TENNIS

Eugenie Bouchard happy to feel the burn after successful return to tennis

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VANCOUVER — Her first match exhausted her physically and mentally, but Eugenie Bouchard couldn’t be happier.

After a 17-month layoff following right shoulder surgery, the Westmount, Que., native is back in tennis at the Odlum Brown VanOpen.

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“The whole point of surgery and coming back is to be able to play exactly how I want to and how I played before,” the 28-year-old former world No. 5 said on Monday.

“That’s what we do as athletes. The goal is not to train all the time, the goal is to play.”

Bouchard opened the tournament on Sunday night, teaming up with compatriot Kayla Cross to defeat Italians Lucia Bronzetti and Elisabetta Cocciaretto in a doubles match.

“I was exhausted,” said Bouchard with a smile. “I started to feel tight in my body, my muscles were getting sore.

“It’s just that mental focus. Playing a match is different from training. It’s about getting those reps over and over again. I’ll gain stamina from it and I can go back to playing matches quite normally, but it’s only a small step.”

Bouchard plays her first singles match on Tuesday against Arianne Hartoro of the Netherlands, a player she knows nothing about. Bouchard knows there may be bumps in the road and accepts being an underdog.

“Expectations are really low, expectations are off the ground,” the two-time Canadian Press female athlete of the year told The Canadian Press. “My actions and my personal standards are high but in terms of results, we don’t know what to expect.

“I’ve never had to come back from surgery before, I’ve never had such a bad injury. For me, that’s really ground zero.”

The Odlum Brown VanOpen ends on Sunday. The tournament, which returns after missing two years due to COVID-19, has drawn 135 players to Hollyburn Country Club who are vying for a combined purse of more than US$274,360.

The men’s tournament, which has a top prize of $21,600, has been an ATP Challenger Tour event for several years. For the first time this year, the women’s competition is a WTA 125 tournament with a top prize of $15,000.

Bouchard, who received a wild card for the tournament, last played in March 2021 at the Monterrey Open where she suffered a shoulder injury in a first-round match against Zhu Lin.

Bouchard became the first Canadian to advance to the Grand Slam singles final in 2014 when she lost in the Wimbledon final to Petra Kvitova. She also reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open and the French Open that year.

Since then, Bouchard has battled multiple injuries, including a concussion after a fall in the locker room at the US Open.

Dealing with injuries and time away from the game has been a learning experience.

“I’ve learned a lot in life and been through some really tough times,” she said. “It really tested my patience to be out for so long. It’s not like when you retire and you’re at peace with the stoppage. It’s like a forced step. C is difficult to accept mentally.

“It made me realize how much I love tennis. There are so many other beautiful things in life besides tennis, but that’s what I want to do now and for the next few years.”

Vancouver resident Rebecca Marino, who is also competing in this year’s tournament, understands the challenges Bouchard faces.

Marino broke onto the WTA Tour and reached a career-high No. 38 in 2011 before leaving the sport in 2013 due to depression. She returned to tennis in 2017 and then missed another 18 months due to injury.

“Coming back, without having been in a game, it’s really hard to replicate that game feeling from practice to competition,” she said. “There are a lot of nerves in your first event, there are a lot of challenges.”

Bouchard competed in the Odlum Brown event as a junior in 2012, the same summer she won the Wimbledon junior women’s title.

Other tennis stars who have played at the event include Marino, Milos Raonic, Maria Sharapova, Andy Murray, Leylah Fernandez, Johanna Konta, Kevin Anderson, Vasek Pospisil, Marion Bartoli, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Bianca Andreescu, Taylor Fritz , Naomi Osaka and Karolina Pliskova.

Bouchard knows she’s at the start of a new journey, but doesn’t know where it will end.

“The whole point of the surgery and the return is to be able to play exactly how I want to and how I played before,” she said. “It (the first game) went well, and everything is fine. Now the goal is just to accumulate games and I hope everything is fine with my shoulder.

“The journey is as long as it takes. I love playing tennis. I’m just here to do what I can.”

BASE LINES: Two seeded women’s singles were uprooted on Monday. Heather Watson of Great Britain knocked out eighth-seeded Elisabetta Cocciaretto of Italy 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, while Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva of Andorra beat seventh-seeded Misaki Doi series, Japan, 6-3, 6-2. … Vancouver’s Rebecca Marino will face American Emma Navarro on Tuesday in her first singles match at Hollyburn Country Club. … Gabriel Diallo of Montreal is the first Canadian male player to advance to the second round of singles after beating Belgian Zizou Bergs, ranked 154th in the world, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (5). Diallo is ranked 553rd in the world. … Vasek Pospisil of Vancouver plays his first singles match on Tuesday against Felipe Meligeni Alves of Brazil.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on August 15, 2022.

Jim Morris, The Canadian Press

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