With the local hero down 5-0 in the third set and generally in a muddle, a lone voice rang out during the changeover: “it’s not over.”
Let’s take it as axiomatic that optimism is laudable in all facets of life.
But it was over.
And when it ended one game later, in a way few expected and nobody in the stands wanted, the seventh-ranked women’s tennis player in the world stalked off the court with a perfunctory wave to the crowd.
The Rogers Cup was meant to be a hometown showcase for Eugenie Bouchard, the only player on the WTA loop to reach three Grand Slam semi-finals in 2014, instead it turned out to be an ignominious 6-0, 2-6, 6-0 second-round loss to American Shelby Rogers, who has yet to crack the top 100 in the world.
It was Bouchard’s first match since her appearance in the final at Wimbledon, and the first time she played for a home crowd as a top-five seed.
“I think I was feeling the pressure a bit on the court … I knew this going into the match so I can’t use it as excuses,” she said.
The match started poorly for Bouchard – she was broken in her first service game and misfired wildly on a series of simple ground-strokes – and went downhill from there, except for a stirring but ultimately illusory revival in the second frame.
Visibly downcast afterward, the 20-year-old Bouchard was asked – slightly preposterously – whether it was the biggest disappointment of her career.
“I don’t think so. It’s just a match, I feel like I’ve been playing really well this whole year, it’s normal to have some ups and downs … I’m going to learn a lot, but still be happy about life,” she said.
If anything, she later continued, it’s better to lay down a clunker now than in the U.S. Open later this month, where she will vie to improve on her streak of Grand Slam success.
As Bouchard said in her post-match remarks, “it’s a situation where I’ll learn a lot.”
She also allowed that 2014 has been an education on many fronts. Rapid success has translated into pressure and expectations – which she steadfastly insists she welcomes – and to monumental changes in her personal circumstances.
“I’ve definitely noticed a change in my life a little bit since the beginning of the year, even more so since Wimbledon. It’s just something I’m going to have to get used to, especially coming to Montreal is definitely a little crazier than any other tournament,” said Bouchard, who last played in front of hometown fans in a midwinter Fed Cup tie, which was held in a much smaller venue. “I felt like I was dealing with things well. But I still have that sense of the pressure and things like that. It’s a good position to be in, it’s one I want to be in. But I’ll just have to deal with it better.”
In fairness to the brightest light in Canadian women’s tennis, this was a deeply strange day; the outcome was of a piece with the overarching theme.
First, a major power outage knocked out the Uniprix Stadium’s electrical supply, giving the event a club tournament feel – no scoreboard, no replays, no challenges, no microphone for the chair umpire.
That was fine, as it went, for the daytime matches – the provincial electrical utility dispatched a couple of loaner generators to power the stadium lights for the evening program, and Hydro-Québec president Thierry Vandal personally called tournament organizer Eugene Lapierre to apologize for the contretemps, which was the result of a broken trunk line.
The uncertain electrical situation prompted organizers to push the starting time of the Bouchard match back an hour.
“We were mostly hoping for a historic day, our Montreal-born star coming home to play in front of her fans as the fifth seed … but all sorts of unfortunate things can happen in life,” Lapierre said. “It will still be remembered as a historic day, but I feel probably for the wrong reasons.”
The good news for Lapierre is that Bouchard’s unexpectedly early exit won’t dent the bottom line; the Rogers Cup broke it’s attendance of record of 175,000 – in terms of ticket sales, at least – on Monday.
“Financially we have already hit our target,” he said.
When the players walked on to the court, to warm applause, there was no announcement, or any stadium lights.
By the time they came on, Bouchard was down 0-2 to the 21-year-old Rogers.
When the public address system came back, late in the second set, Bouchard promptly dropped her service game.
“It was a little bit distracting, to not hear the umpire as loud as you normally could … of course it’s the same for both players, but it doesn’t help the situation,” she said.
Rogers sounded a similar note, saying “ It was different. We had a little rain at the beginning. The ref didn’t have a mic. If you lose the score, you better not lose track. It added a little bit different element. In a way it calmed me down because I had other things to think about. So, I mean, it was fun in a way. I don’t think I’ll ever have a match like that again.”
Bouchard simply wasn’t sharp on this night, as Lapierre said “I didn’t see the Eugenie Bouchard that we’ve seen for the last little while. But I did see an opponent who was extra motivated.”
Rogers, who beat Bouchard in their first pro meeting in 2011, did indeed smell an opportunity, and she benefited from her opponent’s waywardness and a friendly bounce or two in the third.
It made for a slightly discordant post-match winner’s interview at centre court.
“After the match, I’m sure you heard me say, I’m sure you don’t want to hear from me,” she laughed. “It’s really cool to see the support she has here. It’s fun to see that much excitement just about tennis. I think all of us really enjoy the support for the WTA in general. So it was a cool experience tonight.”
The roughly 12,000 people packed into the stadium might beg to differ.