Women's wrap: Bouchard battles through in qualifying

  • David Cox

It is seven years since Eugenie Bouchard last featured in the qualifying rounds at the Australian Open. Back then Bouchard was just 19, a teenager brimming with promise who would go on to reach the semifinals the following year, and climb to a peak of No.5 in the world rankings.

Now 25, Bouchard languishes down at No. 211 after a precipitous fall from grace over the past five years. In Tuesday’s opening qualifying round for AO2020, she looked to be heading for the exit against Xiaodi You, a little-known Chinese player ranked No.210, before digging deep to pull through 4-6 7-6(4) 6-1.

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Bouchard had arrived in Melbourne in good form after reaching the ASB Classic quarterfinals last week, but for most of the opening two sets she was strangely tentative. Implored by her coaching staff at various times to “be positive”, “be aggressive”, her demeanour ranged from indifferent to desperate.

As Bouchard’s usually reliable backhand repeatedly drifted either wide or long, You grew in confidence amidst the rising mid-afternoon temperatures. Tenacious from the back of the court, making up for the hindrance of a weak serve which often rolled over the net at just 114 km/h, she looked on course for a shock upset at 6-4 2-0.

MORE: Full women's qualifying draw

Bouchard eventually raised her game, and after clinching the second set in a tiebreak, proved far too strong in the decider. 

“I just didn’t get myself going,” Bouchard said of her slow start. 

“It’s important for me to have the right energy and I didn’t have that. Disappointed in myself with how I started and acted in that first set, but I managed to figure her game out and get myself back on track so, at the end of the day, the end of the third set is all that mattered. For me to turn it around, I’m proud of that.”

'I managed to figure her game out and get myself back on track so, at the end of the day, the end of the third set is all that mattered'
Eugenie Bouchard

With You visibly struggling physically in the deciding set, the match finished amid the bizarre spectacle of the Chinese player serving underarm. On one occasion, she was even foot-faulted while attempting an underarm serve, something the spectators around 1573 Arena and Bouchard herself found highly amusing. 

“I thought the underhand serves were funny,” she said. 

“It was really funny when she got a footfault on it as well. It’s in the rules, you’re allowed to do it. Why not? She actually got me on a couple, so I guess I should practice my underhand serve returns.”

Bouchard will now play local hopeful Maddison Inglis in round two, after the Australian 21st seed defeated Slovakia’s Rebecca Sramkova 6-3 0-6 7-6(17) in a marathon encounter.

MORE: Full women's qualifying results

Elsewhere there were wins for Spanish eighth seed Aliona Bolsova and Belgium’s ninth seed Ysaline Bonaventure, but the talented 17-year-old American Whitney Osuigwe – seeded 26th here – lost in three sets to Italy’s Martina Di Giuseppe.

American Shelby Rogers got her qualifying campaign off to a fine start with a dominant 6-4 6-0 win over Mona Barthel in a battle between two players trying to resurrect their careers following injury battles. Three years ago, Rogers demolished Simona Halep 6-3 6-1 in the first round at Melbourne Park, but her burgeoning talent was stopped in its tracks after she suffered a horror knee injury at Indian Wells in 2018.

Rogers returned to the pro game last year, but she admitted that it’s only been in recent months that she’s been able to compete at anywhere near full fitness.

“I’m finally healthy,” she said. 

“I started back mid last year and just had some complications along the way so it wasn’t a very smooth comeback initially. It’s tough when you’re trying to compete at 60-70 per cent. You want your body to do something and it just can’t. But it’s a really nice feeling not having to think about what’s going to hurt today, or what I have to manage, so my focus is to keep it that way. 

“I took pre-season to make sure my body was ready, and now I feel great.”