Musicians call it the difficult second album. For Eugenie Bouchard, last year’s Wimbledon finalist, the equivalent is second-season syndrome, or the sophomore slump – the affliction whereby players struggle to emulate a breakthrough year.
The No12 seed went into battle with the Chinese qualifier Duan Ying-ying short on confidence, having lost 11 of her previous 13 matches, and injured with a torn muscle in her abdomen. Against that backdrop, a theoretically amenable start to Wimbledon seemed a blessing. But after an hour and a half on No3 court, another disastrous defeat, 7-6, 6-4, and the end of her Wimbledon, the blessing became a curse.
The 21-year-old sought to be philosophical. “I was underprepared for this match,” she said. “But this is Wimbledon. There is no way I wasn’t going to play, even though I was advised not to. It is the way I am. I am disappointed because I lost, so it was not the smartest decision but I knew I had to do it. It is not nice feeling underprepared. I only served 10 serves before this match. My timing was very off. I said that I would go out there on one leg, so I had to be true to my word.”
A horrible year, but Bouchard said she is determined not to turn drama into crisis. “I need to keep belief and stay true to myself.” She might also need to make changes. Last year she jettisoned her long-time coach Nick Saviano and turned to Victoria Azarenka’s mentor Sam Sumyk. Asked if she should change again, she said: “Maybe I should. We have definitely not started well at all. I believe in him and him in me. But we definitely need to have some improvements.”
Sumyk watched as Bouchard’s serial discomforts followed her into a troubled first set. She kept parity with the Chinese qualifier but only just; there was a deal of irregular swinging and snatching at the ball that saw shots go long and wide. Predictably, Duan broke Bouchard’s serve in the sixth game, the Canadian surrendering the advantage with a wild swing. The Wimbledon finalist rallied to level the set at 4-4 but by then the casual observer might have found difficulty distinguishing the top player from the qualifier. In the tie-break, Duan began the steadier, racing to a 3-1 lead.
Bouchard pulled her back to 3-3 but hitting fiercely and encouraged by Bouchard’s flailings, Duan took control again. The unforced backhand error that gave the set to the Chinese seemed symbolic of much that had gone before.
Bouchard came out firing in the second set but her hard, flat hitting provides scant margin for error and can, as it was here, be a millstone when things are less than 100%. She produced brilliant drives interspersed with comedically shanked forehands and profligate double faults, product of a wayward ball toss. The good was good, but the bad was very bad.
There was little light or shade. Both duelled with cannon fire, intent on pummelling the baseline. At 3-3, rightly fearing the worst, Bouchard hit her way out of trouble and saved two break points. But by the next game she was swinging wildly again, slamming one crosscourt forehand into the umpire’s chair. At 4-4 Duan, 25, fought her way to two break points.
Bouchard saved the first but swung a desperate forehand long for the second, leaving Duan to serve for the match. There she might have frozen, in her first meeting with Bouchard, at her first Wimbledon.
Instead, Duan – China’s fifth-ranked woman – was as assured as Bouchard was chaotic. She seizing the deciding game as if it were hers by right.
Much then to dampen Bouchard’s spirits. And afterwards she was told of muttering behind the scenes about what appeared to be a black bra under her regulation Wimbledon whites. The rules, much feared, always enforced, say “competitors must be dressed in suitable tennis attire that is almost entirely white.” And “any undergarments that either are or can be visible during play [including due to perspiration] must also be completely white except for a single trim of colour no wider than one centimetre.”
But this was not one of the things that bothered her on court. “I was not aware of that at all,” she said responding to erroneous reports that she had received a code violation. “I am going to take some time to heal. Maybe not think about tennis for a little bit.”
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