Nobody talks to Eugenie Bouchard about tennis any more. Not really. What they actually want Bouchard to talk about is herself as an idea.
As in, what happened to her? Is this decline as difficult to live through as it can be to watch? And why does she keep at it?
Bouchard is always resolute in her positivity. Things are always looking up. Though they are objectively not.
There was a point in this long career ebb when Bouchard was an object of pity. But now she has become something else – an example of resilience in the face of disappointment. Not the sort they make movies about – getting to the lowest point and rising up again. But the one real people live – getting to the lowest point and staying there for a good, long while.
Bouchard lost on Tuesday in her first match of the tournament. That’s become a theme.
She had it nearly won against a middling Slovenian opponent. Bouchard was serving, up 6-5, 30-15 in the third set.
That’s when she plonked a drop shot into the net from distance. Bad decision. Her shoulders sagged in a way that’s become her signature pose.
A couple of points later, a review went against her by about a millimetre. Maybe less. Bouchard watched it with her hip cocked in a way that said, ‘Not this again.’ Set tied at 6-6. Bouchard was steamrolled in the final two games.
That’s it until next summer. If there is a next summer. It’s begun to feel that bad.
We’re now five years from Bouchard’s global emergence as a 20-year-old at this tournament. That remarkable year – one final appearance at a slam (Wimbledon) and two semis (Australian, French) – seems from this distance as both her making and her undoing. She never got close to that consistency again, though the celebrity she accrued here has proven bulletproof.
She is still a sought-after interview, but more often than not it’s to talk about her social-media presence or other things that have nothing to do with sport.
She now lives in the lowest ring of hell for a working athlete – famous for having once been famous. Instagram famous.
In the space between the rise and fall, Bouchard has become adept at speaking about herself at a remove. The words and tone seldom match up. The sentences are self-help boilerplate. The tone is resignation.
Attending one of her postmatch pressers has long since begun to feel like rubber-necking at a car crash.
Take this rambling thought, about how she views that Wimbledon run five years ago: “Those memories will always be there forever. I accomplished great things in my life and career and no one can take that away from me. I just want to still think back and still get confidence from it and just be happy about it and realize how blessed I am. There’s no reason not to be positive.”
That sounds pretty good. She’s happy. There’s no reason not to be positive. And she’s right. Even ranked in the 90s (as she will be in a few days), Bouchard is still a one-percenter who travels the world hitting a ball for a living.
But the tone of it. The words were repeated in a robotic stream, as if she’d written them down beforehand and committed them to memory. By the end, she’d lost all conviction, mumbling her way through the last bit.
She’d been staring at a point on the table in front of her the whole time. Once finished, she looked up suddenly and met the eyes of everyone in the room, daring someone to contradict her. It didn’t take long. There were only three writers interested in talking to her.
During the whole interview there was only exchange that had the ring of truth, perhaps because she was interrupted in the midst of a spiel.
“I feel like time goes by very fast …” Bouchard said. “Try telling that to an old person,” someone said.
Bumped off her verbal train, Bouchard blurted out, “I feel old.” She found her groove again immediately and spieled onward.
It was not said lightheartedly. Bouchard is 25.
There was a lot of stuff in there about good indications going forward. She’s healthy. She’s about to start the hard-court season, “which I love.” She’s looking forward to “killing it” at the U.S. Open.
(Contrast this to Denis Shapovalov, who veered between brushing off his first-round loss here and saying that he’s going to see a psychologist because he feels he has a “mental issue” with his tennis.)
Whether Bouchard believes that uttering the same blandishments after each loss can will better results into action or whether she does so because she thinks that’s what’s expected of her is hard to figure. There is absolutely no reason to feel good about things any more. People would understand if she felt terrible about things. They might cut her more slack if she showed that vulnerability.
But Bouchard’s not giving in to what people want. Off-court defiance rather than on-court skill defines her now.
You can admire an athlete in defeat, but it is hard to admire them in failure. The difference is that between a brief interruption and a deep trough. Bouchard is mired in failure, but she keeps showing up anyway. ‘Admire’ may be the wrong word. ‘Respect’ is a better one, if only for the sheer screw-you-edness of her approach.
A while ago she was asked about people giving her the gears on social media.
“Who are the most famous people on social media?” Bouchard said to the Daily Telegraph. “They have the most haters in the world. Kim Kardashian. Donald Trump. It’s part of life now so we have to accept it.”
I’m not sure lumping yourself into any sort of category with Donald Trump is exactly the move a professional entertainer wants to make there, but I respect Bouchard for doing so without apology.
Plainly, she has moved beyond caring what people say about her. She may even be goading them.
That interview ended with an upbeat message for those who deride her.
“Don’t worry. My life is great,” Bouchard said. “Worry about what you need to do, man, because I got all my priorities straight. Life is great.”
As I read it, I can hear her saying it. And life doesn’t sound as great as it reads.