednesday that he likely would bring it up with her.

Will it be third-time lucky?

One thing’s for sure. Friday’s draw ceremony will have a little more spice than these things typically do.

Bouchard hits Fed Cup practice court (video)

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MONTREAL – Genie Bouchard’s travel plans from California home to Montreal  Monday were thwarted somewhat by an inconvenient ice storm that wreaked havoc with the airline schedules.

But she made it.

And on Wednesday morning, the 24-year-old hit the practice court at the newly-named Stade IGA indoor facility in Montreal to start preparing for Canada’s World Group II playoff tie against Ukraine this weekend.

The red carpet was rolled out for Bouchard. Her last Fed Cup appearance goes back three long years. It was in the same city, with the same stakes. But the end result of that one was a 3-2 defeat against Romania in which Bouchard lost both her singles matches.

Red-carpet treatment

The court was well populated. In addition to Bouchard and Fed Cup captain Sylvain Bruneau, there were two hitting partners: Tennis Canada boys’ coach Jocelyn Robichaud (a former top junior and Tour player) and Samuel Monette.

A month older than Bouchard, Monette is at a career-high ranking this week at No. 443. A year removed from a four-year career as an Indiana Hoosier, he’s just back from six weeks on the road playing Futures and Challengers. 

As well, a Tennis Canada physio and massage therapist, and Bouchard’s personal trainer Scott Byrnes, were on hand.

Bouchard planned a second practice later in the day. But she was out there at 9:30 a.m. – 6:30 a.m. California time, despite the jet lag, And she appeared in good spirits.

Here’s what it looked like.

Someone in Bouchard’s downtown apartment building already had some advice for the 24-year-old, whose Montreal vehicle clearly has been gathering dust over the winder.

 

Team Ukraine hard at work

Team Ukraine was practicing on the neighbouring match court, a concoction of aluminum and screws set up at the back of the 12-court indoor complex. It will seat a modest 1,500.

Tennis Canada has set up bigger arenas for previous Fed Cup ties. But in the absence of Bouchard despite hope on a few occasions, it took the safe road. At any rate, trying to find a larger-sized hockey arena on short notice is a major challenge at this time of the year.

And with the top two players Quebecers – and with Tennis Canada seeming to make a habit now of holding the ties here – this was probably the best solution they could find.

Genie Bouchard out of Bogotá, nominated for Fed Cup

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Genie Bouchard’s immediate plans became more clear on Friday.

The 24-year-old was nominated as part of the four-woman Canadian Fed Cup squad that will face Ukraine April 21-22 in her hometown.

It will be the first Fed Cup tie she will take part in since Canada played Romania back in 2015.

That one was pretty infamous.

Joining Bouchard on the Fed Cup team will be Françoise Abanda (a fellow Montrealer), Bianca Andreescu (currently playing $25K events in Japan) and top-10 doubles player Gabriela Dabrowski.

And then, came word that Bouchard has withdrawn from next week’s WTA Tour event in Bogotá, Colombia.

The Fed Cup tie will be played indoors on a hard court.

Sticking to one surface

Bouchard currently is in Los Angeles consulting with renowned coach Robert Landsdorp, as exclusively reported on tennis.life Thursday. And they’re practicing on a hard court.

It made little sense to quickly turn around and make the long trip to South America, to change surfaces to red clay, and play at 8,600-feet altitude – only to turn around and make another long trip back to Montreal, to return indoors and play on a hard court again.

At the same time, though, this means another two weeks without an opportunity to earn any WTA Tour ranking points.

Bouchard won’t play next week. And the Fed Cup competition, while helping to seal Olympics eligibility, doesn’t offer any ranking points.

Still, seems a wise decision. Except … Bouchard has 21 points coming off next week, from her quarterfinal effort in the ITF tournament in Indian Harbour Beach, Fla. she played a year ago.

The rankings deadline for the French Open will include that drop in points. And that means that Bouchard will be ranked around No. 116 or No. 117 in terms of entry for the French Open. That’s unlikely to get her into the main draw.

She could squeeze in; it’s too early to tell. But the odds are low. And she may find herself having to play the qualifying.

The Bogotá tournament had already tried to take advantage of Bouchard’s social-media popularity by focusing on her looks to sell a few tickets.

Bogotá

“Canadian Genie Bouchard, considered the sexiest tennis player in the world, will be in Colombia … Don’t miss out on the opportunity to meet this beautiful woman ….”

It’s 2018, right? That tournament should get a red card for that approach.

Genie Bouchard turns to Robert Landsdorp

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Genie Bouchard probably should be on her way to South America.

The struggling Canadian, who lost to Sara Errani in the first round of the Volvo Car Open Monday in Charleston, S.C., is entered in a lower-level event in Colombia next week.

There a transition to be made from the American Har-Tru to the red clay. And there also is the matter of adjusting to the 8,600 feet of altitude in Bogotá. Those extreme conditions make the ball fly and require adjustments in everything from string tension to strategy.

The weather – cool, humid, rainy – also will be a big change from Charleston.

Instead, according to irreproachable sources, the 24-year-old has flown to the Los Angeles area, and is practicing on hard courts.

Bouchard is in California consulting with Robert Landsdorp.

Landsdorp an outside-the-box choice

Landsdorp is the coach responsible for developing the textbook hard, flat groundstrokes of players like Maria Sharapova, Tracy Austin and Lindsay Davenport. 

Landsdorp, who turns 80 in August, has not worked with a pro player in recent years. He stays put in the South Bay Peninsula area outside Los Angeles, and works mostly with very young players. 

Landsdorp worked with Sharapova for many years, building the groundstroke base that allowed her to win multiple Grand Slam titles.

His reputation was built years ago on his ability to feed balls perfectly and repetitively, enabling his players to groove their groundstrokes to perfection and build their confidence that way.

To that, he added an aura of intimidation his former players still speak about. Although they all say it made them tougher, better.

Landsdorp doesn’t believe in topspin. He believes in hard, flat strokes that clear the net by a few feet at most, leaving little margin. He also believes that playing tournaments is hell on a players’ technique.

He tells the story here about being the first coach to travel on the Tour with a player, with Austin back in the 1970s, and being vigilant every day to ensure her technique didn’t falter. 

The Landsdorp way

In short, he may be a coach you send a player to see to built a solid base for their groundies, as his track record proves. But he’s not necessarily the coach you would want to see for just a few days in the middle of the season. Because there isn’t much he can do.

Landsdorp had all of the top players he developed from a very young age. So he built their shots from the ground up; he didn’t take mature strokes and rebuild them the Landsdorp way. He would want to tear Bouchard’s house of strokes down and build it back up properly. 

Landsdorp at the 2014 US Open, where he was watching Canadian junior Katherine Sebov. Sebov traveled regularly to California  to have her training overseen by Landsdorp. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

That’s not something you can or would do in the middle of the competitive season, anyway. And it’s something nearly impossible to do at Bouchard’s age, in mid-career.  

And even at his age, Landsdorp’s crusty mien isn’t exactly an antidote to a player whose confidence is at rock-bottom.

So it’s a fascinating development in the ongoing Bouchard coaching saga.

New agent imminent

Bouchard may have another reason to be in the L.A. area.

That’s where the headquarters of Creative Artists Agency is located. We’re told, CAA (which represents her countryman, Milos Raonic) will be the next agency to work with the Canadian.

Former agent John Tobias of TLA (also Los-Angeles based) took his leave a month ago.

It’s unknown whether Landsdorp is a candidate to become Bouchard’s new coach, or she merely traveled across the U.S. for a few days to get a little advice.

But that’s where she is, just a few days before the South American clay-court event, with a long flight and another time change ahead of her before she tries to get back on the winning track.