Beating Maria Sharapova Monday night backed up Genie Bouchard’s words.
Backing it up with an upset over world No. 2 Angelique Kerber of Germany Wednesday night backed up her deeds.
The 23-year-old Canadian got a lot of help from Kerber, who retired from the match down 6-3, 5-0 with a hamstring problem. She said she felt it on the second-to-last point. Kerber visibly pulled up on what turned out to be the final point, not even attempting to go after Bouchard’s return.
Before that, Kerber served seven times, and failed to hold serve … seven times. That wasn’t the hamstring.
The German never even earned a game point; Bouchard was 7-for-9 on break-point conversions as she posted a second consecutive bravura performance.
Kerber attributed the defeat to a number of factors.
“It was a little bit difficult to get in the match and finding the rhythm. She plays actually not bad. She plays good,” Kerber told the media in Madrid. “(Bouchard) was going for it. She hits the ball really fast. “Still, I mean, yeah, I couldn’t find the way because it was, yeah, different. The conditions are little bit different than the last days. But that’s not the excuse, so …”
It was clear once Bouchard earned an opening break in the second set that Kerber just wanted to get it over with. She opened that second set with a double-fault and by the time it was 0-2, she was rushing between points as though she still had a shot at making the Madrid early-bird special.
Wind, cold – not Kerber’s night
Whatever she was feeling physically, she knew she hadn’t taken the court with enough to try to come all the way back. So she pulled the ripcord.
There was a certain irony in Kerber retiring without giving Bouchard the benefit of a legitimate victory.
For as many things as Bouchard is criticized for, she rarely has pulled out mid-match during her career. She’s had her share of nagging injuries, too. But she’ll usually stick it out.
This is the first time the Canadian has posted three consecutive victories since January in Sydney, Australia. There, she defeated Shuai Zhang, Dominika Cibulkova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova – all fine players, all in straight sets. She lost in the semis to eventual champion Johanna Konta.
These victories in Madrid somehow feel a lot more significant, don’t they?
The win over Alizé Cornet in the first round broke the string of losses that had weighed down Bouchard’s shoulders like a pair of 50-pound barbells. Her dramatic victory over Sharapova was a watershed moment both physically and emotionally.
Winning record vs. Kerber
Bouchard certainly had reason to have some confidence going in.
She defeated Kerber both at the French Open and Wimbledon in 2014, when Bouchard was playing her best tennis. But the Canadian also prevailed in Rome a year ago, 7-5 in the third set, when nothing was going particularly right for her and everything was going swimmingly for Kerber.
Bouchard now will face No. 8 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia in a late-night quarter-final Thursday (not before 9:30 p.m. Madrid time, 3:30 p.m. EDT, after Rafael Nadal vs. Nick Kyrgios at 8 p.m.).
They have not played each other for nearly three years. Kuznetsova won both previous encounters; they neatly bookended the Canadian’s big run through the French Open and Wimbledon in 2014.
Where have you been?
The more popular musings in the wake of Bouchard’s victory questioned where the 2014-vintage tennis has been the last two years.
The unspoken implication there – the wagging of the virtual finger – is that Bouchard wasn’t trying hard enough, not working hard enough. All neatly buttressing the prevailing narrative that she’s more about social media and photo shoots than tennis.
Most should know better. The level Bouchard demonstrated over the last two night in Madrid has everything to do with getting a measure of confidence back. It’s not as though she hasn’t been trying to win and play top tennis. More than many other players, the 23-year-old’s game demands that confidence level because of its high-risk, fairly one-dimensional nature.
Bouchard spoke to that in her press conference.
“I think mentally not being in the right place, allowing outside voices kind of in, allowing the pressure to get to me. You know, quite a few things here and there that just affected me at different times over the past couple of years,” she said.
The evidence is there that some gym work has been paying off. There seemed to be little hangover from the tough physical battle against Sharapova Monday night. Bouchard’s feet were almost dancing. She looked so eager; she was seeing and seizing opportunities to step in and make a play earlier than she has over the last few months, when nerves and an abject lack of confidence often turned those size 9 1/2 Nikes into feet of clay.
Bouchard’s second serve has improved kick to it and is proving highly effective on the clay. And having coach Thomas Högstedt back after he was absent for several tournaments seemed to have helped coalesce her game plans during the last two matches.
She will move up to No. 54 with the victory. It’s first time her ranking has headed in the right direction in quite some time. If she can defeat Kuznetsova, she could rise as high as No. 40.
“It’s been a long, hard road for sure. Like I said, this is three matches. I want to do 50 more this year,” Bouchard said. “It’s a long road ahead of me, as well.”