MELBOURNE, Australia – It was only two years ago that Eugenie Bouchard made her arrival on the big stage at the Australian Open, reaching her first Grand Slam semifinal and talking confidently about how she always expected to be one of the game’s stars.
Since then, the young Canadian has had a meteoric rise to the top of the rankings, followed by a dramatic decline and freak head injury – all by the age of 21.
Back in Rod Laver Arena on Wednesday, Bouchard showed flashes of the game that took her to the Wimbledon final in 2014 – but also plenty of rust – as she lost in the second round to fourth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska 6-4, 6-2.
“I felt at times my level was high, but it’s just about having that consistency throughout the whole match,” a downcast Bouchard said afterward.
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Consistency is what’s been lacking for the Canadian since midway through her breakout season in 2014. After reaching the semifinals at the Australian Open and French Open and then the Wimbledon final – surging to the top 5 in the rankings – Bouchard began a downward slide that hasn’t really stopped.
Her troubles began shortly after losing the title match to Petra Kvitova at the All England Club. She went 9-10 the rest of 2014 and parted ways with longtime coach Nick Saviano.
Then came a tumultuous 2015 season in which she won only three matches from March to August and split with another coach, Sam Sumyk. She seemed to turn a corner by stringing together three wins at the U.S. Open, but slipped in the locker room and slammed her head on the floor, causing a concussion and forcing her to withdraw. She later filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Tennis Association.
Now fully recovered from the fall, Bouchard came to Australia hoping for a fresh start. She made the final at last week’s Hobart International.
“I was able to come over here and play three weeks in a row and that’s a victory for me no matter what the results are,” she said.
Against Radwanska, Bouchard also looked sharp at times, driving powerful groundstrokes down the line the speedy Pole couldn’t touch. She broke Radwanska to go up 4-2 in the first set but then made three straight errors in the next game to give the advantage right back.
Bouchard had 25 winners – nearly three times as many as Radwanska – but also 37 unforced errors.
“Against a great player like her, you can’t ever back off or give her a chance to breathe,” she said. “I have to remember that’s how it goes in tennis.”
It’s now been nearly a year and a half since Bouchard’s last top-20 win, but she’s no longer expecting to an immediate return to the top.
“I’ve missed out, I feel, so much so I kind of almost want to play catch-up in terms of matches,” she said. “No matter what happens, if I lose every match, I’m happy to be doing what I love.”
© 2016 The Canadian Press