WIMBLEDON, England — Maybe Eugenie Bouchard isn’t washed up after all.
To consider someone washed up at age 22 might seem unfair — cruel, even — but that was the feeling many had about the Montreal native after her tennis career went on a downward spiral following her appearance in the Wimbledon final two years ago. Twenty-two in tennis years — especially on the women’s side — isn’t the same as 22 in regular human years.
Bouchard has experienced many things in life — both good and bad — since arriving on the scene as the next big star in tennis in 2014 with her combination of talent and good looks. It was probably too much, too soon and she wasn’t ready to handle it. Her tennis game fell apart and she came to Wimbledon ranked No. 48 in the world. The downfall was sad to watch.
But there was nothing sad about watching Bouchard in action Thursday on Centre Court for the second straight day as she beat Johanna Konta, ranked No. 19 in the world, 6-3, 1-6, 6-1 in their second-round match.
It was Great Britain’s best player against Canada’s best player and Bouchard came out on top despite giving up the home-court advantage.
“She’s the local favourite, so I expected nothing less,” Bouchard said about the fan support for her 25-year-old opponent, who was ranked 150th heading into the 2015 season. “It was still a great atmosphere to play, even if the whole crowd is against me, you know. I see that as a challenge. I enjoy the atmosphere no matter what, because as long as the fans are enjoying the tennis, that’s what it’s all about.”
Confidence and nerves have literally been a one-two punch to the gut for Bouchard — who struggled with anxiety last year and talked about having trouble keeping food down as a result — but on this day she showed impressive mental toughness and intestinal fortitude.
After winning the first set in only 33 minutes, a lopsided second set looked like things might go awry for Bouchard again. Instead, it set the stage for a potentially dramatic third set.
But there was no real drama to be had. Bouchard survived three break points in the first game to hold, then broke Konta with a beautiful drop shot at the net to go up 2-0. Bouchard fell behind 0-40 in the next game but survived and then never looked back.
Looking back is something Bouchard doesn’t want to do both on and off the court.
“I think, you know, everyone has ups and downs, tennis and in life,” she said. “So, you know, I have experienced both of those to the extreme probably in tennis. I have learned a lot from it. You know, I have been able to experience feeling those expectations and pressure and all that kind of stuff, which weighed down on me a little bit, you know, let’s say last year. So I have learned from that, and now I really find the joy in tennis and kind of only want to look forward and just try to become the best player I can be.”
When Bouchard arrived for her post-match interview her hair was still wet and she looked younger than 22, but spoke like someone much more mature. She was thoughtful and honest with her answers.
When asked about the impact coach Nick Saviano has had in turning her game around since his return in April after they parted ways two years ago, Bouchard said: “Definitely a part of it, of course. You know, I have been working really hard. You know, even when I haven’t been doing well, I have always been working hard. I feel now that I may be more on the right path and working hard in the right areas. That can definitely make a difference.”
Bouchard’s third-round opponent Saturday will be Slovakia’s Dominika Cibulkova, who is ranked No. 18. They have met twice before and Bouchard won both matches.
After everything she’s been through, Bouchard was asked if she feels older than 22.
“A little bit,” she said. “I think tennis makes you mature from a young age, so I feel a little bit wiser than 22, yes.”
When asked if she has ever been alarmed by the amount of attention she has received, Bouchard said: “I have never been alarmed by it. I think there were (other) things in life to be alarmed. It takes getting used to maybe. At first when I had attention back in 2014, it was different, of course. It changed my life a little bit. But I feel like I learned from it. I’m used to it. You know, I can manage it. I try to embrace it and enjoy it, because it won’t last forever.”
Then she flashed a big smile.
She’s still just a kid. She’s not washed up.