How the Nightmare in Montreal can help Genie Bouchard
—by Christopher Johnson—
The first time I ever played indoors, at a junior tournament in Ontario, I had a terrible match. I wasn’t used to the different lighting, air, speed and sound of the ball. I misjudged balls, mistimed swings, sailed shots out, got discouraged, moved with leaden feet, and lost to a lower seed.
Genie Bouchard, playing before a home crowd and national TV audience, seemed equally bewildered by Tuesday’s atmosphere of power outages and power tennis by Shelby Rogers. “I want to leave the court,” Bouchard quipped to her coach Nick Saviano after losing the first set 0-6.
Bouchard has a great sense of humour, and it probably doesn’t mean that she was suffering stage fright or death threats as she walked on and off centre court with a burly guard.
Only she knows the real reasons for her puzzling loss to US qualifier Rogers, ranked 113. But the loss — and being bagel’d in her last 3 of 4 sets — does raise issues of consistency, focus and ability to disarm big hitters.
Before anybody writes off Bouchard or cancels endorsements, consider what she was dealing with.
She pulled out of Washington with a knee injury, hadn’t played a match since losing the Wimbledon final a month earlier, and hadn’t played a match on hard-court since Miami in March. “I felt a little match rusty, kind of,” she told reporters. “But I knew coming into the match that I can’t use those excuses. I knew it would be a kind of difficult match.”
Bouchard knew that Rogers defeated her last time they played in 2011. Rogers also beat Carla Suarez Navarro and Sara Errani to reach the finals at Bad Gastein in Austria, and then Alize Cornet in Washington. In Montreal this week, she qualified to play Bouchard by trouncing 40th-ranked Shuai Peng 6-1, 6-3. She’s a big hitter who goes for shots, much like Petra Kvitova, who blew out Bouchard at Wimbledon.
Then there were off-court distractions. Bouchard, who needs privacy in order to concentrate, reportedly used to date Montreal Canadians hockey player Alex Galchenyuk. His teammate P.K. Subban made a video calling Bouchard “hot” on the court and off the court and teased her for not replying to his message on Twitter.
Tennis Canada, meanwhile, flew in a group of Australian students known as “The Genie Army”. Bouchard, a darling of social media, tweeted a photo of herself in front of magazines bearing her image.
During her month away from tennis, the Globe and Mail ran a story titled “Behind the Bouchard family’s double fault in tax court.”
Try as she might, it would be difficult for any 20-year old athlete to block out the swirl of attention around her.
“I’ve definitely noticed a change in my life a little bit since the beginning of the year, even more so since Wimbledon,” Bouchard said after the match. “It’s just something I’m going to have to get used to, especially coming to Montreal is definitely a little crazier than any other tournament. I felt like I was dealing with things well. But I still have that sense of the pressure and things like that. It’s a good position to be in, it’s one I want to be in. But I’ll just have to deal with it better.”
To make matters worse, power went out across Montreal on the day of her big match. (Ask any bride about rain on her wedding day.) Bouchard’s marquee match was delayed an hour, and the locker room was dark. With no scoreboard, replays or microphone on the umpire, Serena Williams compared it to playing on public courts in southern California. The power failures could have unnerved Bouchard, a perfectionist and French-speaker proud of her city, province and country. (Fittingly, the lights went out again minutes after the match.)
Rogers had to deal with delays and power outages too. She relished the underdog role — her against seemingly all of Canada — and played with an American bravado that could someday propel her into the top ten. It didn’t hurt that the tournament — the Rogers Cup — bore her name. (Would be like me playing in the Johnson Open).
Bouchard, meanwhile, can redeem herself fast in Cincinnati and New York, which are bigger events than the Rogers Cup. Her loss in Montreal can help her in a way. It lowers the unreasonable expectations put on her too soon, and gives her a chance to play the role of underdog again, which she seems to like. It takes some of the pressure off her, and gives her time to continue to develop and improve her weaknesses.
If she can perceive the nightmare in Montreal for what it was — an aberration — she’ll be fine.