Eugenie Bouchard: Young Woman in a Big Girl’s Game

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The court may be the same size, but Canadian junior champion Eugenie Bouchard struggled has struggled against big hitters like Bojana Jovanovski as she transitions onto the WTA Tour.

Nearly a year removed from her championship run to the Wimbledon girl’s title, Canadian teenager Eugenie Bouchard has joined the WTA tour looking every bit the part of junior prodigy turned senior contender. Impeccably packaged, Bouchard is tall, blonde, and obviously styled to have a Sharapova-like serenity on the court.

But her “womanly bearing” can be deceiving, for despite all visual cues pointing to Bouchard’s readiness to play on the woman’s tour, the fact remains: she still plays a girl’s game.

Gone are the days when young talents like Tracy Austin and Martina Hingis can sweep onto the Tour and beguile older opponents with a mature cunning that belied their age. The grinding (but ultimately underpowered) game that works wonders on the contemporary junior circuit is too often in for a rude awakening when it tries to transition to the seniors.

Serving as a stark contrast, the WTA Tour has expanded from one-dimensional “Big Babe Tennis” into early ball striking with laser-like precision. Better technique paired with more forgiving technology has raised the collective margin of error, which allows big hitters to take more risk, and narrows openings for players like Bouchard, who prefer to rely on opponents’ errors.

As much as the women’s game has evolved in the last decade, expert defenders can still make their way through a field of lower-ranked players who beat themselves. At a Wimbledon warm-up in Birmingham, Bouchard drew one such “baseline basher” in Bojana Jovanovski. The Canadian must have liked her chances of causing a minor upset against the Serbian No. 3, who lacks a lengthy grass court resumé.

Bojana Jovanovski is on a high after a successful clay-court campaign, and was on song against Bouchard as their Birmingham match concluded.

But Jovanovski had just come off of consecutive victories over former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki. Despite the Dane’s fall from the top of the rankings (punctuated by a slump that saw her win only one match on red clay), she still plays the kind of game that could be kryptonite for the hyperagressive Serb. Wozniacki’s style of play, even at its worst, is Bouchard’s, only taken to the tenth power. Though similar at its core, Bouchard not only eschews most aggressive inclinations, but also lacks the kind of scrambling defense required to outlast players like Jovanovski.

That kind of perfect storm can have some unintentionally hilarious consequences.

After falling behind a set, Jovanovski began taking more and more advantage of the Canadian’s weak serve. By the end of the match, she was standing mere inches from the service line to crush returns and gain immediate ascendency. Bouchard was able to capitalize on enough Jovanovski errors to make games tight, but the match was always in the Serb’s hands. Though the Canadian had opportunities to level the third set, Jovanovski was able to suddenly end games at will, with winners that seemed to scream “Enough!” to both her young opponent and the crowd, who began to squirm out of sympathy for the overmatched Bouchard.

Jovanovski would end the titanic struggle anticlimactically with a 6-2 final set that was surprising in its efficiency. Far from a notorious closer, Jovanovski may have been allowed to flounder against a more game opponent, but Bouchard was in no position to make her opponent over-think things.

It may only be Bouchard’s first full year on the senior tour, but at 19, she is already older than other aforementioned “well-packaged prodigies.” As the Canadian inches into her twenties, it will only become more difficult for her to revamp her game, to “woman up” in order to compete with the game’s best. Not unlike Wozniacki, Bouchard looks built for aggression, but conversely looks less adept at retrieving compared to her Danish counterpart.

A loss like this may have come early enough to be a lesson, or perhaps an ultimatum: play a big girl’s game, or risk becoming a little girl lost.

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4 Responses to Eugenie Bouchard: Young Woman in a Big Girl’s Game

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  • Vincent says:

    I wonder how many matches of Bouchard you have watched to even consider comparing her to Wozniacki…That being said, in this particular match, she was definitely more on the reaction side than the aggression side which is usually not her game. She usually is the aggressive player making the play. I find your article a bunch of crap to be totally honest. Bouchard is the 3rd youngest highest ranked player and considering players take longer and longer to develop these days she has plenty of time to “woman up” her game. Judging a player on one bad match while she’s transitioning for the 1st time from clay to grass as a pro player is very unprofessional of you. You clearly sound like you no nothing about her, that you’ve never seen her play except from this match alone. I’d dare to say you know nothing about tennis beside what you read on the history books but I don’t know you enough for that.

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  • David says:

    I’ve actually seen her play multiple times both in person and on tv, and on three different surfaces (four, if you count red and green clay separately). Against Jovanovski and Sharapova at the French, I felt she played very similarly, as did she when she only won three games against the ostensibly less intimidating Jankovic in Charleston.

    The only time I saw her playing a more aggressive game was during a US Open junior match last summer, where she was far and away the better player on the court and had little to lose from ratcheting up her aggression.

    As I finished the article, I acknowledge that she is still young enough to take this loss as a learning opportunity and become more aggressive when it matters (against the game’s best players), but from the many matches I’ve seen her play, I question whether she will be able to do so.

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  • Vincent says:

    Well I just find this a little harsh to only talk about matches that she has lost. All your example are matches where she lost to a better opponent. You should consider the fact that those players she lost to (Sharapova, Jankovic and even Jovanovski) are all player with years of experience that Genie doesn’t have. You can’t simply compare both players as if they are equals when Bouchard hasn’t even got a full year on the pro tour yet. Just to let you know, Genie has a better ranking than Jovanovski and Jankovic had at 19. You can’t compare her with prodigies like Hingis, Seles, Sharapova or Serena cuz like you said, those players don’t exist these days. In fact, Genie has a great 1st serve, great aggressive groundies and she can dictate the play, does she do it all the time? No. But she’s learning to do so. You seem to forget that Jankovic was playing great tennis on clay this season, took a set off Serena and Sharapova who are the 2 best players on clay this season. I don’t know if you expect Genie to easily beat those players at this point in her career but if you do you’re a bit delusional. She has NOTHING like Wozniacki and that’s where you lost me in your article making it pretty hard to take seriously. How many winners do Genie hit by average each match (even against top players like Sharapova)? Compare that to the number of winner Caroline hit against anyone and I’m pretty sure you’ll find that Genie hits probably as much winner in 1 match (that she may even lose) than Caro might hit in a whole tournament. Again, there’s no comparison to be made between those two, two very different players. I found your article/comments very critical towards a young player who has no experience at all in the big league. The tone of your article was very harsh and only focused on the bad side and her losses. Have you watched her match against a real “pusher” (a player similar to Wozniacki)? If not you should try to find her match against Cornet where despite losing she was making all the play as Cornet admitted herself. Far from a pusher game in my opinion, or retriever whatever you wanna call it.

    Articles like yours put too much pressure on tennis players and too much expectations for the tennis fans. That is exactly how player gets haters and start to feel a negative pressure. You make them believe a girl who’s just out of the junior should already have the game to beat a top 10 player. Compare apples with apples next time you try to portrait your opinion.

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  • christopher levy says:

    I agree with the post above I’ve not seen a lot of tennis, but she seems to be doing ok for 19.

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