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Eugenie Bouchard lacking confidence after first-round Rogers Cup exit

Eugenie Bouchard reacts after a missed shot against Donna Vekic during the Rogers Cup on Aug. 8, 2017.

Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

A first-round elimination for Eugenie Bouchard at the Rogers Cup is the latest disappointment for the spiralling one-time Top 10 WTA star, who admitted she's struggling with confidence.

The 23-year-old Montrealer, freefalling down the world rankings in recent years, was eliminated in her opening match in Toronto on Tuesday, 6-3, 6-4 by Croatian qualifier and World No. 51 Donna Vekic.

It's the latest setback in what has been a three-year descent for the Canadian, who gained global stardom while skyrocketing to a No. 5 ranking back in 2014 but has since plummeted to No. 70.

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"I'm obviously a bit low in confidence right now," a disheartened Bouchard said late Tuesday. "So it's tough to get through tough matches when you're in a moment like that."

Despite her lacklustre ranking, Bouchard was the face of a Toronto tournament light on stars this year. The player – who has 1.39 million followers on Twitter and 1.5 million on Instagram – graced event posters and programs, along with her famed remark from 2015: "The journey towards success is not always easy or upwards."

Asked to answer critics who accuse her of spending too much time on self-promotion off the court, she answered curtly: "I would say you have no idea what my life is like and what my days are like."

On a hot and sunny afternoon on Centre Court at the Aviva Centre, with the stands half full, Bouchard was broken in her first two service games and slipped into a quick 0-3 hole. She struggled with control, sending countless ground strokes long.

Fans blurted out sporadic pep talks during Bouchard's most downtrodden moments.

"You can do it, Genie."

"Come on now, Genie, you're in this."

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She finally broke serve back against Vekic to make it 3-1, and started to hit some of the big winners that were the hallmark of her game during her magical 2014 season, when she was rolling deep into Grand Slams and barnstorming the WTA Tour.

She gained ground on Vekic – it was 4-2, then 4-3 – pumping her fist emphatically for the first time in the match. There were brief flashes of the fiery Canadian player who once charged fearlessly to the Wimbledon final.

A couple of unlucky bounces off the net in the next game were enough to tip the momentum back in Vekic's favour. Bouchard fought off a handful of break points, but, ultimately, her 19 unforced errors and five double faults in the set were too much to overcome.

Bouchard broke Vekic early in the second set to go up 2-1 – her first lead in a set all day. Vekic, however, broke right back, then won the next game as well, and snatched it right back. More unforced errors from Bouchard followed, along with more ineffective serves. Vekic seized the straight-sets victory in an hour and 34 minutes.

It was Bouchard's seventh appearance in the Rogers Cup. The last time she failed to make it out of the first round in the annual Canadian tournament was in 2015, when she was bounced by Swiss youngster Belinda Bencic.

With Tuesday's loss, Bouchard fell to 12-16 on the season.

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A couple of hours later, she was across the grounds on much smaller Court 1, teaming with World No.1 Karolina Pliskova in doubles. The stands there were heaving with fans, as a smiling, high-fiving Bouchard helped deliver a 6-4, 6-2 win over Dominika Cibulkova and Kirsten Flipkens. Bouchard said the more relaxed nature of doubles appeals to her right now and she plans to do it more often.

Having her every move documented in headline news appears to be taking its toll on Bouchard.

She has made multiple changes to her staff – coaches and agents – in the past three years.

In 2015, she suffered a serious concussion after slipping on a locker-room floor at the U.S. Open, leading to ongoing ligation against the United States Tennis Association.

Last year, she had to refute headlines that suggested she had an eating disorder after making comments about suffering from game-day anxiety.

Most recently, she was in a highly publicized spat with Maria Sharapova, calling the former world No. 1 player a cheater after a doping suspension.

Despite those off-court issues, there have been some encouraging moments in the past year. She charged to the third round in Montreal last August with wins over Tour heavy-hitters Lucie Safarova and Cibulkova. This season, she made the semi-finals at the Sydney International, the third round at the Australian Open and upset Sharapova at the Madrid Open.

Before coming to Toronto, she worked with Andre Agassi as well as his famous trainer Gil Reyes, but that didn't provide her much spark in her singles match. She was asked after her loss if she wishes the media would relax and recognize she's still a young player.

"I guess I'm relatively young, but I feel old in a way. You know, I've been on tour a bunch of years already," Bouchard said. "I think it's important to feel the pressure of time a little bit, to get into action, you know, and not just relax and let years go by. That would be the worst thing I could do. But if the media doesn't put pressure on me, I mean, that would be nice."

Video: Venus Williams on her first match win in Toronto (The Canadian Press)
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