Bouchard, Fernandez lead Canadian women’s tennis charge going into French Open | CBC Sports

The Canadian women’s tennis landscape features a former star, a current star and a rising star.

The current star — 2019 U.S. Open champion Bianca Andreescu — has been out of action for nearly one year with a series of injuries. She was unable to defend her title at the U.S. Open earlier this month and is likely to not play the French Open, which begins Monday in Paris, after withdrawing from this week’s Italian Open with a knee injury.

The other two — veteran Eugenie Bouchard and teen Leylah Annie Fernandez — enter the French Open riding some relative highs.

Bouchard, the 26-year-old from Westmount, Que., and former world No. 5, reached the final of the Istanbul Open on Sunday before losing in three sets to Romania’s Patricia Maria Tig. The success represented Bouchard’s first final appearance since the Malaysian Open in 2016. 

It was another sign, following her hard-fought quarter-final loss to No. 20 Elise Mertens at the Prague Open in August, that Bouchard might finally be rounding back into form.The performance helped her earn a main-draw wild card for this year’s tournament.

WATCH | Bouchard wins semifinal at Istanbul Open:

Qualifier Eugenie Bouchard of Westmount, Que., beat world No. 94 Paula Badosa of Spain 6-3, 6-2 to advance to the final of the Istanbul Tennis Championship. 3:20

It’s also been a season full of promise for Fernandez, who heads to Roland Garros sporting a career-high ranking of 98. The 18-year-old from Montreal won her first Grand Slam match at the U.S. open in the first round against Russia’s Vera Zvonareva before falling to second seed Sofia Kenin.

Bouchard once fulfilled her own promise, reaching the semifinals at the 2014 Australian and French Opens before losing in the Wimbledon final that year.

Now unburdened of expectations, Bouchard rose from 272 to 167 in world rankings following her Istanbul success. 

“She’s bucked up a bit. And I really think she looks like a much better athlete than she’s been in the past,” Tennis Canada analyst Tom Tebbutt said. “So, you know, she’s in good condition and she’s fit enough, I think, to play really good tennis, whether that’s top 50, top 30, top 20, top 10, I don’t know. … But I mean, she has that pedigree and she’s a really, really good tennis player.”

Bouchard spent the WTA season suspension in Las Vegas working with Andre Agassi’s former trainer Gil Reyes, known as one of the toughest fitness enforcers in the sport.

Often riddled with criticism about her commitment to excellence, Tebbutt said the move to Reyes shows Bouchard’s focus on getting back on track.

“Bouchard has pulled herself up by her bootstraps. She’s really, really worked hard in Las Vegas. And Gil Reyes is maybe one of the very, very best guys to work with to get her fit. She’s got the basic fitness thing. Now, that’s not a concern for her anymore.”

‘Resembles what she used to be’

After taking the first set 6-2 against Tig in Istanbul, Tebbutt theorizes that Bouchard simply ran out of steam after a long week that included qualifying. Meanwhile, Tig had her husband and child in the stands which seemed to lead to some inspired tennis.

The loss doesn’t take away from the fact that Bouchard seems to have found a groove.

“If you watch her play, it certainly resembles what she used to be. It’s not like the error-prone thing that was going on and off for the last three or four years,” Tebbutt said.

Tebbutt said one sign to watch for with Bouchard is her swing volley. A difficult shot for most, the forehand shot was once Bouchard’s bread and butter and Tebbutt said it’s once again become a weapon for the Canadian.

For Bouchard, the natural talent has always existed — you don’t get to No. 5 in the world by accident. Instead, it was the mental side of tennis that played a large part in derailing Bouchard’s career for a time.

“My theory has been there’s too many scars,” Tebbutt said. “You just think you should win and you keep getting reinforced by the fact you are winning and all of a sudden you start losing to people and you just don’t have that basic confidence or free-swinging feel on the court because you’ve had these setbacks.”

Emergence of Fernandez

Fernandez won the junior French Open title in 2019 and remains at the point of her career where expectations have yet to catch up with success. Tebbutt said it’s reminiscent of where Bouchard stood before her Grand Slam runs.

“Fernandez just crunches every single shot and she’s in that bulletproof phase that Bouchard was in right now,” he said.  “And she hasn’t had too many setbacks. She has a lot of confidence. She’s had good results. So she’s a very, very promising player.”

WATCH | Fernandez falls to Kenin at U.S. Open:

Laval’s Leylah Annie Fernandez lost 6-4, 6-3 to No. 2 seed Sofia Kenin of the United States in a second-round match at the U.S. Open on Thursday. 2:44

In some ways, dealing with the burden of success is a good problem to have. At 18, it’s a place to which Fernandez strives. For now, though, it’s baby steps: qualify for the Australian, win a match at the U.S., and then maybe take a couple at the French.

At just five-foot-four, Fernandez could be limited by her stature, though the fact that she’s left-handed makes up for it some.

“Nobody wants to play against her because she’s gung-ho and she’s got a very, very aggressive game and she doesn’t ever let up and she’s totally intense and totally ambitious. So she definitely can win a round or two or three,” Tebbutt said.

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