Wimbledon: The Genie is Out of the Battle

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LONDON—COMING CLOSER TO THE END OF THE WORLD, OR THE TENNIS DEMISE OF MS. GENIE BOUCHARD: Genie Bouchard amazed us last year when seemingly out of nowhere, she reached the semis of the Aussie and French Opens, and then drew the world’s attention by making it to the final of Wimbledon.

A star, we thought, was born.

Fans tossed her stuffed animals. Genie’s army alit. Magazines featured her on snazzy covers. There were ample marriage proposals.

But then there was a significant divorce.

In November, the gifted Nick Saviano quit as her coach. So began the perplexing descent of the 21-year-old Canadian prodigy, who had risen 137 ranking slots in two years, breaking into the top five on-court and breaking the bank off-court.

We soon witnessed one of the most astounding free-falls in tennis history, a decline that culminated today when last year’s finalist lost 7-6, 6-4 in the first round to virtually-unknown Chinese qualifier Ying-Ying Duan, who went into Wimbledon ranked No. 117. It was Bouchard’s 12th loss in her last 14 matches. Can you say slump?

Genie told IT, “A couple of months ago when I lost in Indian Wells or Miami, I didn’t feel like it was the end of the world, but to some people it was. We’re closer to the end of the world right now.”

Yes, today she was playing with a serious abdominal tear from last week at Eastbourne that hadn’t healed. Nonetheless, her collapse left hardened reporters shaking their heads about the star, whose ranking will soon tumble to around No. 29.

It didn’t (did it?) have anything to do with the fact that twice she’d been incredibly vain and silly, refusing to partake in the simple and civil ritual of shaking hands with her Fed Cup opponents.

Rather, experts wondered why the once-so-imposing baseliner was now so vulnerable. When has such a young, surefire star collapsed so decidedly?

“It’s all in her head,” insisted one veteran Genie-watcher. Others asked: Why at crunch time, when it really mattered, was she no longer able to crank things up a notch and go for it?

Bouchard herself admitted she was ill-prepared, and that it probably wasn’t the smartest decision to play—she felt pain, and was tense about defending a whopping 1,300 ranking points.

At least she wasn’t thrown off by a dress-code violation brouhaha that her black undergarment supposedly caused with the ump. “No one told me anything about my bra,” she said.

The bra brouhaha was the least of Genie’s problems.

Bouchard confided that she will now be taking time off, and that she’ll be delighted not to have people asking her every day about defending all those points she earned during her metoric rise last year.

When Inside Tennis spoke with the young Canadian, it seemed Bouchard’s first instinct was to blame the media.

“You became,” we asked, “an international athlete who was thrown into the spotlight so quickly. It’s a tough go … What have you learned?” She replied, “Well, I’ve learned that … when I had good results, they [the media] were … so positive … [But] as soon as I had bad results, it was so negative so quickly. So I’ve just been learning that that’s how it is in the world. That’s totally fine. They can write whatever they want … I’ve just learned about this world I’m in, being an athlete, the struggles … Everyone goes through them. So I’m not alone.”

We followed up and asked, “In what ways have you grown during this period as a person?”

Genie replied, “I’ve learned a lot about my world … I’ve tried to really be patient and understand that it won’t always go well. That’s the biggest thing. It’s definitely been a tough time. But if I stick with it, keep going [and] have the success I know I can have, I think it will be that much sweeter.”

So true.

Let’s just hope that Bouchard can put her Genie back in the proverbial bottle. And get back into the battle.

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IT’S JUST NOT TRUE: Aussie Sam Groth‘s fans are not called The Groth-ful Dead.

GO FIGURE: Today, two of last year’s ladies’ semifinalists, both touted as the future of the WTA—Genie Bouchard and No. 3 seed  Simona Halep—were beaten within minutes of each other in the first round. Both lost to little-known players with triple-digit rankings … In contrast, Petra Kvitova won her first round in 35 minutes. She lost only one point on serve, a double fault … Kvitova is the youngest women’s Slam winner, and the only women’s Slam winner born in the ’90s … Even though Roger and Rafa both won in straight sets, it took Rafa almost twice as long to win …Tommy Haas, 37, won his opening-day match 18 years after he won his first Wimbledon match.

A NOT-EXACTLY-CONFIDENT RAFA? ESPN reported that Rafa Nadal‘s uncle and coach Toni said, “With every defeat, you feel less confident … It’s a pity that Rafael hasn’t had a very good year, and that he’s had more defeats than ever and more defeats than is normal. That’s our problem. Rafael’s game isn’t bad, it’s just that he needs more confidence.”

THE CONFESSIONS OF NICK BOLLETTIERI: In light of accusations that Boris Becker is coaching Novak Djokovic from the Friends Box, you might want to reflect on an infamous Nick Bollettieri tale that he re-told in the Independent this morning. The legendary mentor said that years ago, when he was coaching the then-aspiring Lisa Bonder at a big tournament, he “gave her a card to memorize on which it said if I touched my nose, she should do something. If I took off my Oakleys sunglasses, do something else. If I rubbed my eyes … and so on. The advice would be something like, ‘Play to her forehand,’ or ‘Come to the net more.’”

But then Bollettieri realized he’d left his own copy of the instructional cheat sheet back at his hotel. When Bonder looked right at him, he “just stared straight ahead. The whole match. I never moved. I was afraid I would give her the wrong signal … [But] she won anyway.”

Nick confided, “A coach might brush his nose, scratch his ear, put his finger on his lips—there are all manner of ways of conveying advice. You got a camera on the coaches here at Wimbledon—tell me what you think they are doing? I cannot think of another sport where coaching is not allowed … The golfer has his caddy, the boxer [has] his corner man. Football coaches are hollering from the sidelines.”

SAY IT ISN’T SO: Early in his dispiriting loss today to Sam Groth, Jack Sock seemed thrown off by the loud Aussie Fanatics cheering for his foe. Sock blasted a ball towards the green-and-gold partisans. After the match, Sock declined to talk to both the New York Times and LA Times about his loss. A voice in the press room suggested, “He’ll [only] learn to say goodbye when it’s time to say goodbye.” … Twenty-one-year-old Brit Laura Robson, who has been off the tour for 17 months due to injury, said there are so many new youngsters on the tour that she feels old.

BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS: The very young Andy Murray once complained about the supposedly wretched cereal his mom made for him each morning at Wimbledon. Today, the BBC noted that Murray’s foe hadn’t been playing well lately, adding, “Unless Mikhail Kukushkin becomes ‘Special K’ on court, Murray will eat him for breakfast.”

SPEAKING OF SPECIAL: When Lleyton Hewitt was asked to name the toughest shots he has ever faced during his 17 years on tour, he responded, “Obviously, Rafa’s forehand on clay, on a hot day in Roland Garros, is nearly impossible to control. Roger’s forehand on hard court in the US Open final—he hardly missed the ball. I think … those two forehands have been pretty good.”

STEADY STARTER: At Wimbledon, Roger Federer hasn’t lost a set in a first-round match in five years.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “It’s just a ‘swat-a-thon.'”—the BBC, about the Kei Nishikori vs. Simone Bolelli match.