MELBOURNE – Genie Bouchard’s Australian Open is over in the third round.
But she can’t say she didn’t have her chances, multiple chances, to go further.
Bouchard’s 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 loss to American Coco Vandeweghe came down to a few points towards the end of the third set, after more than two hours of play and several opportunities for the 22-year-old Canadian to put the match out of reach.
“Serving up a break in the third set, having many game points, I think, in my (4-3) game. You know, I can’t let that slip away. I felt like a lot of times in the point I was on my heels a little bit and not really moving up to the ball enough. You know, I think (I was) too caught up in the moment on a couple of those points,” a disappointed Bouchard said.
The Canadian had more trouble holding serve than her American opponent in the first set and ultimately, at 3-3, Bouchard gifted her the break with a double fault that wasn’t even close to the line. It was enough.
The second set went the other way in large part due to one of those moments the 25-year-old Californian has trouble avoiding. With her talent level, her all-court game, Vandweghe wouldn’t need much to be consistent top-10 material the way the WTA Tour is these days. And yet she has never gotten close; her career best of No. 29 came last summer and she currently sits at No. 35.
A superb athlete, Vandeweghe has a huge serve, a tough kicker for a second serve, big groundstrokes and an ability and willingness to serve and volley that few on the women’s Tour have these days.
But after a snarky exchange with chair umpire Juan Zhang in which she mocked her for allowing Bouchard all kinds of time to make a challenge while turning down her own, she lost focus and dropped back-to-back double faults, going from 30-all on her own serve to a break and an 0-2 deficit in the second set.
Bouchard made that stand up, with especially tough holds in the third and fifth games. She seemed to have all the momentum, with Vandeweghe muttering, chastising herself, dropping a few choice expletives and otherwise going off the boil, as they say down here.
Out of seemingly nowhere, Bouchard broke Vandeweghe at love to start the third. But then, the legs got a little wooden. She said afterwards that she wasn’t tired mentally or physically. She spoke of the number of matches played in a row against qualify opponents, now for the second straight week, and the cumulative effect that has now that she’s so out of practice doing it after two seasons of sub-par results by her standards.
She also said that perhaps she was half-expecting more pace than Vandeweghe was actually delivering. As a result, the Canadian backed off the baseline a little bit, didn’t get up to the ball when she needed to, and allowed Vandeweghe to do what she needs to do, which is basically what Bouchard needs to do, which is to dictate the points.
She ceded just enough ground in the territorial battle to make the difference.
Still, Vandeweghe was muttering. And Bouchard managed another clutch hold of serve to go ahead 4-2.
Two more holds of serve, and The Canadian would be in the round of 16. Her opponent’s mind was a-frazzle; Vandweghe even stopped play in the second point to challenge a first-serve call on a ball she had a play on. The ball couldn’t have gotten more of the service line if she’d walked over and put it there herself; bad decision, nervous decision.
But the game got complicated as Bouchard had trouble getting her first serve in from the ad side of the court. There might have been technical issues on that side but they also were the most pressure-laden points – game points, break points.
Bouchard was aiming for much safer targets on balls that, physically fresh and fully confident, she would put away. That slight lack of boldness allowed Vandweghe to chase down a few balls that, more riskily struck, would have gone for winners.
She overhit a forehand into the open court to cough up the break.
The 4-4 game on Vandeweghe’s serve was interminable. It took 13 minutes and 36 seconds for the American to hold; Bouchard had four break-point opportunities that would have allowed her to serve for the match.
“I was thinking I was doing more damage off of the second serve against her. She wasn’t handling my kick serve that well, especially later in the match,” Vandeweghe said. “I got a little sloppy sometimes when I had the hold points in that game. Sloppy and stubborn, I would say, to both.”
Once she couldn’t convert there, the Canadian found herself having to hold serve to stay in the match. Every time she would serve, in a deciding set without a tiebreak, she’d face the same challenge.
She did it once. She couldn’t do it the second time.
The handshake, to put it mildly, was cursory. From the moment they crossed paths on Rod Laver Arena hours before, when Bouchard was leaving after her warmup and Vandeweghe was arriving with doubles partner Martina Hingis for her own – and they didn’t even acknowledge each other – there was definitely a frost.
It’s a shame; the two blonde North Americans have so much more in common than perhaps they’re even aware of. While Bouchard has far more admirers and social-media followers both have a contingent of tennis fans who have their issues with Vandeweghe’s strutting countenance on the court, and Bouchard’s bearing off the court.
It seemed to be a pick-em match coming in, with Vandeweghe ranked about 10 spots above Bouchard at the moment. And it turned out to be just that.
“Overall, coming to Australia, I think I did an okay job. I obviously, deep down, always expect more, but, you know, I couldn’t expect too much, considering I trained for a month, and it’s the first really good training I got in a while, first time I got a good break in a while, first time I trained well in a while,” She said. “It’s kind of like a restart process. I can’t expect too much at the beginning. It wasn’t a horrible trip.”