“I don’t have any weaknesses,” a then-19-year-old Eugenie Bouchard told press at an International in Washington, D.C. She was ranked No. 58 at the time.
What about friends? Who needs them? She came here to be No. 1.
“I don’t think the tennis tour is the place to have friends. For me, it’s all competition,” she said in Paris en route to her second straight major semifinal. The Canadian later disavowed any notion that she stayed in contact with former BFF Laura Robson at Wimbledon.
There is rarely a time when Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard isn’t talking the talk.
But with a long list of milestones in 2014 – a maiden title, a Grand Slam final, and a Top 5 ranking – it’s difficult to argue that she hasn’t walked the walk in what has been her breakthrough season.
Though that hasn’t stopped people from trying.
Bouchard has made a solid career out of beating the players in front of her, particularly doing so when it matters most; the Risingest of Rising Stars leads the field in Grand Slam match wins this season, and was one of the only players to reach the second week of all four major tournaments. The Canadian has proven more than capable of holding her nerve under pressure, but largely against less-intimidating opposition.
She reached her first Grand Slam quarterfinal against hometown favorite Casey Dellacqua, then ranked No. 120 (who has since risen as high as No. 26). She reached her first French Open semifinal by beating No. 15 Carla Suarez Navarro, a notoriously weak closer who lead Bouchard big in all three sets of their nearly three-hour epic. At Wimbledon, she trailed Roland Garros runner-up Simona Halep by a break in the semifinals before the Romanian suffered an ankle injury, leaving one of the Tour’s best movers effectively kneecapped.
These softer draws have hardly been by design. The Canadian was in Serena Williams’s quarter of the draw in Australia, and could have played her as early as the round of 16 at Wimbledon. With the American’s shocking losses at the Grand Slam tournaments, Bouchard had managed to avoid her throughout the year, making a rematch of their three-set Cincinnati encounter in 2013 the most anticipated of the season.
The WTA Finals in Singapore, then, represented the ideal situation for all who have watched the No. 5 seed’s ascent into the upper echelons of the game. In a draw comprised solely of big names, it looked as though her talk would finally be put to the test.
What unfolded was a disappointing result of historical proportions. Bouchard not only failed to win a match – against admittedly stiff opposition – but she also nabbed the fewest games of any player to have gone 0-3 at the Year End Championships:
Bouchard found herself forced to hit the ground running under a tremendous amount of pressure. With her practice routine derailed by a mid-autumn left leg injury, she was despondent with coach Nick Saviano. Calling him out at a set down to No. 7 seed Ana Ivanovic, she muttered “Why did I even play this tournament?”
The moment was reminiscent of the Canadian’s disastrous homecoming in Montreal. Falling behind 0-5 to young American Shelby Rogers, she spoke to Saviano about wanting to leave the court. She went on to lose 6-0, 2-6, 6-0.
There is something to be said about a player who speaks with such self-confidence might be trying to convince themselves as much as everyone else. When she’s not feeling the pressure, that kind of positivity lifts her game, and causes her to improve with every victory. But there have been a handful of moments – at the Rogers Cup then and in Singapore now – where the camera catches Bouchard off-guard, and you get the sense that she feels like a fraud, like she doesn’t believe the hype.
But the Wimbledon finalist is nothing if not tenacious, and looks to be taking what could have been a painful wake-up call in stride. Ultimately revealing a more self-aware streak behind the bravado, Bouchard refused to mince words after losing to top seed Serena Williams.
“I got my butt kicked, but I had fun. It actually motivates me to try to get better. I see how much better I can get in so many areas my game.”
It’s that kind of perspective that can turn a no good, very bad week into a stellar next season.