Jul 5, 2018
LONDON -- Just when it seemed Eugenie Bouchard's luck may be turning around, the 24-year-old crashed and burned.
But you've probably heard that before.
Thursday's second-round match at Wimbledon was unfortunately more of the same for Bouchard, who once seemed to be the brightest up-and-coming star on the WTA Tour, and now struggles to even make the main draw.
Garbine Muguruza, the defending Wimbledon champion who was seeded third, was upset Thursday by Alison Van Uytvanck 5-7, 6-2, 6-1.
Guido Pella of Argentina reached the third round of a Grand Slam for the first time, stunning last year's Wimbledon finalist Marin Cilic on Thursday.
Get the Wimbledon 2018 tennis tournament's dates, TV schedule, news coverage, live scores and results on ESPN.
After dropping a competitive first set, Bouchard held a 5-2 lead in the second against No. 17 seed Ashleigh Barty and was playing for set point. For a moment, it looked as if she was finally turning the proverbial corner, and the buzz of the adoring crowd was palpable. And then something happened.
She doesn't know what it was. She later said she should have taken a moment to focus and regroup, and didn't. But whatever the moment of vulnerability was, Barty seized on it. She staved off set point, and then rattled off the next five games to clinch the victory 6-4, 7-5, and advance to her first Wimbledon third-round match.
It appeared to be a psychological meltdown of epic proportions as Bouchard just had no answers for Barty down the stretch. She yelled at herself after every lost point, and sat in her chair with her legs nervously tapping during breaks. She looked stunned once it was over, and appeared to be holding back tears as she walked off the court.
Many members of the crowd, who remained very much on her side throughout the match, even when she gave them little to cheer for, walked out loudly asking the same question Bouchard herself was probably wondering: What happened? How did someone who once had so much promise, even making the 2014 finals at the All England Club, get to this point?John Patrick Fletcher/Action Plus via Getty Images
Her magical 2014 run, in which she propelled herself into the spotlight with semifinal appearances at both the Australian Open and the French Open, as well as the championship match at Wimbledon, feels like a very long time ago these days, and probably far longer to her. She's struggled since to regain her winning ways and hasn't advanced past the third round at any Grand Slam since 2015. A highly publicized fall in a locker room at the US Open in 2015, which resulted in a concussion and a lawsuit against the USTA, sidetracked her for some time, as well as seemingly taking a toll on her physically and mentally.
Bouchard has shown flashes of her former brilliance, but seems to flame out whenever she finds a hint of momentum. The Canadian is now ranked No. 188 in the world -- her lowest ranking since 2012.
Once called the most marketable athlete -- male or female -- in the world, Bouchard has lost many of her endorsements during her freefall, and even her long-term deal with Nike has been reduced solely to a performance-based contract. She remains a beloved figure on social media (with more than 1.7 million followers on Instagram) and with fans, but she can't get her popularity to translate to on-court success. Thursday morning's match was the first to fill to capacity, with lines of people waiting to get inside despite a smattering of other noteworthy matches on the grounds.
Because of her poor recent performance and a lingering abdominal injury that forced her to miss most of the clay-court season, Bouchard had to play in the qualifying tournament at Roehampton and won three matches to make the main draw. Despite the longer road to the All England Club, she appeared confident in her first-round victory over Gabriella Taylor, winning 6-0, 4-6, 6-3. Riding a four-match win streak for the first time in what feels like forever and having recently started working with new coach Robert Lansdorp, it felt as if this could finally be the scene of her reemergence.
"I'm disappointed because I feel like I had chances in both sets," she said to a packed room of reporters after the match. "I played well but ..."
Her voice trailed off. She later said she gave everything she had, and had no answers for Barty's shot selection in the final games. She mentioned wishing she had focused more on improving her first serve attempts, but didn't seem to think the problem was anything more than playing against a high-quality opponent.
For a moment, it almost sounded like she had resigned to the idea that perhaps she never would reach her previous heights. She insisted she was just grateful to have the opportunity to play and just wanting to be as good as she could be.
She said she hopes to play in as many tournaments as possible going forward, including a Challenger event next week in Europe. She thinks she will improve with more consistent match experience and help her ranking in the process. Talking about qualifying tournaments and ITF events, it hardly sounded like a former Grand Slam finalist, seemingly in the peak ages of her career.
But moments later, she showed a glimpse of her former competitive spirit after a reporter sympathetically told her she was only 24 and still had plenty of time.
"It's maybe the middle of my career," she said sternly. "I don't know how to define it. It's definitely not nearly the end of my career, which some people think it is. I'm here to stay, like it or not."
If only she could channel that internal firepower during her next tough match against a top-20 opponent, perhaps then she would finally get back on track. But until then, crowds will continue to wonder aloud: "Whatever happened to Genie Bouchard?"