It’s not a Eugenie Bouchard match without a hint of drama. But the story of the Canadian’s 6-4 6-4 win over Anna Kalinskaya at Roland Garros was her resilience. The Russian broke Bouchard four times and four times Bouchard broke back immediately. That fighting spirit, combined with an excellent day on return, fired Bouchard to her first win in the main draw at a Grand Slam since she beat Peng Shuai in the first round at the 2019 Australian Open.
“I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life, so in a lot of my matches recently, I’ve believed in myself,” Bouchard told reporters after her match. “Being able to rely on my fitness has definitely given me confidence, so I feel like I can stay out there with anyone.”
In both sets, Bouchard found herself down a break, but at no point did she give her opponent an inch in the mental battle. As a result, some swift movement around the court and powerful strikes off the ground allowed her to battle back into contention. A high first-serve percentage, with Bouchard making 63% of her first serves, also helped. But it was her return game that proved crucial. She broke Kalinskaya six times, with the Russian able to hold serve only twice.
Bouchard also showed a commendable willingness to embrace the physical challenge imposed by clay-court tennis. It is a surface she has enjoyed success on throughout her career. Bouchard reached the semifinals at Roland Garros in 2014 and she has impressed on the ‘terre battue’ so far this season, reaching the last eight at the Prague Open and the final at the Istanbul Cup as a qualifier. In fact, it was her exploits in Istanbul that helped her secure a wildcard at the French Open.
“I’ve always enjoyed the suffering of clay as well. It’s really just about the mindset of, ‘Okay, I’m going to be out here for 3 hours. I have to accept that the points are gonna be long, that it’s gonna hurt my legs.’ But it’s very gratifying to go through that,” Bouchard said.
Bouchard’s journey back into contention at the Majors has been arduous. Just a year ago, she was playing principally at ITF-level after her ranking plummeted outside the top 150 and was short of both form and fitness. But she has found both since the season resumed. In Istanbul, she played three matches that went the distance, including the final against Patricia Maria Tig and, whilst she came up just short, Bouchard’s confidence in herself soared, with her physical resilience having returned.
“I worked a lot on strength, and when I feel that, I feel like I can play all day long. It’s clay here, so it’s more demanding for your muscles & endurance-wise. I kind of mentally tell myself, ‘Okay, I have to grind it out.’ It’s fun in a tough, painful way,” Bouchard said.
In August, when professional tennis returned, Bouchard was ranked 330th in the world. Now, she is the world #168 and is set to break back into the world’s top 150. In the second round, the 26-year-old will play Daria Gavrilova, who stunned the 27th seed Dayana Yastremska 6-4 6-4, in what looks like a winnable match for the Canadian. Bouchard is a fighter, a player who never quits even when the odds are stacked against her. And she looks set to do some damage in Paris.
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