The first legitimate question that has to be asked about Genie Bouchard’s abbreviated Asian swing: what is she doing there, really?
Perhaps she took the long flight from Miami in the hope that she could salvage a few wins from a difficult season.
And perhaps she hoped to finish off 2017 with even a little momentum she could take into the off-season and 2018. There no doubt was some appearance money on the table.
The 23-year-old Canadian is hitting the ball very well, which is encouraging.
But it’s not translating into victories.
At this point, it’s rarely even translating into three solid points in succession.
The 6-1, 6-1, first-round loss to No. 3 seed Caroline Wozniacki in Hong Kong Tuesday night was surely not unexpected. But it didn’t even take an hour.
Playing lower-ranked players hasn’t translated into wins. Playing a Singapore-bound player against whom she has far less to lose turned out not to be the answer, either.
The two had met only once, back in 2014 on this same Asian swing. It was one of the better weeks of Bouchard’s career, as she reached the final with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Wozniacki in Wuhan.
The two were neck-and-neck in the rankings back then. And both would be headed to the Tour finals in Singapore the following month.
But it’s not a great matchup for the Canadian. Bouchard needs to execute her down-the-line backhand to find Wozniacki’s weaker forehand side and turn the points in her favour. And that’s not a good shot for her unless she’s supremely confident.
Worse, there’s a tell when Bouchard about to hit it – a hesitation. And that gives her opponent a head start to defend it.
So it was Wozniacki who controlled the points. And the Dane can exchange crosscourt backhands with Bouchard all night long and come out on the winning end most of the time.
There was resignation in Bouchard’s mien. And only when she was down 0-5 in the second set did she put together a five-minute patch of play that allowed her to at least get on the scoreboard in the second set.
She has doubles with American Shelby Rogers Wednesday.
Her last tournament of the season is scheduled to be Luxembourg next week.
So you have to ask again: was the decision to play the second half of the fall swing really the right one?
Had she not received a wild card into Beijing, she might not have made the trip. Who knows? Falling in the qualifying may have done more harm than good.
But Bouchard could have turned it down. Instead, she was out before Monday even rolled around after a straight-sets loss to Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia.
Coaching carousel continues
With Thomas Högstedt having bailed out after the US Open, Bouchard will spend yet another off-season searching for a new coach.
It’s hardly uncharted territory.
Diego Ayala, the south Florida-based coach she took with her on this three-tournament swing, is an option she has had in front of her before. And she didn’t exercise it.
Ayala went to Australia with her in 2015 after she parted ways with longtime guru Nick Saviano. That one was a surprise, in the wake of a great 2014 season that ended on a sour note in Singapore. But there was a lot going on behind the scenes despite the great results on court.
Bouchard wouldn’t even refer to Ayala as her coach then; she insisted he was her hitting partner.
A few weeks later, she ended up hiring the more-decorated Sam Sumyk. it was a stint that lasted less than six months. It didn’t end particularly well.
At the end of 2015, after all the issues around the concussion she suffered at the US Open, Bouchard returned to the WTA Tour to finish off the season with Högstedt. That didn’t go well. But at least she had a solid plan in place for the looming off-season.
But by April, 2016 Högstedt was gone. And Saviano was back.
At the end of that season, Bouchard skipped the Asian swing. She took an extended break. And by the time she got back to work, the options on the coaching side were limited. She ended up getting Högstedt back.
But now he’s gone, too. Högstedt was in Beijing on a trial with the Russian Ekaterina Makarova.
Perhaps the most crucial off-season yet
Hindsight is always 20/20, of course. But it’s already October. Only a little more than two months remain before the WTA Tour circus takes to the road again. And in that relatively limited time frame, Bouchard has much to do.
She has to figure out who’s available on the coaching side, who she wants to work with – and who wants to work with her. She also has to develop a little chemistry if it’s someone she doesn’t know well.
Then, she has to get to work trying to maximize that time, to figure out what if anything she can upgrade in her game to come out swinging in 2018.
Because after three consecutive years of struggles, there just can’t be another year added on.
It’s not a lot of time. And the way this final swing is going, she’s wasting precious weeks.