Article and Photographs By Mike McIntyre
The past few years have not been easy ones for Canada's Genie Bouchard. Thrust into the spotlight after an incredible 2014 season that most players could only dream of, Bouchard was put on up on a pedestal so high that there was only one way she could go. In a nation so desperate for a legitimate tennis super-star, the talented and also highly marketable Bouchard was an turned into an immediate celebrity thanks to intense fan and media reaction to her breakout year on the WTA. After making the semifinals of the Australian Open and Roland Garros, Bouchard also was a finalist at Wimbledon - an event she won in 2012 while still a junior. It only made sense to those watching from afar that the then 20 year old would take things one step further the following year. As we know now, that was not to be.
In 2015 Bouchard could no longer surprise her peers and found her opponents were that much more prepared to face her. Add to that the intense scrutiny she suddenly faced week-in and week-out and it is no wonder there was a regression in terms of her Grand Slam results that season. Off the court the newfound attention of being the face of Tennis Canada might also have contributed to Bouchard's struggles. Not everyone is ready to carry that weight at the tender age of 21. An unfortunate and unlucky fall on a slippery floor in the locker room late one night at the US Open resulted in a concussion for Bouchard who was then unable to complete the year on her own terms. The effects of that fall are impossible to measure, although in February of this year the USTA was found to have been 75% responsible and the two sides settled out of court a day later.
2016 and 2017 followed a similarly frustrating and perplexing departure from the top of the women's game that no-doubt left Bouchard as confused as anyone. Coaching changes, injuries and growing pains as a young tennis professional all contributed to the ongoing stagnation the once promising Canadian star seemed to be stuck in.
In 2017 Bouchard failed to win the Tennis Canada female player of the year award for the first time in years and the attention she received in the media was more a result of off-court endeavors such as gracing the pages of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue and granting a date to a courageous fan who made a bet with her on Twitter related to SuperBowl LI.
Then this past year there seemed to be signs of progress. While Bouchard began the season by falling out of the top 100 in the rankings for the first time in five years, and losing (for a time) the No. 1 ranking in Canada, she seemed to come to the realization that she needed a system reboot. Bouchard made a triumphant return to Fed Cup action in her home town of Montreal that proved to be a smart decision from the now 24 year old. She came up clutch for Tennis Canada in winning both of her singles matches against Ukraine that allowed her country to remain in the World Group for 2019. As important as the performance on the court perhaps were the optics of Bouchard the Team Player - who appeared to be genuinely embraced by her teammates. She was also quick to shake her opponents hand at the pre-event photo-op to dispel any possible distractions and to show that she has certainly matured over the past few years. To see a smiling Genie Bouchard on the court again was perhaps the greatest victory that she could have achieved on a personal level that week.
Being down in the rankings proved to be a blessing for Bouchard who was now forced to qualify at the Grand Slams. At Wimbledon she appeared to be dialed-in during her three qualifying wins before falling to a very tough Ashleigh Barty in the second round 6-4, 7-5. A few weeks later she made her first WTA semifinal since early 2017 while in Gstaad. There she had to unfortunately withdraw in her match against Alize Cornet due to a thigh injury after dropping a close opening set in a tiebreak.
At the final Slam of the year at the US Open, Bouchard was possessed in qualifying and only dropped seven games in her three matches to make the main draw. While she would end up losing in the second round to young upstart Marketa Vondrousova, there were still positive signs emerging from the once top-ten player.
That brings us to what seems to be Bouchard's final tournament of 2018, where she won six straight matches including qualifying to make her second semifinal of the year in Luxembourg. The new partnership with coach Michael Joyce certainly seemed to pay immediate dividends for Bouchard as she knocked-off players like Timea Babos and Carla Suarez Navarro during her solid week there. She was eventually beaten by No. 1 seed Julia Goerges of Germany (who won the event), 6-7, 7-5, 6-1 in what was a very respectable and encouraging late-season showing.
Finishing the year inside the top 100 must definitely be viewed as a major step forward for Bouchard who now finds herself at 88th in the WTA rankings. Able to start 2019 without having to grind it out in the qualifying draw of the Australian Open would leave her fresher for the opening rounds of the main event and give her the best chance of advancing past the third round of a major for the first time since August of 2015.