What a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago Eugenie Bouchard lost narrowly to Maria Sharapova here in the semi-finals of the French Open before going one round further at Wimbledon, where the stories of her family’s affection for the royal family made her an instant favourite with the Centre Court crowd.
Since she lost to Petra Kvitova in the Wimbledon final, however, not much has gone right for the world No 6. A 6-4, 6-4 first-round defeat by France’s Kristina Mladenovic, the world No 44, was the latest setback for the 21-year-old Canadian, who has lost eight of her last nine matches.
Although there were occasional flashes of the powerful baseline play that has been Bouchard’s trademark, Mladenovic’s bold hitting dictated the course of the match. Bouchard, who could fall out of the top 10 at the end of the tournament, rallied briefly in the second set, winning three games in a row from 5-1 down, but Mladenovic held her serve, completing victory in an hour and 23 minutes.
“I honestly don’t know what to say,” a gloomy Bouchard said afterwards. “It’s been kind of the same as how I have been feeling recently on the court. Just not like myself. It’s been a while that this has been happening.”
Bouchard’s 2015 season has been in strict contrast to 2014, when she rose from No 32 in the world to No 5, won her maiden title on the women’s tour and crowned a superb Grand Slam year by becoming the first Canadian of either sex to play in a Wimbledon singles final. With her good looks and dynamic game, she became one of the hottest properties in women’s tennis.
At the end of the season, however, Bouchard split with Nick Saviano, her coach of the previous 12 years, and changed her management company. After this year’s Australian Open, where she reached the quarter-finals before losing to Sharapova, she teamed up with Sam Sumyk, who had just told Victoria Azarenka that he was ending their long-term coaching arrangement. Bouchard has continued to make changes, having reportedly parted company recently with her physical trainer, Scott Byrnes.
“I feel like I have been trying to work on what’s been going wrong, and I feel like I have been making progress, so to still have matches like this is actually disappointing,” Bouchard said. “I do think when I’m playing my best tennis is when I’m being more instinctive. I think that’s something I need to get back to, trusting myself, because I know I can play well.”
Within the sport there might not be too much sympathy for Bouchard, who says she does not have friends on the tour (“I don’t think the tennis tour is the place to have friends – for me it’s all competition”). She had been close to Britain’s Laura Robson before they had a serious falling-out.
Only last month Bouchard did little for her public relations when she refused to shake hands with one of her opponents, Alexandra Dulgheru, at the draw ceremony before Canada’s Fed Cup tie against Romania in her home city of Montreal. She went on to lose to both Andreea Mitu, the world No 104, and Dulgheru, who celebrated by offering her hand to all the members of the Romanian team before theatrically withdrawing it.
Bouchard said that she had expected 2015 to be even better than 2014 and admitted she had “learnt a lot recently”. She added: “I have to be patient. The results won’t come immediately. I know I can go through difficult times.”
Serena Williams, the world No 1, suffered no such doubts in her opening match, beating the Czech Republic’s Andrea Hlavackova 6-2, 6-3, but Petra Kvitova struggled against New Zealand’s Marina Erakovic, the world No 80, before winning 6-4, 3-6, 6-4. The Wimbledon champion said she had struggled to cope with the chilly and slow conditions.
The two favourites for the men’s title began their campaigns with victories in straight sets. Novak Djokovic beat Finland’s Jarkko Nieminen 6-2, 7-5, 6-2, while Rafael Nadal beat France’s Quentin Halys 6-3, 6-3, 6-4.
Djokovic, the world No 1, recovered impressively after Nieminen seemed to have the second set at his mercy when he served at 5-3 and 30-0. Djokovic, however, won 22 of the next 29 points and went on to win his 23rd match in a row following victories in the Masters Series tournaments at Indian Wells, Miami, Monte Carlo and Rome. “It was a challenge for me to come back to the court again for my first match after the Rome final,” Djokovic said. “I played some good shots, stayed patient, stayed calm. Overall, it was a very solid performance.”
Halys, who is only 18, went for his shots, but rarely looked capable of troubling Nadal. The 28-year-old Spaniard, who is attempting to win the title here for the 10th time in 11 years, was pleased with his performance, which earned a second-round meeting with his fellow countryman Nicolas Almagro, who beat Alexandr Dolgopolov 6-3, 2-6, 6-4, 7-6. “I played well enough and I think my forehand worked well for a lot of moments,” Nadal said.
Grigor Dimitrov’s disappointing year continued when he was beaten 7-6, 6-2, 6-3 by Jack Sock. The 2014 Wimbledon semi-finalist has not reached a final this year.Reuse content