MONTREAL – Pressure and expectations brought out the best and worst of Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard at the women’s Rogers Cup.
The Westmount, Que., native thrilled her hometown crowd with wins over higher-ranked Lucie Safarova and Dominika Cibulkova in the opening two rounds, then dashed their hopes by wasting a lead and losing a third-round match to unheralded Kristina Kucova, a hard-working Slovak who got to the main draw through the qualifying tournament.
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After the defeat, Bouchard spoke of the pressure to win at home, to reach a quarter-finals and to come through in a match she was expected to win.
“I do think the pressure got to me a little bit, especially being here in Montreal, trying to make quarters,” Bouchard said after the match.
“Also, having all the attention on me three days in a row takes a lot of energy out of me. I was not able to control my emotions as well.”
Bouchard won the first four games against Kucova and looked to be in control, but gradually lost it against an opponent who doggedly returned ball after ball. Waiting for the nervous favourite to make mistakes proved a solid strategy for Kucova, who was beside herself with joy after the upset win.
“This is my best moment so far in my tennis career,” said 26-year-old Kucova, who shrieked and threw herself on the court on match point. “I was working for this moment all my life.
“I’m just so happy about it. I don’t know if my life will change. I don’t think so. But I will remember this moment, that I beat Genie in Montreal and I broke into the top 100.”
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It was painful to watch for Bouchard’s supporters, including Federation Cup team captain Sylvain Bruneau who leaves Monday night with Bouchard and doubles specialist Gabriella Drabowski of Ottawa for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
He said pressure played “a big part” in Bouchard’s exit.
“She started well and was not able to maintain it,” said Bruneau. “And when it got a little tougher she had many, many missed opportunities and it just added up.
“At some point she got extremely frustrated. It was not good for her to focus on it but she knew deep down it was a match she should win. Then she got tense, a little tight and started to miss a little more. I noticed her ball speed on her serve and her movement went down a notch and her opponent went up. We saw the shift.”
It has been a recurring theme for Bouchard this year.
In her breakthrough season in 2014, the athletic right-hander looked to have nerves of ice as she reached the semifinals of the Australian and French Opens and then became the first Canadian to reach the Wimbledon final.
But everything went south in 2015, where she struggled to win any match. She seemed to revive at the U.S. Open, but lost in the fourth round and then slipped on the locker-room floor and suffered a concussion.
This year, she has shown her old form in flashes, winning in early rounds only to stall. She reached finals in Malaysia and Hobart, a quarter-final in China, and the third round at Wimbledon, where she lost to Cibulkova.
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“She’s only 22,” said Bruneau. “It’s all about learning and getting better from these losses and I’m sure she will get something out of that match (with Kucova), as painful as it was.
“And I hope she gets something from the first two matches because there was a lot there.”
It didn’t help that Bouchard had to deal with a stomach problem after her second round match, although she said it was not a factor.
She also arrived to some negative press, with local columnists taking her to task for everything from her English-accented French, calling herself Genie instead of the French version Eugenie, saying at the Citi Open last week that she may stay in Washington to visit museums rather than go to the “craziness” in Montreal and generally not making more of an effort to connect with her hometown fans.
Bouchard did some fence-mending during the week, taking part in fan events, giving interviews and, most of all, playing well on court until running into Kucova.
“I think the media in Montreal are very tough with her,” said Bruneau. “I’m biased because I know her well and I really like her.
“She’s an outstanding girl. She’s funny, charming, smart. I know sometimes she might say something at a press conference and people will pick on that, but sometimes she’s treated a bit unfairly.”