MELBOURNE, Australia – Genie Bouchard and Sloane Stephens couldn’t re-create the doubles magic they conjured up at the WTA Tour event in D.C. last summer.
And so, not shockingly, they went down 6-4, 6-4 to the No. 2 seeds, Russians Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina.
The Can-American pair, both now with Nike and sharing an agent in John Tobias, had love-30 on too many return games to count.
But they couldn’t finish off enough of those game thanks, mostly, to their opponents’ superiority at the net.
And so US Open champion Stephens’s run in Melbourne has resulted in a first-round loss in singles, and then a first-round loss in doubles.
For Bouchard, a big challenge awaits Thursday night: a second-round singles match against the world No. 1, Simona Halep of Romania.
What is this, 2014 or something?
It’s a matchup that is SO very 2014.
The two met three times that season, and haven’t met since. And the results of the three matches were a microcosm of Bouchard’s best season.
The two played at Indian Wells, in the round of 16. That match was less than two months after the Canadian’s breakthrough semifinal here in Melbourne. And while Bouchard played well, Halep was just that little bit better in a 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 victory.
A few months later, at Wimbledon, it was the Canadian who came out on top in the semifinals, to reach her first and only Grand Slam final.
But there were certainly some mitigating circumstances. Halep was a long way from 100 per cent.
She had suffered a thigh strain in the third round and it was bad enough that she had it heavily wrapped even in practice.
The two warmed up for the match at the same time, at Aorangi Park. And Halep barely moved even then.
Bouchard might have won the match anyway, as high as her confidence was at the time. But it was emblematic of the kind of serendipity that followed Bouchard around like a loyal puppy dog during that brief period of her career.
The third meeting between the two came at the WTA Tour Finals in Singapore to close out the season.
By then, things were already getting complicated in the Bouchard camp. Longtime coach Nick Saviano took his leave shortly after the event, in which Bouchard didn’t win any of her three matches in pool play. Her hitting partner at the time, Tom Burn, also was gone in short order. Things were fairly tense.
Halep won that one, 6-2, 6-3.
There was some added intrigue for this one after Halep rolled her ankle during her first-round win over Aussie teenager Destanee Aiava.
Halep said afterwards it was about the fifth time she had rolled that ankle. It’s a vulnerable area, which is why she always has both ankles taped.
It didn’t swell up, but the Romanian said it usually didn’t; but the ligaments take a beating.
“I felt a big pain on court … I just want to wait for tomorrow to see how I wake up. From my experience, I feel that is nothing broken, but still the pain was big. I have to see with the doctors,” she said Tuesday.
Will the ankle be a factor?
Halep is still wearing adidas shoes although, now that her contract with them has expired, the logos are whited out or obscured. So it wasn’t because of a sudden change of footwear after four years.
Bouchard put together a solid match against Océane Dodin in the first round. But Halep is at a different level and in recent situations similar to this one, that big opportunity has created big-opportunity nerves that haven’t allowed Bouchard ot seize the moment.
If you overthink this a little, the ankle roll can create a sort of parallel with that match at Wimbledon back in 2014. But only if Halep hasn’t fully recovered. And nobody wishes that on her.
The diagnosis, according to Romanian TV, is a Grade 1 sprain with some stretching of the ligaments. So, not the worst. But not great.
The 7 p.m. match is scheduled on Margaret Court Arena (3 a.m. Thursday EST).