Eugenie Bouchard, once the WTA Tour's new golden girl, is turning into a problem child.
Last year's breakout star and media darling is struggling on tour and making news for the wrong reasons. A few days ago, during a Fed Cup draw ceremony, Bouchard refused to shake the hand of her opponent.
The Fed Cup ritual is not mandatory. It's just an act of goodwill in international play between two countries. But Bouchard has turned this simple gesture into some sort of competitive issue.
"It's nothing personal toward her, I just don't believe in wishing my opponent good luck before the match," Bouchard told the Daily Mail as she explained why she decided to pass on the handshake with Romania's Alexandra Dulgheru.
Note to Bouchard: It's tennis, and your opponent is not an enemy combatant.
Bouchard also refused to shake hands with Slovakia's Kristina Kucova at last year's Fed Cup event. Bouchard's excuse then? It's "lame," she told reporters in the press conference. Her Canadian teammates had no problem with the shaking hands.
Beyond rude, refusing to shake hands is silly.
Besides, her intimidation tactic backfired. Dulgheru beat Bouchard 6-4, 6-4. After her win, Dulgheru mocked Bouchard by playfully not shaking her coach's hand.
The next day, Bouchard lost to Andreea Mitu, who was filling in for the injured Irina-Camelia Begu. The Bouchard-led Canadian team went 1-3 against the Simona Halep-less Romanians. Canada's only win came from teen Francoise Abanda.
Bouchard has lost six of her last eight matches and is 6-5 this year. She is ranked No. 29 in points earned this season. Contemporaries, Madison Keys, Caroline Garcia, Garbine Muguruza and Elina Svitolina, are all having better years than Bouchard. Per Sports Illustrated, Dulgheri discussed how Bouchard's refusal to shake her hand served as motivation for her:
Yet, Bouchard chose to draw attention to herself because of this self-imposed rule she has about not offering goodwill to opponents before matches.
How silly and unnecessary. Grand Slam champions and players ranked from No. 1 to No. 200 have consented to shaking hands in this harmless ceremony, for years.
Then along comes Bouchard and she can't be bothered with such a "lame" gesture.
For someone who has been touted as the next mega-endorsement, Bouchard is working hard at not being liked. It's not just what she says, but it's also how she says it. Bouchard sometimes shrugs her shoulders and projects indifference with a hint of snobbery.
Playing the diva is tricky, even for accomplished icons such as Williams and Sharapova. However, when you're still a fresh face on tour and struggling like Bouchard, it's best to ditch the attitude.
Bouchard was also at the center of a controversial fine the WTA ended up leveling at the Honk Kong Tennis Association. According to South China Morning Post's Alvin Sallay in September 2014, Bouchard was scheduled to play at the inaugural Hong Kong Open in September. She withdrew with little notice, "citing fatigue."
The tournament's president, Herbert Chow Siu-lung, expressed his frustration and told the media that he was disappointed that Bouchard didn't "honor her commitment."
The WTA initially fined Chow $10,000 for breaking the world governing body's code of conduct for disparaging Bouchard with his comments, but it has since shifted the fine to the tournament itself.
According to Saval in another report for the Morning Post this Saturday, Chow described the shift as bullying. In the 2014 report, he pointed out that appearance fees were in place and that she was also going to receive a bonus if she reached the top 10. Bouchard lost at the U.S. Open Sept. 3. She declared her withdrawal Sept. 6, leaving little time for the tournament to get the news out to fans, with the Hong Kong Open beginning on Sept. 8.
Chow said Saturday, "I am baffled the WTA has ignored the efforts of the Hong Kong Tennis Open and just focused on protecting and spoiling one player."
Bouchard has said more than once that she is not on tour to make friends. She made sure the media didn't hype her relationship with Maria Sharapova, which was likely fueled by a photo she took with the five-time Slam champion as a child. "We are certainly not friends," Bouchard told reporters. Quoted in USA Today, Bouchard explained her attitude toward friends on the tour:
I don't think the tennis tour is the place to have friends. For me it's all competition. I think it's important to just remember that we're going to play against each other in matches. It's not like we're teammates. To me, it's kind of more competitive.
She may be likened to Sharapova in terms of marketability. But Sharapova is far too media savvy to produce such ugly optics as refusing to shake an extended friendly hand.
Perhaps the fame, fortune and wins came too fast. Bouchard admitted to the Guardian's Ben Rothenberg that after making the semifinals in three Grand Slams in 2014, she loss sight of reality:
You get used to it a bit. I made three semis in a row, and I was like, "OK, this is normal, I'm going to do this for the rest of my career." So I look back and I'm like, wow.
In the moment I try to stay in the moment and try not to think it's a big deal. It's just one match, just one tournament. But looking back now, that's an amazing result. It doesn't always happen, even though you hope it does. You should just appreciate it and enjoy it.
Bouchard got a wake-up call against Petra Kvitova in the 2014 Wimbledon final. She arrived in the final heralded as the golden girl. Complete with reign over her own army, she was called "Princess Eugenie."
But Kvitova, the 2011 Wimbledon champion, beat Bouchard, 6-3, 6-0 in 55 minutes. In fact Bouchard hasn't quite been her super-glossy self since then.
Soon after the embarrassing loss at Wimbledon, Bouchard went on a losing streak. She disappointed Canadians who came out in full force to cheer her on at the Rogers Cup in Montreal. She lost her first match to lowly ranked American Shelby Rogers.
How difficult is it to shake someone's hand? This is tennis, the only sport where you help your opponent get loose before a match. Will she refuse pre-match warm-ups?
Williams and gal pal Caroline Wozniacki party together and somehow manage to come out fighting on the court. Does Bouchard seriously believe a handshake is going to tip the scales in her opponent's favor? How arrogant to think your mere blessings of goodwill are enough to impact the outcome of the match?
One thing Bouchard has on her side is she's young. She just turned 21. There is time to recover from public blunders. (See: LeBron James and The Decision).
Hopefully, Bouchard gets over herself soon. Then maybe one day, she'll look back on this ridiculous no-handshake rule and laugh.