Opting to play only doubles this week at the Henderson Tennis Open, Genie Bouchard got back on the winning track Wednesday.
Teamed up with Hungary’s Fanny Stollar, the No. 2 seeds dispatched Stephanie Wagner of Germany and Maria Gutierrez Carrasco of Spain 6-3, 6-3 in the first round.
They played Hsu Chieh-Yu of Taipei and Marcela Zacarias of Mexico in the quarterfinals Thursday and after a swoon in a second set they could well have won, took it in the match tiebreak.
On Friday, they were defeated by the most experienced players they had faced, Mandy Minella and Olga Govortsova, and went down 6-3, 6-3 in the semifinals.
Here she is talking about the victory Wednesday in Henderson.
Bouchard’s drop in the singles rankings means her doubles ranking – which stands at No. 192 – is actually higher than her singles ranking.
Without a doubt, the highlight of a 2019 season marked by injuries, a 13-match losing streak in singles and a major drop in her rankings fortune came right at the beginning of the season.
Bouchard and partner Sofia Kenin won the title at the WTA Tour event in Auckland, NZ, coming back from losing the first set 6-1 to win the match tiebreak 10-7 against Paige Hourigan and Taylor Townsend.
It was the first doubles title of Bouchard’s career; this is only her sixth tournament in doubles this season.
But a big run would do wonders for the confidence, as the Canadian is set to come back in singles to wrap up the season, at the WTA 125K tournament in Houston next week.
The post-US Open part of the tennis season might be tennis overload, or garbage time for some fans.
A lot of the top players are tired.
Some who have traveled all year are just trying to get through the season healthy.
But in various remote places around the tennis world, there are comebacks happening.
And a lot of players have everything to play for.
We take you to the city of Templeton, Calif., population about 8,000, where a $60,000 women’s ITF tournament is taking place this week.
It’s not a place you generally find former top-10 players.
But this week, there are some stories brewing.
Comeback stories abound
Former No. 10 Coco Vandeweghe, currently at No. 476 after missing the better part of a year with a serious foot issue, has a wild card into the singles.
Vandeweghe returned in San Jose in July, her first tournament since playing doubles at the Tour Finals in Singapore the previous October.
She won her first match, against Marie Bouzkova, but has lost four in a row although she did make the Cincinnati doubles semifinal with Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
Her first-round match against No. 2 seed Usue Arconada will be her first singles match at the ITF level since 2015.
Shelby Rogers, who broke into the top 50 in 2017 and has been playing the bigger events with a protected ranking after being out with a knee injury, is in the draw with her current “real” ranking of No. 303 and faces a qualifier in the first round.
Top-10s in Templeton
Former No. 5 Genie Bouchard, whose current ranking of No. 157 this week essentially nudged her out of most of the Asian swing, had entered as the top seed.
But after the addition of wild card Varvara Lepchenko (once in the top 20, now at No. 137), and Arconada’s rise to a career-best ranking of No. 145, she is the No. 3 seed.
Bouchard will face Gabriela Talaba, a Romanian at a career-best No. 272 in the rankings, in the first round.
Talaba, who won a $25K ITF in Redding, Calif. a week ago, is only 18 months younger than Bouchard.
But the 24-year-old has never played a main-draw match at the WTA level.
In fact, she only took part in her first WTA-level tournament this past July, where she lost in the first round of qualifying in Bucharest.
She’s been busy; Talaba starred for four years at Texas Tech, winning multiple honours before wrapping up in 2018. She’s a lefty with a one-handed backhand.
But there’s a huge gap in experience, to say the least.
Also in the draw? A name that used to be a familiar one, but that we haven’t seen since the Oracle Challenger in Chicago last September.
Irina Falconi, now 29, reached the top 70 in both singles and doubles earlier in her career. But a year ago, she embarked upon an open-ended break.
Of late, she’s been hosting a tennis podcast. There is literally nothing in her social media to indicate she’s been thinking of a return or training to come back. Which shows you how futile it is to think you know anything about someone from what they choose to post on social.
She has a protected ranking of No. 155 to work with for awhile.
In Tashkent, mom-of-two Bondarenko is back
Across the world, at a small WTA Tour event that’s in its final year in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, another very good player returns.
Kateryna Bondarenko was top-30 in singles and top-10 in doubles a decade ago.
She won the Australian Open doubles with older sister Alona in 2008. And then she had her daughter Karin, now six – before making her first comeback.
She got to No. 56 in singles, and No. 50 in doubles, after the 2016 US Open.
Bondarenko has been out since losing to Vera Lapko in in the first round of the US Open a year ago. And, it turns out, she was already pregnant with her second daughter, born last winter.
As it happens, it’s a full-circle sort of thing. Bondarenko had one career WTA Tour title before leaving on her first maternity break. After coming back, she won her second – two years ago this week, in Taskhent.
And that’s where she has decided to start her comeback.
Now 33, she has special rankings of No. 85 in singles and No. 65 in doubles.
Bondarenko’s third act
And with the new rules instituted by the WTA for the 2019 season, she gets a break on the seeding for her first eight tournaments back.
If you saw the Tashkent draw, you saw that Bondarenko was the No. 9 seed. That wasn’t because a seeded player withdrew late. It’s called an “additional seed”, and ensures the player will not face a seeded player in the first round.
Bondarenko lost to Greet Minnen 6-2, 6-2 in the first round of singles in Tashkent, struggling on second serve and converting on just one of nine break-point chances.
She’s entered in the doubles as well, with Aleksandra Krunic, who had been a regular partner before she went off the tour.
And that same rule means they are seeded No. 5, in a 16-draw that normally would have four seeds. They face Sharon Fichman and another 30-something WTA working mom, Tatjana Maria, in the first round.
Bondarenko has also entered Beijing in doubles with Krunic, as well as Tianjin.
Vicky Duval, a former top-20 junior just getting started in the pros, qualified and upset former champion Samantha Stosur in the first round of the 2013 US Open. She was still 17 and Stosur was No. 11 in the world. She got wild cards into Indian Wells and Miami, and qualified again at Wimbledon in 2014, upsetting No. 29 seed Sorana Cirstea in the first round.
Duval jumped into the top 100. But at that Wimbledon, she announced she had Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
She missed more than a year. And once she did return – she even jumped in to replace an injured Serena Williams at Hopman Cup with Jack Sock in 2016 – it’s been a struggle to stay on court. After that Australian summer, she missed six months, came back to play and lose three matches during the grass-court season – and was gone until the following April after surgery to repair a meniscus tear in her knee.
She came back at an ITF in Indian Harbour Beach ranked No. 896 (and defeated Bouchard, who had dropped down to that level briefly, in the quarterfinals). And then Duval played a crazy schedule, literally almost every week, until right about this time a year ago.
Like she was trying to make up for lost time.
(Duval briefly glimpsed the top 200, checking in at No. 199 for a couple of weeks in March 2018).
And then she was out again.
A stress fracture in her left foot and a partial ligament tear in her right ankle kept her out for months.
Duval, who is entering her second season as a volunteer assistant for the women’s tennis team at the University of Florida, returned in June at a $25K in Sumter, S.C. and reached the final.
Her ranking stood at No. 529. Duval has played most weeks this summer. And she finds herself in Templeton, ranked No. 439.
Only the most determined could keep grinding.
Duval will meet … Falconi in the first round.
Jesse Witten – still kickin’
American Jesse Witten, now 36 and a full-time coach at the Tough Tennis Academy in Naples, Fla. where he learned his trade as a kid, was never a big-time player.
He peaked at No. 163 in singles back in 2010.
But a decade ago at the US Open. He had his moment.
Ranked No. 276, and out of the qualifying, Witten upset No. 30 Igor Andreev in straight sets in the first round and No. 79 Maximo Gonzalez in four sets in the second round before falling in four tight sets to No. 4 seed Novak Djokovic.
Over the last few years, he has surfaced a couple of times a year – mostly at a Futures event in his hometown of Naples, Fla., and at the Lexington Challenger at his alma mater, the University of Kentucky. He won the NCAA title there in 2002.
But there he is this week, with no ATP Tour ranking, in the qualifying of an entry-level $15,000 ITF in Cancun, Mexico.
Witten won his first two matches in straight sets, before falling to a Bolivian kid 10-8 in the match tiebreak in the final round.
You just can’t keep a tennis player off the court.
Kayla Day – week in, week out
Another player in the Templeton main draw is American lefty Kayla Day, who is still just 19.
If you look at her numbers on the ITF circuit, it’s off the charts. With a month out here and there, she has been grinding it out on the ITF circuit non-stop for four years.
And at the beginning of that period, she also was playing junior tournaments.
Until July, when she missed two months. She returns this week in Templeton.
This time three years ago, Day was the No. 1 junior in the world after beating Viktoria Kuzmova in the 2016 US Open junior girls’ final. She also reached the doubles final.
(Notably, she defeated 2019 women’s singles champion Bianca Andreescu, who is nine months younger, in the semifinal of that US Open).
By the summer of 2017, she was already up to No. 122.
Currently, she sits at No. 369.
US Open junior champion Min
Day’s first-round opponent, who reached a career-best of No. 4 after she defeated Caroline Garcia to win the US Open juniors in 2011, is Grace Min.
Min, who is now 25, broke into the top 100 for three weeks back in 2015. She’s currently at No. 368 – one spot above Day.
There are a lot more stories out there this week. But these are a few.
This fellow allegedly has been having a grand ol’ time on Bouchard’s dime – at her home.
Over a period of two months, Azari allegedly ate at the restaurant and drank at the rooftop bar at the luxury hotel/apartment complex Bouchard lives in, in Miami.
According to the WSVN story, he ran up a bill of close to $42,000 US during a two-month period this spring – a period that for the most part coincided with the time the Canadian was in Europe for the French Open and Wimbledon.
Despite the abject lack of resemblance, Azari was reportedly able to charge all the libations to Bouchard’s house account by … posing as her brother.
According to Fox News, which obtained a copy of the arrest affidavit, Bouchard was shown a photo of Azari, said she did not recognize him, and that he was not authorized to sign on her tab.
The affidavit, according to Fox, states that the hotel/condo resort did not smell a rat until “a representative for Bouchard called to dispute $29,000 in charges on her house account on July 30.”
The hotel began an investigation. But in the meantime, another $13,000 was charged to Bouchard’s account.
Azari was arrested on Sunday, per Fox when he – get this – brought two friends for dinner at the restaurant. We’ll give him points for chutzpah. If not much else.
*Editor’s note: This is a corrected version of the original story, to clarify that Bouchard has confirmed to police that she did not recognize the man arrested in this case, when shown the photo. Our original piece implied otherwise.*
TORONTO – It was a love fest for Genie Bouchard with the Toronto media Saturday.
The 25-year-old talked about her coaching change, about playing Bianca Andreescu in the first round, and about how much she loves visiting kids in the hospital.
A lot of softballs, which Bouchard hit for doubles and triples.
The representation from the daily newspapers in Toronto was also virtually nonexistent – not only for Bouchard, but for Toronto native Bianca Andreescu as well.
The reality is that the 25-year-old Canadian is really struggling. She definitely could have used a first-round match in Toronto that was more … bereft of baggage and focus.
But she didn’t get it. Instead, she got the highest-profile match she probably could have gotten, except perhaps a first-round encounter with Maria Sharapova.
Here’s how her pre-tournament press conference went.
Battle for the burden
It was two years ago, in this very same room, that Bouchard sat after losing in straight sets to Donna Vekic.
Bouchard said many very good, insightful things during that post-match press conference.
But the sound bite that went all over the place was when she was asked about the potential of Andreescu, who had just turned 17. Bouchard said she was fine with “someone else carrying the burden of Canada.”
TORONTO – It was not, as the saying goes, the most hard-hitting journalism ever practiced.
Whenever a question begins with, “You Tweeted that … “, you already know.
And it wasn’t even from the tournament social media staff.
But it was actually pretty amusing.
Canadian Genie Bouchard expanded upon the dream during which she hung with music superstar Lady Gaga.
“She called because she had this concert, and she was inviting me to this concert, and we had hung out before,” said Bouchard, who added that every single dream she has, no matter what else is going on, takes place at a tournament site.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – It’s good to see the Canadian mighty mite back on the courts.
And next week, Toronto’s Sharon Fichman will play the Rogers Cup for the first time in four years.
The 28-year-old didn’t think she’d be back on a tennis court 12 months ago (we’ll have more on that later in the week).
But here she is, on a tour halfway around the world inside a week.
Fichman won the first title of her comeback last weekend in Jurmala, Latvia, on clay, with Serbia’s Nina Stojanovic. It was the second of her career; the first came in 2014, when she won Auckland with American Maria Sanchez.
The 28-year-old flew all the way to Washington, D.C. on Monday, to play on a different surface, with a different partner (Naomi Broady) in significantly different weather conditions.
Still, she and Broady managed to win their first-round match on Wednesday to reach the quarterfinals.
Thursday, they lost to the No. 3 seeds, Anna Kalinskaya and Miyu Kato (who also were playing their first tournament together), 6-4, 3-6, [10-4].
Fichman’s last four victories came in match tiebreaks, including the final in Latvia. So the odds were going to go against her at some point. But some fairly routine volley misses in the breaker sealed the deal.
Toronto next up, with …. ?
Fichman’s first Rogers Cup was all the way back in 2005, when she was just 14. She won one game against Rika Fujiwara in the first round of singles qualifying,
She and Valérie Tétreault (who retired years ago and now works for Tennis Canada) lost to Stéphanie Foretz of France and Adriana Serra-Zanetti of Italy 8-6 in a pro set in the doubles qualifying.
If those names aren’t that familiar, it’s because they’re all out of the game although in the case of Fujiwara, who turns 38 next month, retirement came only a year ago.
Her last Rogers Cup was in 2015. In between, she retired, and got involved in coaching and did some television commentary.
Who will she play doubles with?
We can reveal that it will be none other than countrywoman Genie Bouchard.
You’d think they’d have played together in Fed Cup more. But it actually only happened once, back in 2013.
In Ukraine, Fichman beat Lesia Tsurenko in singles. And then she and Bouchard combined to beat Tsurenko and Elina Svitolina in the deciding doubles to clinch a World Group II playoff tie.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Genie Bouchard got an evening practice session in Saturday night, with new coach Jorge Todero and a hitting partner.
She had practiced earlier, in the heat of the day, with Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur.
There was a lot of discussion about Bouchard’s serve – with some animated input from Bouchard.
Bouchard last played the Citi Open two years ago. She defeated Christina McHale in the first round, before falling in three sets to Andrea Petkovic. But she and Sloane Stephens were a Cinderella team in the doubles, reaching the final.
In 2016, she lost in the first round to Camila Giorgi.
Before that, you have to go all the way back to 2013, when the then 19-year-old lost in the first round of singles to Ekaterina Makarova, but reached the doubles final with 2012 Wimbledon junior partner (they won) Taylor Townsend.
Here’s what it looked like on court.
A Montreal meeting in D.C.
Félix Auger-Aliassime followed Bouchard onto the stadium court for a lengthy evening practice with his friend Frances Tiafoe.
Of course, the two crossed paths.
And Bouchard chronicled the moment on her Insta, sitting courtside as Auger-Aliassime began his practice.
More Bouchard shots
Bouchard faces the relentless Lauren Davis in the first round of the singles.
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.