Last year Eugenie Bouchard took the WTA Tour by storm, advancing to the semifinals or better at every Grand Slam, except the U.S. Open.
But then came the slump.
This year, the U.S. Open is serving as a springboard, bouncing Bouchard back to her winning ways. The 21-year-old Canadian defeated a feisty Dominika Cibulkova, to advance to the fourth round.
Awakened from a nearly year-long slumber, Bouchard, No. 25, could be the sleeper at Flushing Meadows. It appears she's finally gotten her groove back.
Still excited about her win over Cibulkova, Bouchard told the crowd in Louis Armstrong Stadium (via ESPN broadcast), “I can’t feel my body.”
Nobody expected her to do much. Going into the U.S. Open, Bouchard had lost 15 of her last 17 matches.
So how did she lift her game from a downward spiral to pre-slump level?
It started with regaining her confidence. Bouchard told Sports Illustrated, “I had so much confidence last year. This year, after losing a couple matches, I felt like that went down a little bit, even though it shouldn’t have. I feel like I’m rebuilding that. It’s definitely helping me on the court.” Tennis writer Jeff Donaldson highlighted the importance of this win to Bouchard:
Kicked Coach to the Curb
She also parted ways with coach Sam Sumyk in early August. It's not that Sumyk was an unproven commodity. He guided Victoria Azarenka to two Australian Open titles and a No. 1 ranking. But Bouchard spoke with Tennis.com's Kamakshi Tandon about the why she decided to go in another direction.
“It definitely wasn't working. There were some big problems, and I just felt like I, you know, had to make a change. I think that was necessary for me.”
For a while, ditching Sumyk didn't seem to solve her problem. Bouchard struggled throughout the U.S. Open series.
She then brought in Jimmy Connors as a consultant. Connors, who made it clear that he was not Bouchard's coach, told Tennis.com that Bouchard "has what it takes" to regain the form that helped her reach a career-high No. 5.
"I like her work ethic and the way she goes about her business. You can’t paint that on anybody; that’s either there or it’s not. She deserves to be at the top, and she’s shown that."
Let Go and Lightened Up
Falling out of the top 20 may have also helped ease expectations. With the over-hype in hibernation, Bouchard could focus on tennis.
She seems to be enjoying herself more. She remains intense on the court, but doesn't take herself as serious as she did last year. Jacob Pacheco noted Bouchard and Kyrgios won their mixed doubles match:
She surprised many when she came to the defense of the ATP Tour's bad boy, Nick Kyrgios. Bouchard told TSN's Mark Masters (via TennisNow) that Kyrgios was good for the game. “He’s energetic and charismatic, and that’s a really unique thing that we don’t have so much on the tour so I think we need people like him on the tour," she said (also via Australia's News.com).
The two decided to partner in mixed doubles. During their win over Elina Svitolina and Artem Sitak, Bouchard and Kyrgios could be seen laughing between points and giggling through changeovers.
Kept Calm and Didn't Choke
Squandering leads and blowing big points had become the hallmark of Bouchard's play during her slump. After her second-round win over Polona Hercog, Bouchard told reporters that she was most proud of how she was able to block out negative thoughts and stay focused.
"I've had a couple [of] matches where it's been tough to close out. I just tried to block that out of my mind, block the outcome as well out of my mind, you know, and just keep playing tennis. Keep trying to play good tennis."
Against Cibulkova, Bouchard fought off five set points in the opening set. She told USOpen.org tennis writer Richard Finn, “When I watch the match, I will have a heart attack watching all of those set points."
Bouchard next faces unseeded Roberta Vinci. In fact, the only seeded player left in Bouchard's quarter is Ekaterina Makarova. How quickly Bouchard's fortunes have changed. She's already defended her points from last year. So for the first time in a while, Bouchard literally has nothing to lose.