She was able to train a full off-season without being on the search for a coach. And there was a definite boost in the new arrival, as Bouchard clearly liked Joyce and appeared fully engaged to wrap up 2018, and start 2019.
The 46-year-old California native is an accomplished coach who worked with Maria Sharapova for many years. More recently, he coached Victoria Azarenka and Johanna Konta.
But now he, too, finds himself on the job hunt in the middle of the season.
A year ago: massive Fed Cup performances
The news comes a year – almost to the day – after Bouchard pulled off one of her most impressive wins in recent years.
Coming in to the Fed Cup tie against Ukraine without any sort of decent form, Bouchard won her first match against Kateryna Bondarenko. And then, on the second day, she pulled off a 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (5) comeback win over the very capable Lesia Tsurenko. It was a match that was as draining mentally as it was physically – on both women.
Absent from Fed Cup play for three years, playing in her hometown, it was a triumph that seemed as though it might be a springboard to a return to form.
But it wasn’t to be. Bouchard played just one match during the 2018 clay-court season.
Down 0-6, 1-2 to Dalila Jakupovic of Slovenia in the first round of the French Open qualifying (her first time in the qualifying of a Grand Slam since Jan. 2013) she retired with the same abdominal issue she referred to her “update” Tweet.
A year on, it’s unclear whether she will get on the clay at all. Or, indeed, what the future holds.
When she gets healthy again, Bouchard not only will have to start up again after a long layoff, having lost significant ground both in the rankings and to her opponents.
She’ll also return without an agent, or a coach, or a physical trainer.
The Canadian has been through a lot of tough times in the last few years.
The photo above is of better days, hopeful days, as a jubilant Canadian Fed Cup squad swept the Netherlands in February.
Two months later, the bad news is … well, it’s pretty much all bad news.
The team had been counting on the young player of the hour, 18-year-old Bianca Andreescu, to lead the team in its effort to get into World Group I.
But Andreescu is pretty banged up after a career-making trip to Indian Wells and Miami. And she has a big spring clay-court season ahead as a top-25 player. So she can’t make the date.
Also out? Genie Bouchard, who hasn’t played since Miami.
Also out? Françoise Abanda, a player whose best career moments have come when representing her country.
It’s a key playoff tie that would get them into World Group I. But to face the Czechs in Prostejov, the vaunted Canadian tennis program basically had to get all hands on deck.
Representing Canada at Fed Cup has always been a dream of mine and I’m very sad that due to my shoulder injury, I won’t be able to play this next tie against Czech. I’m working hard with my team to make sure I’m stronger and better than ever so I can get back on court soon.
At No. 2? That likely will be Leylah Annie Fernandez. The 16-year-old will be making her Fed Cup debut. The alternative is Gabriela Dabrowski, a doubles star who is a talented singles player, but has rarely played in recent years.
The fourth member of the team will be Sharon Fichman.
Fichman has played in 27 Fed Cup ties in her career, most of them on the South American clay in the zonals.
But the 28-year-old hasn’t worn the colours since 2016. She had basically retired before returning in doubles last year.
The “press-release quote” from new captain Heidi el Tabakh is, as you would expect, full of positive.
“Our players have all had some good results since the start of the year. And we are hoping to capitalize on their momentum going into this matchup. We recognize that this tie represents a challenge for us as we are playing a great team who is proficient on a clay court surface. They are last year’s Fed Cup champions. And we will be prepared for some tough matches.”
Basically, it’s a disaster
The Canadians were so impressive in February, playing on indoor clay in the Netherlands.
Andreescu didn’t drop a set in her two singles matches. Abanda, whose shoulder already was bothering her and has barely played since, impressively defeated lefty Arantxa Rus. And Dabrowski and Marino won the dead-rubber doubles to sweep.
The win over the Netherlands was Marino’s first participation in a Fed Cup tie since 2011. So, in retrospect, it was good for her to at least get her feet wet in anticipation of the heavy load she’ll have to carry in Prostejov.
Since returning after a 5 1/2-year retirement at the beginning of last season, Marino has played singles on red clay just once. It was early in her comeback in 2018, at one of the lower-level Futures events she played in Antalya, Turkey.
Before that, the Vancouver native’s last red-clay experience goes back to the 2011 French Open. There, she reached the third round and lost to Svetlana Kuznetsova. So far in her career, that has been the only good result for her on that surface.
From Osaka to Prostejov, for Canada
The bigger challenge Marino faces is that she is currently in her fifth consecutive week on the ITF hard-court circuit – in Japan.
It is both impressive and commendable that she’s willing to fly from Osaka to the Czech Republic, with the jet lag and all the wear and tear she’s experienced over the last five weeks, and quickly switch to a less-beloved surface to represent the maple leaf.
But it’s a big challenge.
(Marino, who was a finalist last week in Kashiwa, won her first-round singles match in Osaka Tuesday. But has yet to play her first-round doubles match).
Rookie Fernandez at No. 2?
The most experienced and accomplished of the group, Dabrowski played singles last week at an ITF in Florida. But that’s been a rare occurrence in recent years given the disparity between her doubles ranking (which allows her to play the biggest WTA events), and her current singles ranking of No. 387.
With the Fed Cup format putting the doubles rubber last after the singles, the outcome is often decided before it gets to that point. And so Dabrowski’s expertise has too often not been called upon.
Fernandez, who reached the semifinals in her Grand Slam junior debut at the French Open a year ago, is very much an outsider in the Tennis Canada scheme.
She receives very little financial support, even though she reached No. 4 in the junior rankings after making the girls’ singles final at the Australian Open in January. She trains in Florida with her father, Jorge.
The young lefty does have more recent clay-court experience – although it was in Australia. Fernandez reached the quarterfinals of a pair of $25,000 ITF events. Both times, she came out of the qualifying, and was defeated by Aussie veteran Olivia Rogowska. Her WTA Tour ranking stands at a career-best No. 376.
Under(wo)manned Czechs still strong
The Czechs will not have top-10 players Petra Kvitova or Karolina Pliskova on board.
But unlike Canada, this established tennis nation has significant depth.
The players who will take part – Marketa Vondrousova, Karolina Muchova, Maria Bouzkova and Barbora Krejcikova (who just won a big ITF title on the American clay in Florida) are all ranked much higher than the Canadians. Krejcikova also is ranked No. 2 in the world in doubles, typically paired with Katerina Siniakova.
Veteran Lucie Safarova, who will officially retire at a home tournament in Prague later this month, is the fifth member of the team.
A big challenge made even bigger
To sum up, it’s a pretty dire situation for the Canadians, who would have had a better than fighting chance with their best assets – Andreescu, Bouchard and Abanda – at full strength.
Here’s the press-release blurb about the absence of Andreescu. There is no elaboration on the absences of Bouchard and Abanda.
“Bianca Andreescu was not named to the Canadian Fed Cup team for the upcoming tie against the Czech Republic due to a lingering injury that she suffered during the Miami Open. Andreescu has been recuperating and slowly preparing for her return to competition. Representing Canada has always been a priority for Andreescu, who has played in eight consecutive Fed Cup ties since her debut in 2017. Although she is unable to participate, she wishes the team the best of luck and she will be ready for the next tie.”
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Félix Auger-Aliassime was the only one of the three Canadians in action Monday in the Miami Open qualifying to make it through to the final round.
And even the 18-year-old struggled at first, before rising to the task.
Auger-Aliassime dropped the first set against Italian veteran Luca Vanni in a flurry of unforced errors. But then, he ran away with it in the third set of a 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory.
His next opponent – the man standing in the way of him making the Miami Open main draw for the first time – also is no pushover.
Auger-Aliassime will play 37-year-old Paolo Lorenzi, who lives in Sarasota, Fla. and trains at the IMG Academy. Auger-Aliassime spent the off-season preparing there. So he’ll have seen him, even if he might not have practiced against him.
Lorenzi is the fellow who’s basically out there on the courts half the day, every day.
Given the qualifying is not broadcast, we shot a few highlights of the match.
Bouchard struggles against nemesis Hibino
In 2018, Eugenie Bouchard faced 24-year-old Nao Hibino three times, all on hard court.
All three times – all within two months, at the Vancouver Challenger, in Hiroshima and in Tashkent, Uzbekistan – Hibino won. Bouchard managed just one set in those three defeats.
The Canadian managed a set on Monday. But after winning the first set, turning the page on a love set and running out to a 3-1 lead, Bouchard won just one more game in a 4-6, 6-0, 6-4 loss.
Hibino has has proven to be a brutal matchup for her, a consistent player with some power who runs down everything. Hibino has nearly the same winning percentage as Bouchard through her career (57.9% versus 58.8 per cent for Bouchard) based on approximately 12 per cent fewer matches at the WTA level).
Bouchard didn’t look great in practice against Magda Linette of Poland, but that’s not unusual for her. She was coughing occasionally, but it didn’t seem – from the outside – like anything big. Certainly nothing like she experienced at Indian Wells in that valiant effort against Kirsten Flipkens in the first round.
Against Hibino, everything sort of started well, then unraveled. Again, the cumulative pressure of having the ball come back, of trying to finish points off too quickly. It was fairly similar to her other losses to Hibino – plus, at this point, the Japanese has to be in Bouchard’s head, understandably.
Bad luck and timing
The 25-year-old Canadian was going to be the next player into the Miami Open draw. But that withdrawal she needed never came – at least, not in time for the qualifying.
In fact, there were only two withdrawals from the original entry list: Maria Sharapova and Ekaterina Makarova.
It’s possible there might well be some before the main-draw matches begin. But that’s too late for Bouchard.
Most things weren’t going well Monday. After she decided to take a bathroom break following the bagel second set, Bouchard headed off in the wrong direction – only to be told the facilities were at the opposite side of the court (first day in a new site, everyone’s trying to figure things out).
During that bathroom break, coach Michael Joyce exited the court and spent most of the time talking with Bouchard’s mother, Julie Leclair.
Bouchard isn’t playing doubles in Miami. And she has entered the International-level Monterrey WTA event the week of April 1 and the same-level tournament Bogota the following week.
The Canadian Fed Cup team’s World Group I playoff tie against the Czech Republic will be held in Prostejov April 20-21.
Another tough one for Polansky
Meanwhile, Richmond Hill, Ont.’s Peter Polansky had a tough one against No. 4 qualifying seed Mackenzie McDonald, losing 7-6 (4), 7-5 in a match that featured just three break points.
Mackenzie had one break point in the second set, and converted it. And that was basically the match on a day Polansky played well enough, for the most part, to win it.
It was a long road back to the locker rooms inside the stadium, for sure.
CAA – full name, “Creative Artists Agency” – has its tentacles in every area of entertainment and sports. Among its other interests are live event production and media and licensing rights.
The company is most known for its representation of Hollywood actors and other artists. Its sports division represents baseball stars, basketball players, NFL players, skiers, snowboarders, figure skaters, gymnasts. But now, no tennis players.
Here’s a list of WTA and ATP players who were represented by CAA in recent years, according to lists obtained by Tennis.Life. (The lists might not be 100 per cent up to date; we apologize for any information that’s not current).
*Roberto Bautista Agut
Thanasi Kokkinakis and Ashleigh Barty had been represented by CAA agent Rick Montz. Montz was fired, he believes, in connection with the Naor case. As of last summer, had taken his case to the EEOC, per Kaplan. Barty also is represented by fellow Australian Nikki Craig.
Lauren Davis, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Lucie Safarova bad been represented by Lopez. American Coco Vandeweghe had been represented by Naor, then by Lopez.
Bethanie Mattek-Sands, managed by husband Justin, also had been listed with CAA.
According to Kaplan, Lopez’s lawyers “were notified this month via email that she also was being let go from CAA as part of the dissolution of the tennis division.” She had been on leave since last May.
So the effects of the company’s issues cut a wide swath through the group of American players before CAA cut the cord completely on the sport.
Then-CEO Stacey Allaster said the event represented 35-40 percent of the tour’s net operating revenues. And that the deal was worth more than the $14 million US a year it generated during the three-year stint in Istanbul.
The prize money for the first year in 2014 was upped to $6.5 million, as Allaster said it would rise more from there over the length of the deal.
That didn’t really happen, to any significant extent. It was raised to $7 million in 2015 – and remained at that level for the rest of the Singapore stay.
We covered the inaugural event in 2014, which seemed to create a fair amount of engagement in the city and was spectacularly well put on by the organizers.
(The players were: Serena Williams, Simona Halep, Ana Ivanovic, Maria Sharapova, Petra Kvitova, Agnieszka Radwanska, Caroline Wozniacki and, in her career-making 2014 season finale, Genie Bouchard. There was a significant amount of star power for this one, with some of the most high-profile and popular players in recent years).
Here are some of the pics from that year.
Yes, there are a lot of photos of Bouchard. That was the main reason for being there, as the lone Canadian journalist. But there also are photos of the scenes, the other players and the activities.
In the press room:
Genie Bouchard – with Halep, Williams and Ivanovic:
The attendance was impressive – announced at 129,000 for the first year. That was a bit misleading, as the WTA’s report at the time indicates that number was for fans attracted “to the Singapore Sports Hub during the 10 days of tennis, entertainment and business.”
The actual match attendance was put at “more than 93,000” through 14 sessions, including three reserved for the “Rising Stars” event featured the first couple of years. That’s an average of 6,642 per session, with the final being the last of four sellouts, at 9,986 fans.
Attendance numbers well-spun
Attendance for the second edition in 2015 was announced at 130,000, but over 18 sessions. While it was difficult to judge the fullness of the stands with the dark lighting, sources on site indicated that they weren’t nearly as full as the first year.
That’s not unusual, as the first year was impressive. And in any event of this nature, the novelty is more likely than not to wear off by Year 2 in an area of the planet without any sort of established tennis tradition.
For 2016, the WTA Tour didn’t announce any official attendance figure.
In 2017, the WTA announced attendance as 133,000, over only 11 sessions with no legends, and the straight-elimination doubles draw. By those numbers, the event would have had 11 sellouts, plus another 23,000 fans attending the experience. Might be a little … optimistic.
This year, there’s been no number announced although, as we laid out here, there were plenty of good seats available for every session.
WTA CEO Steve Simon, in his season-ending press conference last week, said he expected a record.
“I think that you can see that through this year we will have record attendance again. I believe it will exceed last year’s 133,000 people. You have seen it the first few nights at the event. You have seen it in the evolution of the fans here,” Simon said.
Law of diminishing returns
Perhaps the lesson to be learned from Singapore is that a five-year stay helps create, as Allaster said when the venue was announced, financial stability. But in a country without an established tennis fan base – the type of fan base you need to fill an arena for a week or more – it’s a challenge to keep an event growing.
The players who would attract the less-than-diehard tennis fans – notably, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova – have not been annual attendees.
Williams played only once in Singapore – the first year in 2014, when she defeated Halep in the final.
Sharapova qualified in 2014 (exiting after the pool stage) and 2015 (undefeated in the round robin, but out in the semifinals to Kvitova). But she hasn’t played since.
The challenge with the new 10-year commitment in Shenzhen, China will be the same – except double.
Shenzhen has double the population base to draw from. And it’s also near several other large population hubs. And it does have somewhat more of a tennis tradition with annual WTA and ATP Tour events held there.
Simon told the New York Times the deal was actually worth in excess of that figure. But that number includes the reported $450 million to be spent on the new indoor arena to be built, which the WTA won’t actually own, “and other real-estate elements”. Simon also said that the share of the WTA’s total revenues generated by the event is now less than that 35-40 per cent figure stated a few years ago by Allaster.
(After the first two years of the five-year deal with beIN, the rights in the U.S. have switched over to the Tennis Channel for 2019).
The new arena in Shenzhen won’t be ready in time for the inaugural edition in 2019.
Farewell Singapore, hello Shenzhen
The main priority, though, is that the WTA be able to create a lasting, significant tennis tradition in new its home.
The WTA couldn’t confirm that the annual WTA stop in Shenzhen, which takes place just two months after the Tour Finals, would survive. So it may have to find another home in Asia (or Australia, for that matter) for a tournament amidst a tricky time within the game.
The ATP Tour is planning a team event beginning in 2020. And that tournament looks to taking place in several venues where there are currently joint WTA/ATP events. Among the possibilities are Perth (where the Hopman Cup is in danger). Also being considered are Brisbane (well-attended by the top WTA players) and Sydney, the week before the Australian Open.
Shenzhen is so far away from North America and Europe that it’s not going to be able to count on hordes of women’s tennis fans making the long, expensive trip. So it’s going to have to find its market around that part of China. That was, of course, also true in Singapore.
There are enough people in the area; that’s for sure. The challenge will be get them to the event, and keep them coming.
Experienced coaches don’t stay unemployed for long on the WTA Tour.
As word leaked out in the Daily Mail that Great Britain’s Johanna Konta and her coach of one year, Michael Joyce, had gone their separate ways, tennis.life learned from an extremely reliable source that the 45-year-old American already is on a coaching trial with another player.
And that player is … Canada’s Genie Bouchard.
We’re told that that Joyce has been in Tel Aviv, Israel, where Bouchard went for some treatment on her foot, for the last week or so.
And that they’re headed to Luxembourg to test it out in the WTA Tour stop there next week.
Bouchard remains some 15 spots out of the main draw in Luxembourg. So qualifying looks like the route unless the tournament awards her a wild card into the main draw.
Joyce worked with Jessica Pegula and Victoria Azarenka before the season with Konta.
But prior to that, he was the longtime coach of Maria Sharapova.
In that sense, he’s always been on the Bouchard family radar. Pegula and Bouchard also have played doubles together.
That might be past tense, though, as Bouchard no longer acknowledges Sharapova as her childhood idol.
So there’s a certain irony to the timing of this.
As usual in the WTA off-season there is plenty of musical chairs on the coaching side. So Joyce may well find himself very much in demand as players try to get their teams together in preparation for the 2018 offseason, and the 2019 season.
TORONTO – As Milos Raonic prepares for a challenging first-round match against David Goffin of Belgium Monday night at his hometown Rogers Cup, word is out that his longtime agent at CAA was terminated last fall.
But Amit Naor remains the 27-year-old Canadian’s manager.
Rumours about this had been circulating for awhile. But Daniel Kaplan of Sports Business Journal, an excellent journalist, was able to nail it all down in a story published Monday.
CAA made no official announcement of any kind about the matter.
Out of respect for the extensive work Kaplan did over a significant period of time in breaking this story, we won’t cut and paste it here. Click here to read the piece.
Here is a brief summary.
“Verbal, emotional and sexual harassment”
According to Kaplan, tennis manager Stephanie Lopez, now 28, went to the head of CAA’s tennis division, Steven Heumann last fall alleging that Naor, 51, subjected her to “verbal, emotional and sexual harassment”.
She is currently on leave.
Kaplan also reports that Lopez filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the spring. Lopez said she “endured multiple incidents of retaliation” from Heumann after the firing.
A CAA spokesperson told Kaplan their investigation determined there was no retaliation.
Kaplan reports that even after he was fired, Naor remained a manager for three CAA clients. And, in that capacity has communication with the company’s agents.
In addition to Raonic, those two other clients also are high profile: Dominic Thiem and Tomas Berdych.
As of last fall, on the official ATP list (likely not exhaustive or 100 per cent accurate), Thiem was listed officially as being represented by his coach, Gunther Bresnik although Kaplan reports that both Bresnik and Naor manage Thiem’s affairs.
Fadi Shalabi of Sporting Advantage Monaco was listed for Berdych. Naor is listed for Raonic.
Also on Naor’s client list as of last fall were Ernests Gulbis, Taylor Fritz, Bradley Klahn and Bernard Tomic.
Naor represented Jack Sock early in his career. He also handled Novak Djokovic’s business affairs very early on – a decade ago – before Djokovic signed with CAA and Naor also joined the company. Djokovic left CAA in 2012.
He also coached Marat Safin.
The Israel-born Naor played professionally from 1985 to 1991. He reached a career high in singles of No. 245 in 1987 although he won just three matches at the ATP Tour level. Five of his six ATP Tournament appearances came at the now-defunct ATP event in Tel Aviv, Israel.
The CAA tennis division is small, and Naor’s clients reportedly make up the bulk of its revenue.
Raonic’s countrywoman, Genie Bouchard, also joined the CAA stable this spring, after stints with Lagardère, IMG and other agencies. She is represented by Matthew Fawcett.
No changes in the top 20, except for Bucharest champion Anastasija Sevastova jumping back into it, as the top guns take a post-Wimbledon break.
There’s an extra little bonus clay-court swing in Europe, just before the North American summer hard-court season begins. And a new Premier-level clay-court tournament in Moscow this week.
Many of the players are in Florida (and elsewhere) training.
Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys played an exhibition at the Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, in conjunction with the annual inductions and the ATP Tour event.
The only two top-20 players this week at the Russian national championships (also known as the Moscow River Cup) and the Chinese national championships (also known as Nanchang) are Julia Goerges and Daria Kasatkina, the top two seeds in Moscow.
There were some frustrating moments, as the Czech’s all-court game proved effective. And Bouchard had some issues with her own serve.
But in the end, she pulled through 6-2, 2-6, 6-3 to advance to the final round.
All of Bouchard’s matches have been on the one streamed court at Roehampton, Court 11. And so her fans around the world have been able to watch.
That will once again be true on Thursday, as she faces a player she has beaten twice, on clay, but hasn’t played in more than five years.
Lansdorp in the house
Bouchard has had legendary coach Robert Lansdorp with her during the grass-court season, even though she has not played many matches.
She made her debut in Birmingham about 10 days ago, and posted two solid victories before losing 6-4 in the third set to Jennifer Brady in the final round of qualifying there.
Now, two more wins in Roehampton. And you could hear Lansdorp constantly urging her on from his seat in the stands, calling out “You got this, baby”.
Speaking to him briefly after the win over Muchova, Lansdorp said that at this stage of her career, it’s not about making major changes in her game as it is about getting her back to doing what she does best. And that’s what he’s going to try to help her with.
Doubles qualifying one and done
After the singles, Bouchard returned to a smaller court with American Caroline Dolehide, to play their first match in the doubles qualifying.
The Can-American pair lost to Bibiane Schoofs of the Netherlands and Ysaline Bonaventure of Belgium, 7-5, 6-2. They had an early break in the first set, but in the end they had too much trouble winning points on their first serves (just 44 per cent).
Schoofs and Bonaventure went 6-for-8 on break points, while Bouchard and Dolehide could convert just 3-of-12.
On the plus side, there was a Genie Bouchard serve-and-volley sighting – although she didn’t end up having to hit the volley in the end.
Woman of few words
Bouchard’s brief post-match, on-court interview after the win over Zhu went around the interwebs fairly quickly, because of the brevity of the responses and the general demeanour.
(The Canadian did not want to do the interview; her first response when the Wimbledon official informed her that it was customary for the players on Court 11 to stop and answer a few questions from their own crew was: “Do I have to?”)
After the second-round win (and perhaps after a word from the All-England Club), Bouchard was a little more expansive.
“I didn’t feel like i was playing all that well, so I’m just glad I was able to keep myself collected in that third set, and find a way,” Bouchard said. “(Muchova) played well, you know. She’s young. I don’t know if she’s an up-and-comer or what. She was serve and volleying, she was slicing, she was mixing it up. But I was able to handle it in the third.”