We’ve finally made it once again to Montréal, as we’re here for the last WTA Tour stop before the 2016 Rio Olympics. Like last year, when the men took center stage, we will provide a day-by-day commentary and recap of some of the best moments from each day spent around the tennis courts on the street named after baseball Hall of Famer Gary Carter.
Here’s our best of Day 2 at Coupe Rogers.
At this time two years ago, Eugenie Bouchard was the “it” girl of professional women’s tennis not named Serena Williams. Also at that time, you’d probably have a hard time identifying Françoise Abanda from a lineup of tennis players. Yesterday, both delivered two of the biggest storylines at Day 2 of the Rogers Cup.
Bouchard, who’s still looking to recover the form that saw her soar into the Wimbledon final just a couple of years ago, delivered a dramatic 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 win over a fellow one-time Grand Slam singles finalist, Lucie Safarova, in a first-round match that had the atmosphere of a quarterfinal night match at the U.S. Open in New York. But the emotion shown by Genie right after the last ball was struck, while somewhat surprising, certainly has its foundation.
It was at this time in 2014, after reaching the semifinals in each of the three majors played that year, that “Genie-mania” reached its apogee, as she returned to Canada not only as a hero, but probably the country’s most talked-about and popular athlete – professional hockey players included. Her first match in Montréal at the Rogers Cup in 2014 was hyped to the Nth degree, so much so that members of “Genie’s Army” were flown in from Australia to watch their idol in her homeland. She requested the night match in her first round match, which would create a charged evening atmosphere at Stade Uniprix almost resembling a Davis Cup match.
Her 2014 Rogers Cup lasted all of three sets, as Bouchard shockingly lost to unheralded American Shelby Rogers 0-6, 6-2, 0-6. Though she reached the fourth round at the U.S. Open later on in the summer, Bouchard’s form dipped significantly, and that drop in form now sees her at No. 42 in the world, hoping to reclaim even a semblance of what she was a couple of years back before the end of 2016.
Given all that happened in the same event two years ago, Bouchard’s win yesterday – in which she requested a day match to take off some of the pressure off of her – was significant, especially after she led triple match point slip away on Safarova’s serve at 5-6, 0-40 in the third. Genie refocused, hit a couple of remarkable down-the-line winners in the tiebreak, and looked poised while doing it. Her reaction afterward said it all.
Bouchard did not take center stage during the evening, but another Canadian, the 19-year-old Abanda from Montréal, was forced to after Garbiñe Muguruza pulled out of the tournament with a gastrointestinal illness just minutes before she was to step on center court. Abanda’s match was moved from the secondary Banque Nationale to Stade Uniprix, but that didn’t stop any nerves from creeping in as she got out to a roaring start in defeating Chinese qualifier Saisai Zheng 6-1, 7-5. OK, maybe nerves did creep in after the 242nd-ranked Abanda let a 4-1 lead slip against No. 66 Zheng, but she recovered to win the final two games of the set and the match.
After her match, I was told by a couple of reporters that Abanda, who was once ranked No. 4 in the world in juniors in 2013, was not much for being on camera and being interviewed. Not only was she poised in answering questions in English and French, but she also took in the atmosphere that comes when winning a match in a Masters 1000 series event, taking out her cell phone to pan and record all of the media members present in the room before taking a selfie.
For the first time, I had a chance to sit down at a press conference featuring Venus Williams, and it was just a wonder to behold.
Obviously, it’s not everyday that you get to share the same room as a seven-time Grand Slam singles champion who’s undoubtedly one of the greatest players ever. Even more so, Venus is as humble, kind and generous of a person as you may ever want to meet. That’s something that I’ve heard about her many times, but it doesn’t do it justice until you get to see it in person. We did yesterday, and we were very fortunate to have witnessed it.
Venus, who’s coming off a semifinal appearance at Wimbledon and finishing runner-up to Johanna Konta in Stanford last week, summed up her last couple of months this way: “It’s been a whirlwind summer. I’m not getting a lot of rest, but that’s a good problem to have because you are getting deep into events.”
Her most poignant words came when asked about the Olympics, and being an Olympian for the fifth time coming up in Rio: “The Olympic Games are so special. The whole world watches when the Olympics are going on. I think everyone has those moments when you’re holding your breath watching that race or that, whatever it is. So to be part of that moment is just legendary to me.”
“[Rio] is different because, the first four, you feel like you’re in the middle of your career. Now, I’m thinking about “Oh my gosh, this could be my last Olympics. And it’s a lot of pressure. If I continue playing at this rate, who knows, maybe I’ll be in Tokyo. Right now, I’m going to enjoy the moment and enjoy being an Olympian.”
Coupe Rogers Pride
One of the main reasons why I decided to return to Montréal this year, despite a couple of conflicts in my schedule making it touch to be here for the entire tournament, is because of the amazing hospitality and professionalism of the Coupe Rogers media relations staff and volunteer workers.
It probably speaks a lot to the city itself and the wonderful people who reside in it, but this reporter couldn’t help but smile when being around all of the people who make this tournament – one of the best tennis tournaments in the world -run so smoothly, led by communications and media relations manager Valerie Tetreault. That, and my (slightly) improved French is making communicating with them much for fun, let alone educational!
Rafraîchissant! (That’s “refreshing” in French.)
[Cover photo (Venus Williams) courtesy of Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images North America]