8 ways that Bouchard can attain her “Dream of Genie” and win a slam final

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Genie Bouchard had just been routed by Petra Kvitova in the Wimbledon final. Bouchard sat down, put her jacket on, and reflected on her 6-3, 6-0 loss, her historic road to reaching a grand slam final at age 20, and her long journey ahead.

“I was in the engraver’s room,” she said after the match. “I was watching them work, dreaming they’ll write my name somewhere.”

Nobody knows if Bouchard’s name will go up on the Wimbledon list of champions. Many tennis analysts, and a coterie of instant experts riding her bandwagon, assume that she’s the next big thing in tennis, a superstar destined to become one of the richest female athletes in the world.

But the Wimbledon final was a reality check for Bouchard. She was blown off the court by Kvitova, who also won in 2011. Bouchard has a long way to go, and she knows it. Even though she’s broken the top 10 by reaching semis at Melbourne and Paris and the finals in London, her game remains a work in progress.

“It was a big moment walking onto Centre Court for a final,” she mused after the match. “It was different. We were holding flowers instead of our tennis bags. The applause was very loud. That’s what registered in my mind. I felt very grateful to walk out on this stage and do the thing that I love,” she said. “I have that experience now. I know what it feels like. I hope I can walk out onto many more finals. That’s my goal.”

Bouchard says she’s going to take time off at home in Montreal, and she’ll also discuss the final with her coach Nick Saviano. “I’ll watch the tape and we’ll learn and try to get better,” she said. “It’s a tough road to become as good as I want to be. I’m going to learn a lot from this match and hopefully get much better.”

Here’s a brief summary of ways she can improve over the course of her career.

1–Return better.

At the highest levels, the women’s game has become what Saviano calls “first-strike tennis”, especially on grass and speedy surfaces such as Montreal and Tokyo. Serena Williams, Kvitova and other big servers try to overpower opponents, who can only survive by returning with the zeal of Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.

Bouchard tries to wrestle command of points by standing inside the baseline and taking balls early. But on Saturday, the left-handed Kvitova hit bombs, body blows or low slicers out wide, and Bouchard couldn’t cope. Bouchard often floated back returns, feeding Kvitova with good looks in the strike zone. In future, Bouchard could try altering her position on the return and taking more chances and educated guesses. Deploying plan B and C can make plan A more effective in contrast.

2–Create the angles.

Bouchard started well, controlling the center, moving Kvitova around, hitting winners into open wings. But she got into trouble later by repeatedly trying to take Kvitova wide instead of down the middle. It opened the court for Kvitova, and she responded with blistering sharp-angled winners. Since Bouchard is reportedly smart in math and sciences, she can use her understanding of geometry to better plot out ways to close the court for her opponents and open up the court for her own winners.

3–Rock the second serve.

“I didn’t feel overwhelmed,” said Bouchard. But she paid dearly for tentative second serves without enough pace or junk to push Kvitova back on her heels. Her returns rattled Bouchard, who’s accustomed to dictating the point. Bouchard missed badly at times — not the intimidation factor she wanted. Bouchard will improve with practice and more experience of hitting bold second serves in big matches.

4–Get confident at net.

Did Bouchard hit one volley the entire match? With Kvitova unleashing returns, Bouchard could have at least given her something to think about by serving and volleying. It’s not clear if Bouchard has enough confidence in her net game yet to do this. This weapon, even if concealed, would give Bouchard more options to deal with a super-charged returner.

5–Slow down.

Things happen quickly in your first slam final, says Chrissie Evert. She said Bouchard seemed to rush at times on Saturday, going for too much too soon when she didn’t have to.

This is natural, because Bouchard is confident, aggressive, and determined to win everything, and she often talks about “going for it” and “leaving everything on the court”. But she could also try getting into an impatient opponent’s head by dragging out the match, especially if she gets behind in a final. “Tennis is not a timed sport,” Bouchard said. “You can always come back, no matter what. But it was hard for me to feel that my game was going.”

With dark clouds roiling above, some say that Bouchard could have been “saved by rain”, even though Kvitova is often better indoors anyway. Bouchard did win several longer rallies. But Kvitova played well enough to smoke winners before a rally could evolve.

It’s not clear if slowing down the match would have taken Kvitova out of the zone, but it was worth trying. 

6–Pay attention to your opponent.

“My concern is very little to do with Kvitova. The goal for Genie is to go out and be everything she can be” said coach Saviano. “Hit her shots, be positive, go for it, and accept the result whatever it is.”

It’s a great way to keep Bouchard focussed on her own performance and keep the game simple for a young player. But Bouchard seemed to overlook ways to adjust her response to Kvitova’s firepower. The greatest players can focus on their own game while noticing their opponents tactics and how their strengths and weaknesses change over the course of the match. Bouchard seems to have an innate awareness of her place in tennis history and her potential for stardom in broader society. Applying this capacity for awareness will serve her on court.

7–Make adjustments on the fly.

Bouchard’s plan A didn’t work against Kvitova on the day, and she didn’t seem to try a plan B or C. After losing the first set, she needed to do something differently to alter the second set’s outcome. “She played unbelievable,” Bouchard said of Kvitova. “She didn’t give many opportunities for me to stay in rallies or do what I do.”

Attacking the net, hitting drop shots or short balls to force Kvitova in, hitting more slice, lobs or looping topspins — Bouchard didn’t commit to any of this. Her game was one-dimensional and predictable. Kvitova seemed to answer any question posed of her, and Bouchard couldn’t do enough to take Kvitova out of her comfort zone. Bouchard has now seen how a champion brings her A-game to a slam final, and she’ll have to figure out ways to trip them up in future and raise her own game.

8–Practice more against left-handers on grass at Wimbledon finals.

Like everything else, it’s easier said than done. If she stays healthy, and out of trouble, she’ll likely get more “practice time” at grand slam finals. The more she wins, the better she’ll get at winning. Eventually, she’ll become the more experienced veteran playing against the novice challenger. It’s a long road ahead, and Bouchard seems determined to get there.

“I’m very motivated to win a Grand Slam,” she said. “It’s been a lifelong dream of mine. I feel like I’ve taken steps to achieve that. I’ve been close in every slam. I’m going to keep going.”

—text and images by Christopher Johnson—

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