July 12, 2024

Open Court

MORE TENNIS THAN YOU'LL EVER NEED

Warmly welcomed in Rome, Bouchard falls to Galfi in qualifying

ROME – Genie Bouchard was 20 years old when she first walked into the Foro Italico in Rome in 2014, and ranked No. 20. She lost in the first round to Italian legend Francesca Schiavone.

But in retrospect, her opening-round losses to Schiavone (and to Agnieszka Radwanska in Madrid the previous week) were the start of something. Bouchard went to Nürnberg, Germany the following week for a smaller tournament – and won her first and so far only WTA Tour title.

And then, she hopped to Paris and made the semifinals at Roland Garros.

The last time Genie played the Italian Open she was 22, ranked No. 46, and upset former No. 1 Jelena Jankovic and then-world No. 2 Angelique Kerber, back to back, to reach the third round. That was seven years ago.

So there were plenty of good memories. And from what people who were at the Foro Italico before Open Court arrived were telling me Monday, she got a hugely warm welcome from the Italian fans.

And she certainly got “the” court – her first-round qualifying match was on the beautiful Pietrangeli court, surrounded by all those iconic statues.

Unfortunately for Bouchard (and her fans), the trip was cut short by a 7-6 (4), 6-3 loss to Hungary’s Dalma Galfi the first round of qualifying Monday.

Here’s what it looked like.

It’s too soon to know if her first trip to the Foro Italico in seven years, will kick start something.

But with her knee taped up considerably more than it was in Madrid, the reality was that Bouchard – whose ranking leaped from No. 285 to No. 233 after she qualified and won a round there – faced the No. 91 player in the world.

But that No. 91, a 24-year-old from Hungary, is really solid.

Unlike Bouchard, Galfi has never made top five in the rankings (her best so far was No. 79 after last year’s US Open).

But she has a very big serve, is a big, strong athlete, and has an impressive slice and a terrific drop shot. She used that to good advantage against Bouchard, who didn’t play nearly as well as she did in Madrid.

Of course, the conditions were quite different; it was cold and it rained on and off. And there’s no altitude.

Bouchard displays really good technique on the backhand volley, during her loss to Dalma Galfi in Rome Monday.

Galfi a former No. 1 junior

While Bouchard was making her Rome debut in 2014 and rising to a career high No. 5, Galfi was turning 16 and on her way to being the No. 1-ranked junior girl in the world the following year. The 4 1/2 years between them feel like an entire generation.

She won the 2015 junior US Open, beating Sofia Kenin in the final. And she made the Orange Bowl semifinal that year (really her last junior tournament), losing to Bianca Andreescu.

So the bona fides is there.

Galfi, the junior world No. 1 in 2015, has yet to break into the top 50. And she’s good.

But Galfi didn’t break into the top 100 until a little over a year ago, when she was 23.

And again, she’s quite a player – great technique, big serve, variety.

That’s one of the challenges Bouchard faces in her comeback – the level on the WTA Tour is better than it was in her best days in 2014. Even 2014-vintage Bouchard tennis won’t get her as far as it did then. And she’s not back playing at that level yet.

So there are a lot of Galfis out there that the Canadian will be running into on the road back to where she wants to be. Everyone of them capable of the win.

Bouchard will try again next week, at a WTA 125 in Florence, Italy.

No word yet on whether she’ll be able to get a wild card, at least for the qualifying, at Roland Garros.

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