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Eugenie Bouchard hopes fond memories will make Wimbledon grass greener

At the mention of Wimbledon Eugenie Bouchard smiles. “I think about the tradition, just the history,” she says. “When you think of tennis, you think of Wimbledon. How classy it is there, all the traditional things about it, the grass, the white outfits. In my head I even think of the wooden rackets.”

Bouchard has not been smiling much over the past few months. The Canadian will go into Wimbledon in a slump that at first was annoying but soon became worrying. Twelve months ago the 21-year-old seemed the heir apparent and the darling of the photographers as she reached her first grand slam final. Although she was well beaten by an inspired Petra Kvitova in the final, she finished the year ranked No 7 and as she began 2015, she seemed set for even bigger things.

But somewhere along the line things have gone wrong. Going into her match with the American, Alison Riske, in Eastbourne on Tuesday, Bouchard has lost her opening match in seven events this year and, almost more worryingly, she has been getting into winning positions only to let them slide, losing five of those matches in three sets. Last year she showed herself to be a fighter, scrapping through numerous matches; this year she has been folding under the pressure.

Struggling in the so-called “sophomore year” is nothing new. Many champions have battled to cope with the increased expectations after a big season. The former world No1 Chris Evert pointed out recently that outside her stellar grand slam efforts – two semi-finals and a final – Bouchard also had nine first-round defeats in 2014 so this year’s travails are not wildly out of the blue. However, the manner of the defeats is disturbing and even the usually mentally strong Bouchard is beginning to wonder what is happening to her.

“At the beginning I was really impatient,” she says. “I expected this year to be like last year and even better. But as it’s gone on, I’ve realised, maybe it is a slump, I’m in a little downward curve and it’s actually normal because first of all everyone told me it’s going to happen and then everyone’s telling me it’s happening right now, so maybe it actually is.

“Then I realised I should just accept it. It’s not going great right now. Although I feel better in the gym, I feel better on the practice court, the results are still not there but I know that, if I do the proper things, the results will come eventually, whether it’s this week or next week, at the US Open Series or even next year.

“So the way I’ve learned to accept it and deal with it is just to say, you know what, I could lose a couple more matches and I’ll still survive. It’s just a tennis match. I feel like people freak out so early. They’re quick to jump on me when I do well; they’re quick to jump on me when I lose. I am just trying not to worry about it.”

When winning is your job, that is not easy. And typically, when the chips are down, the daggers sharpen. Sports Pro Magazine recently made Bouchard No1 in their list of the “most marketable athletes”, a list based on future earnings potential as much as anything. With William Morris Endeavour having acquired IMG in December 2013, Bouchard, now an IMG player, is in the same stable as both Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams, with whom she shares an agent. Sharapova and Williams are the two highest female earners in the sport, according to Forbes Magazine and, while Bouchard is not yet in their league, she already boasts high-profile deals including Nike, Babolat and Coca-Cola, with whom she signed a three-year deal last summer.

Bouchard was snapped up by IMG Models in December 2014 and this year has conducted a number of high-profile photo-shoots for various magazines. Inevitably some suggested she should “spend more time on the court” and there was little attempt to hide the sexism.

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“I have heard lots of comments like that,” says Bouchard, who adds that modelling is hard work. “I didn’t realise I had to be playing tennis 24 hours a day. If I’m not doing a shoot, then maybe I’ll just be at the mall – does that mean I’m not allowed to go to the mall any more? Am I not allowed to go to a movie or not watch another sport? There are always going to be people who disagree with what you do but that means at least you stood up for something and did something in your life.”

On the surface Bouchard is made of strong stuff and seems not to care too much what people think about her. She stands by her statement from last year that she has no time or inclination to make friends on Tour; this is her livelihood. In a Fed Cup tie in April – the second time she had done this – she refused to shake hands with her opponent at the draw ceremony, leaving Alexandra Dulgheru hanging, to much embarrassment all round. It backfired spectacularly as Bouchard promptly lost both her singles matches as Canada lost the tie.

“In terms of this handshake I almost think maybe I should have [done it] because it created such a thing, that to me was so small,” she says, with more than a hint of exasperation in her voice. “Everyone always says, be yourself, be yourself, but then they tell you what to do, so they contradict themselves. I’m going to do what I believe in and, if I am here at a tournament, I believe I’m here to work and not to socialise, so that’s what I do. I’ve been told to be myself, so I think that’s what I try to do.”

Having enjoyed the best year of her career, Bouchard surprised almost everyone in the sport by announcing she had parted ways from Nick Saviano, the coach credited with a lot of her success. Her new coach is Sam Sumyk, the man who helped Victoria Azarenka to the world No1 spot, but in terms of results the pair have not exactly hit the ground running.

If there is one thing that might inspire a return to form, though, it is a return to Wimbledon, where she won the junior title in 2012 and where last year she played with the aggression and the confidence that has been so lacking this year to date, standing tight to the baseline and always looking to dictate. “I have obviously looked back on those couple of weeks and have such nice feelings thinking about it,” she says. “I have thought: ‘What was I doing during that tournament that made me play so well?’ I was in my bubble. I’ve thought about what I was focusing on and maybe going back to that experience to try to play better. I’m just trying to focus on what I’m doing now and hopefully the great memories I can create this year.”

Despite the doom and gloom of the first half of 2015, Bouchard remains just outside the top 10 at No 12 and her goals have not dimmed. “My first goal is just to win a grand slam and, if I could choose, it would be Wimbledon,” she says. “Having that title and that success is something that I’ve dreamed of since I was younger. If you do that and have a good year as well, then maybe there’s a good chance you’ll be No1.”


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