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In her first public comments since the US Open, Canadian tennis star Eugenie Bouchard won't commit to January's Australian Open
By Stephanie Myles
19 November, 2015 11:39 AM
Asked about whether she was looking forward to January's Australian Open, the first major of the 2016 season and her best tournament effort of the 2015 season, Bouchard was vague.
"I don’t know yet. I don’t want to make any comments or commitments in terms of that. Just doing my best to try to get healthy, and yeah, just want to stay positive," she said.
It was thin soup, indeed. Clearly the ground rules about the media opportunity – little more than a breezy, live, breakfast-show hit with dozens of Nike-clad early-morning exercisers in the background – were laid out in advance. There were no questions about what took place in that locker room, or anything after that including Bouchard's aborted attempt at a return to play in China. That's fairly understandable.
That much was clear when Bouchard called the interviewer out on her off-camera pledge that she wouldn't bring up Bieber's name, smiling through gritted teeth.
In a TSN interview earlier this week, Bouchard lawyer Benedict Morelli said Bouchard had been feeling concussion symptoms as recently as 2 1/2 weeks ago and had to repeat the concussion protocol before being cleared to resume practicing, which he said she had returned to Florida to start doing. He added that he "didn't know if she had gotten over the symptoms."
"I've spoken to Genie (on the telephone). Genie is going to try to her best to be able to come back. She really has a very big problem with this concussion and this traumatic brain injury. We are hopeful this will not be a permanent situation. She is starting to practice as we speak, and trying to get back into shape to be able to play," Morelli told TSN. "We believe that ultimately she’s going to be okay. But her ranking is dropping precipitously. Most people don’t realize that if you don’t play, you lose so much, not only in your ability to win, but in your ranking."
Morelli told ESPN.com that the Bouchard told him the USTA was "being really aggressive" with her. "She wasn't really angry about this. She was just upset," he said, adding that none of Bouchard's big sponsors have yet indicated they had any issues. "But that’s another problem, potentially," he said.
Morelli reiterated his stance that despite Bouchard's struggles in 2015, the 21-year-old had a legitimate shot at the US Open and the accident cost her a legitimate opportunity.
"My argument is, this is a young woman, at 21 years old, has already reached the semi-finals in two majors, the finals at Wimbledon, and was once ranked five in the world. The woman who won the US Open (Flavia Pennetta), was 32, never won a major and as soon as she won, she retired. And Serena didn’t win, obviously," he said. "Genie was already in the round of 16. She was playing really, really well, and anyone who knows tennis knows the round of 16, not that bad. Not bad at all."
Bouchard's early 2016 schedule remains unconfirmed.
She reportedly was not interested in returning to Perth, Australia the first week of January to take part in the Hopman Cup, a mixed exhibition event she played in 2014 with Milos Raonic and this year with Vasek Pospisil. It would have been a perfect, no-pressure way to easy back into competition after what will essentially be four months away.
Rather, reports this week were that Bouchard is already entered in the WTA tournament in Shenzen, China, which takes place the same week and is arguably the most low-profile of the tournaments on the schedule that week. (The others are in Brisbane, Australia - a Premier event with a tougher field and more prize money - and Auckland, New Zealand, which is a lot closer to the site of the Australian Open in Melbourne).
As for the week before the Australian Open, which begins Jan. 18, Bouchard's currently-fallen ranking is likely to keep her out of another Premier event in Sydney, one she has played twice before. It's a 32-player draw and the average ranking cutoff over the last six editions has been No. 31 – a long way from Bouchard's currently WTA Tour ranking of No. 48.
She would need a wild card to avoid the relative ignominy of qualifying, and the tournament generally awards its available free passes to Australian players.
The other option would be a tournament Hobart, Tasmania, an International-level event. That's the lowest tier on the WTA Tour; Bouchard played just one tournament at that level in 2015, a grass-court tuneup in 's-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands before Wimbledon.
She will be unseeded at the Australian Open, and therefore at the mercy of the draw gods to avoid facing a top player as early as the first round.
All that is assuming she is fit, eager and ready to go as 2016 dawns. If she is, she will be under pressure from the get-go.