Eugenie Bouchard’s return to the U.S. Open this year didn’t have the intended result. Her exit from the Open last year wasn’t intended, either.
Bouchard lost to Katarina Siniakova, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, on the Grandstand Court, continuing a year of disappointing results for a player who was ranked No. 5 in the world two years ago and now finds herself 39th and searching for the sort of game that took her to the Wimbledon final in 2014.
She came into the Open in a different place from her fellow competitors. Last year, the night before her fourth-round match against Roberta Vinci, Bouchard slipped in what she said was a dark area of the locker room and suffered a concussion that forced her to pull out of the tournament.
A month later she sued the United States Tennis Association for negligence and the case is ongoing. So there was more on her mind than serves and groundstrokes and her position on the tennis ladder when she walked into the National Tennis Center last week.
“Coming back here, I had mixed emotions,” Bouchard, 22, said after the match. “It’s hard not to not think about what happened last year. Since I’ve been here I’ve been forcing myself to focus on the positive. I’ve had great memories at the U.S. Open. I played really well last year and did well the year before. I was trying to mentally block it out all week.”
She seemed a Cinderella story in 2014 when she made the Wimbledon final at age 20, losing to Petra Kvitova.
“I had amazing results in 2014. It’s hard to have results like that every single year,” she said. “When I broke through I was the underdog a lot, other players didn’t know who I was. That’s an advantage for any young player coming up. Then there’s the saying ‘sophomore slump’ and things like that, hard to keep up results. Happens to a lot of players, it happens to me.”
Her 2015 season wasn’t nearly as bright, and coming into last year’s Open she had lost 15 of 18 matches. But after winning her first three matches, she looked to be turning things around. Then came the accident, and a battle not with opponents, but with the concussion.
“It was very difficult for me,” she said. “I tried to come back and still had symptoms, probably tried to come back too soon because I love playing and I wanted to play. I feel this year I have made strides and it’s something in the past I try not to think about, try to get over it, and I think I have.”
She says that her battles on the court, both with her foes and herself, are completely separate from the lawsuit.
“I am 100 percent focused on tennis and I have lawyers who are working on the case and I don’t think about it very often at all,” Bouchard said. “Maybe once a month when they call me. So it’s not a factor in my life. I just know it’s going on in the background. I’m disappointed at what happened and I have to fight for what I think is right.”
Despite the first-round loss, despite the uncertainties of her game, she said she was sure of one thing: “Every time I step on the court I love playing tennis, love hitting the ball and competing,”