Gratitude and attitude: Bouchard surges ahead

 - Chris Oddo

Canadian former semi-finalist is making the most of her Roland-Garros wild card as she marches into round three.

Eugenie Bouchard, Roland Garros, second round© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Even as her ranking has meandered in and out of the top 100 in recent years, there has been one constant that has defined Eugenie Bouchard: a refusal to give up on herself.

At times she may have been buried under the weight of the crippling expectations that she created for herself in 2014, when she reached the semi-finals at Roland-Garros and then the final at Wimbledon weeks later. That purple patch of play took Bouchard, then 20, to a career-high ranking of No.5 in the world and made her an instant celebrity.

Her tennis may have struggled, and her ranking may have slipped since, but one always sensed a certain swagger in Bouchard. She never let go of the stubborn belief that she belongs at the top of the sport, no matter the ranking next to her name. 

Here she is today, in Paris, proving that she may be right after all.  

The Canadian, currently ranked 168, has parlayed her wild card into a spot in the third round at a major for the first time in over three years, and will face Poland’s Iga Swiatek for a spot in the last 16. 

That’s a giant step for a player that clearly did not take kindly to finishing 2019 with a ranking outside of the top 200 for the first time since 2011. 

“I think I've had tough moments, for sure,” Bouchard told reporters after taking out Australia’s Daria Gavrilova, 5-7, 6-4, 6-3 on Wednesday. “I think deep down, still believing in myself no matter what, knowing my skill can't just go away, knowing that I've achieved success before.” 

Bouchard, who reached her first final in over four years on the red clay in Istanbul two weeks ago, says that she leans on her history when she needs a pick-me-up and that her past success constantly serves to reinforce her belief. 

“That's what I use when I need to work hard, when times are tough,” she said. 

Eugenie Bouchard, Roland Garros 2020, practice© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Also contributing to Bouchard’s current core of belief is the work she has been doing with Gil Reyes. The legendary former trainer of Andre Agassi started collaborating with Bouchard last October and the Canadian says it has done wonders for her fitness, as well as her self-confidence.

“Gil is one of my favourite people on this planet,” she said on Wednesday. “He's such a special person. Words don't do him justice. You really kind of get to appreciate him just by knowing him.” 

Bouchard says she has been acquainted with the Las Vegas-based Reyes for a decade, and adds that his presence has instilled an extra layer of self-belief in her. 

“I'm so grateful for his help,” she said. “I've known him for, like, 10 years, but I've committed to working with him last October. We've spent so much time together, put so much work together. He believes in me so much - it helps me believe in myself.”

Eugenie Bouchard, Roland Garros 2020, second round© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

All the hard yards spent off the court have translated into a calmer, more stable Bouchard on it. These days, when faced with a grueling three-setter, like today’s tussle with Gavrilova, the Canadian can enter the arena feeling poised. 

“I have really worked hard with my trainer to be the strongest that I can be,” she said. “I see a real difference on the ground. Now I'm not afraid of three sets. I know I can stay on court for as long or longer than my opponent. It gives me confidence and also the patience not to try to rush things on the courts. It adds a calm aspect to my game.”

The future is an unwritten promise, but Bouchard is embracing whatever it may hold. Getting back to the pinnacle of tennis would be delightful, but first the journey must start with gratitude, especially in 2020 the year of coronavirus and all the hard times that come with it.

“I'm so grateful to have a job,” she said. “I'm so happy to be at a big event. It's always special playing Grand Slams, no matter what. I think with the time off, I appreciate the little things even more.”