It’s the return of one of TTI’s original segments. After last week’s focus on the ATP matches in Halle, René Denfeld takes a look at 2 matches full of rising stars™ in Eastbourne.
Eugenie Bouchard’s confidence — or lack thereof — has been one of the main talking points in tennis over the past couple of months. Ever since her quarterfinal appearance at the Australian Open, the Canadian’s year has been in a tail-spin. After a first round exit at the hands of Kristina Mladenovic at Roland Garros, the breakout star of the 2014 season experienced further stumbles in the grass swing: losing the last six games in both s’Hertogenbosch against Yaroslava Shvedova and in Birmingham against Mladenovic, again.
In desperate need of some wins, the 21-year-old had her hands full with grass-loving Alison Riske in her first match in Eastbourne today. The first set turned out to be a close affair, but in the important moments, the Bouchard forehand proved to be one of the key shots of the match. The Canadian’s stroke production has been a topic of debate in the past — but, particularly on the grass, the shot is an intriguing one.
Bouchard’s racket face starts up fairly high, not dipping very much throughout the swing — allowing her to swat away higher bouncing shots with relative ease. Pressured with flat groundstrokes or slices deep into the forehand corner, however, the wing can break down at times and be the less reliable of the Canadian’s two shots.
In the early stages of Tuesday’s match, the Bouchard forehand leaked more errors than it yielded winners and although the American began aiming more for her opponent’s forehand later in the match, it was already too late. The Canadian started to find her groove, cutting down on the errors and placing the ball better.
The World No. 12 got an important win under her belt in the run up to Wimbledon, where she defends final points. While signs of the Bouchard of 2014 were apparent in today’s match, it also showed up once of the deficits that has been plaguing her for much of the year: her refusal to back off of the baseline when sensible.
During her Wimbledon run in 2014, the eventual finalist stood inside the baseline for every return which has lead to interesting commentary booth assessments such as “Bouchard isn’t taking the ball on the rise — she’s taking it before the rise.”
While her aggressive return stance has certainly yielded her success and cuts down on angles, it also cuts down on her reaction time and forces Bouchard to rely on instinct — an inherent ability that can be clouded by wavering confidence and increasing tentativeness.
The Canadian is still trying to find her footing again and it would be nice to see her take that one step back at times. Giving up an inch of the baseline is not a sign of weakness or recreance but rather allows her to be in a slightly more forgiving position at the beginning of a rally. Bouchard could’ve broken Riske’s serve on several other occasions today with a few more returns in play, particularly in the first set.
In her next match, Bouchard will meet Belinda Bencic for the first time as professionals; the Canadian won their 2012 Wimbledon girls’ semifinal match in straight sets.
The young Swiss took out defending champion Madison Keys in under an hour, posting an impressive 83 percent of first serves in court while varying placement and serve speed effectively. Keys had been in bed for over a week after the French Open with a strong flu and obviously hadn’t had a lot of matchplay under her belt on what is her favorite surface on tour.
On her own serve, the American should’ve had the first strike advantage thanks to her powerful serve but when Bencic succeeded in involving Keys into a rally, she benefitted from her own low contact point and center of gravity on the grass. This allowed the 18-year-old to get sufficient depth on her groundstrokes even under pressure, catching the Australian Open semifinalist off guard more than once. As a result, Keys — expecting a shorter reply from Bencic — was suddenly on her back foot and saw many of her forehands miss the target in today’s match.
Tomorrow’s contest with Bouchard should be an interesting one and there’s a lot on the line for both players. With a good run in Eastbourne, Bencic could increase the volume of some of the “darkhorse” whispers for her Wimbledon campaign, while the Canadian is looking for back-to-back wins for the first time since Indian Wells this spring. A win wouldn’t be a giant leap for the 21-year-old but a much needed step into the right direction. However, Bencic’s flat and fluid groundstrokes will be a tricky obstacle in Bouchard’s quest to return to her successful ways.
What do you think is going to be key in the Bouchard-Bencic match tomorrow? And who will prevail? Sound off in the comments.