If I told you that Jiri Vesely was ranked 88th in the world in Men’s tennis, then I’m assuming most of you wouldn’t know him if he stood next to you in the supermarket. But I’m also assuming a lot more of you would recognise the 88th ranked player in Women’s tennis, one Eugenie Bouchard.
Bouchard was the big name yesterday when Karl Budge announced the full list of main draw players for next years ASB Classic. Admittedly, the return of Grand Slam champions Caroline Wozniacki, Venus Williams and Victoria Azarenka to Auckland had already been heralded, but former World Number 5 Bouchard would probably have challenged any and all of them for top billing had the announcements been made at the same time.
She’s been to Auckland before of course; as an 18 year old, she was given a wildcard in 2013 after winning Junior Wimbledon in 2012. She won the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) award for Newcomer of the Year later in 2013. Her career peaked in 2014 when she reached Grand Slam semis at both he Australian and French Opens, before losing to Petra Kvitova in the Wimbledon final. The career high ranking of 5 was achieved and she won another WTA award, this time for Most Improved Player. Things were looking good; very good.
In 2015, there was a loss of form, but the tide seemed to turn at the US Open where she made the fourth round. She never got to play that match however, having suffered a concussion after slipping in the changing rooms at Flushing Meadows, following a mixed doubles match.
To the side of her on-court issues, earlier in 2015, she had been named the World’s Most Marketable Athlete by SportsPro magazine.
SportsPro editor Eoin Connolly said:
‘Eugenie Bouchard showed in 2014 that she is an athlete of tremendous potential who is able to make a real connection with her fans. The last few months have not gone as she might have hoped but we think her achievements so far are those of a player of substance who will make her mark at the top end of women’s tennis over the next three years. Not only that, but she has also attracted a lot of attention outside her sport and looks likely to be a genuine crossover star.’
Coca-Cola, Nike and Babolat (racquets) were just some of the sponsors attached to her, bringing in millions of dollars per year in endorsements.
By the end of 2016, her ranking had dropped to 46 and at the start of this year, she dropped out of the top 100 for the first time in almost 5 years.
Despite the form slump, she’s remained high profile. She’s been referred to as ‘The Social Media Queen of Tennis’ with Facebook followers of 1.5 million, 1.6 million on Twitter and 1.8 million on Instagram. For two years now, she has been featured and modelled in the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. Her tennis career has become secondary to the public, Eugenie the brand has taken over. Anna Kournikova was her equivalent in the late 90’s and early 00’s, but not nearly as accessible to the masses as Bouchard is now.
Inevitably people have criticised her (directly on social media) for tennis appearing to go on the back burner. She’s happy to respond directly:
‘People can say I’m not spending enough time training and things like that, I’m like, ‘OK, do you work 24 hours a day?’ I train six hours a day and then I go to the movies, but what I will post will be about the movies because—to me—that’s the most interesting part of my day since I play tennis and work out every single day of my life!’
Some suggest that the concussion in 2015 has affected her playing career more than expected; I guess we’ll never know. She had suffered a form loss before that, but certainly it accelerated upon her return. By the way, she brought a lawsuit against the United States Tennis Association following the concussion, which was settled, confidentiality, earlier this year. It’s good to see her form and ranking start to improve. If she was to get back to the heights of 2014, it would be incredible. The talent is there, hopefully the health and fitness is as well, but is the desire? Only she can answer that – will the ASB Classic be the start of something six years after her last appearance in Auckland? I hope so, it would be a shame for her talent to never fully be realised.
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