Will Early Hype Hurt Eugenie Bouchard's Promising Career?

Merlisa Lawrence CorbettFeatured ColumnistFebruary 3, 2014

Eugenie Bouchard gets prepared for a photo shoot in Singapore.
Eugenie Bouchard gets prepared for a photo shoot in Singapore.Rahman Roslan/Getty Images

Eugenie Bouchard, 19, has been called the new golden girl, the future face of tennis and the next Maria Sharapova. That's a lot of hype for a teenager who has yet to win her first WTA title.

Bouchard's surprising run to the semifinals at the 2014 Australian Open demonstrates she has talent. But could all the early hype hurt her?

Already on the future star radar, Bouchard leaped to "It Girl" status after she upset Ana Ivanovic in the quarterfinals at the Aussie Open.

Last year, another 19-year-old reached the semifinals at the Australian Open. Sloane Stephens became an overnight sensation after she upset Serena Williams in the quarterfinals. However, the spotlight proved too hot for Stephens. After the Australian Open she went on a horrendous slump, which included her being essentially benched in Fed Cup play. It took her months to get back on track. 

Sometimes the burden of being the "next big thing" is too heavy for some players. 

Eugenie Bouchard with Chris Evert in Singapore to promote WTA.
Eugenie Bouchard with Chris Evert in Singapore to promote WTA.Rahman Roslan/Getty Images

Bouchard, ranked No. 19, is being hyped well beyond her accomplishments. Did Bouchard win the Australian Open? No. Li Na did. But judging from the amount of space allotted to Bouchard on the WTA website, you would have thought she did.

An attractive up-and-coming star will always garner media attention. What is odd about Bouchard's hype is that much of it is coming from the WTA, an organization that represents all players. 

It's clear the WTA has selected Bouchard as the player it wants to promote. At the Australian Open, she participated in Kid's Day, an honor usually reserved for more accomplished players. She was there hamming it up with Roger Federer, Sam Stosur, Rafael Nadal, Lleyton Hewitt, Victoria Azarenka and Patrick Rafter. She was the only person without a Grand Slam title.

A few days later, she was featured with tennis legend Chris Evert in publicity shots from Singapore to promote the WTA's Championships. Her agent made news touting her as the "next Sharapova" and even boasted that Bouchard could exceed the Russian star in endorsement deals. That's pretty bold considering that Sharapova has earned more in endorsements than any woman in the history of sports. 

With the comparisons to Sharapova, it's easy to conclude that being tall and blond is the driving force behind the hype.

However, with Bouchard there may be something more. 

Bouchard is from Canada. When she was 12, she won the Stacey Allaster Scholarship. That's right, the scholarship was set up in the name of Allaster, the chairman and CEO of the WTA, when she was an executive with Tennis Canada. 

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 11:  (L-R) Lleyton Hewitt, Eugenie Bouchard, Samantha Stosur, Roger Federer, Victoria Azarenka, Rafael Nadal and Pat Rafter pose following the Rod Laver Arena Spectacular as part of Kids Tennis Day ahead of the 2014 Australi
Graham Denholm/Getty Images

Hopefully, Bouchard will concentrate on her tennis and let others worry about the hype. Maybe it's her agent and not Bouchard who aspires to duplicate the accomplishments of Sharapova instead of those achieved by Steffi Graf, Justine Henin or Serena Williams.

Sharapova is certainly no slacker. She's won four Grand Slam titles and is headed for the Hall of Fame. But Bouchard's agent has been quoted more about what his client could make in endorsements than what she can achieve on the courts.

Bouchard has a solid game. But Li exposed her lack of movement. After veteran players, including Sharapova, get enough tape on her, they will be able to expose even more weaknesses.  

The Canadian is still young and has time to iron out the flaws in her game. That's why the last thing she needs is the distraction of trying to live up to the unstated beauty contest the WTA has become.

Eugenie Bouchard follows Chris Evert, the original golden girl, at a press event in Singapore.
Eugenie Bouchard follows Chris Evert, the original golden girl, at a press event in Singapore.Rahman Roslan/Getty Images

It's OK to sign endorsement deals. But Bouchard needs to focus on her game. The money will come. Kim Clijsters, Serena Williams, Venus Williams and Justine Henin are all multimillionaires. 

And it's easy to get sidetracked when cameras and dollars are thrown in your face. Especially when it comes so quickly. Bouchard has to think about why she's getting the attention. Yes, she's attractive. But it's the tennis that has put her on the world's stage. 

Anna Kournikova made more in endorsements than Graf. But Graf's career demands a chapter in the book on tennis history. Kournikova is a footnote.

Being a great tennis player carries with it a lifetime of earning opportunities. The shelf life of a beauty queen is limited.

It's OK to be an endorsement darling. Peyton Manning runs circles around Tom Brady as a pitchman. But Manning would probably gladly trade a few Papa John's ads for another Super Bowl ring. 

If Bouchard plays well and wins titles, the endorsements will come. In the meantime, she might want to ignore the hype. It could crush her career before it truly takes off.