Eugenie Bouchard says she felt “inspired” by the unexpected support she got from the locker room before her match with Maria Sharapova, and that is was one of her “prouder matches in the past couple years”.
The Canadian former world No5 was happy to back up her strong comments against Sharapova with victory over her in the Madrid Open second round on Monday night. Bouchard, who called Sharapova a “cheater” that shouldn’t be allowed back in the sport, claimed a 7-5, 2-6, 6-4 win over the former world No1.
It was the best tennis Bouchard has managed to produce since her breakthrough 2014 season that saw her reach No5 in the world, before suffering a collapse and slipping in the rankings.
“I definitely had some extra motivation going into today,” admitted Bouchard after her win. “Obviously I had never beaten her before (in four matches). Also given the circumstances…
“I was actually quite inspired before the match because I had a lot of players coming up to me privately wishing me good luck, players I don’t normally speak to, getting a lot of texts from people in the tennis world that were just rooting for me.
“So I wanted to do it for myself, but also all these people. I really felt support.”
Bouchard is one of a fairly small group of players who have openly spoken out against Sharapova in light of her failed drugs test and subsequent suspension. The Canadian was the harshest though, saying Sharapova deserves a lifetime ban.
The 23-year-old Bouchard believes many players share her views but simply haven’t said it publicly.
“It’s just some girls in the locker room are coming up to me and really wishing me good luck before matches, which doesn’t normally happen to me. Players I don’t normally speak to is more what I said,” Bouchard said.
“It showed me that most people have my opinion, and they were just maybe scared to speak out. But privately, you know, I’ve gotten a lot of support, so… I was inspired and motivated to play.”
Bouchard and Sharapova battled for two hours and 51 minutes in what was a high-intensity, high-quality affair.
They hit a combined 64 winners – 44 off the Sharapova racquet – and had 36 break points between them.
“It definitely helps when you can back it up,” Bouchard said when asked if she felt she needed to walk the walk, having talked the talk ahead of the match.
“Obviously, there was a lot going on besides tennis in this match, as well. As soon as I stepped on the court, I really just wanted to make it about tennis. We both did that. We just battled our hearts out, I think.”
Bouchard had lost five tour-level first rounds in a row heading into Madrid and her victory over Alize Cornet in the first round was her first (tour-level) since the Australian Open in January.
She is ranked No60 in the world and was bageled in the quarter-finals of an ITF tournament last month.
Her form against Sharapova on Monday was a far cry from what we’ve seen from her for the past two years.
“Overall, with the whole mental aspect, just fighting and playing almost a three-hour match, the physical battles, I mean, she’s playing really well right now. Everything together, for sure, it’s one of my more prouder matches in the past couple years,” she said of her performance against Sharapova.
Bouchard next faces German top seed Angelique Kerber in the third round on Wednesday. Players often suffer letdowns after pulling off massive wins and the Canadian is hoping she avoids that.
“Yeah, that’s a very valid point. I want to maybe rest my brain a little bit, not think about it too much for tomorrow. I have the day off, which is good,” she said.
“I want to go for it. I’m the underdog, by far. It’s nice to have this position these past couple years. So I want to at least take advantage of that, just go for it, play good tennis, build on this, and enjoy it, kind of just show what I can do.
“Yeah, just go for it.”
Bouchard was seen mouthing “just go for it” before her last serve of the match against Sharapova. She did. And it paid off. She’ll need a lot more of that against Kerber.
Eugenie Bouchard rolled back the years by producing the best tennis she’s played in almost three years to defeat Maria Sharapova 7-5, 2-6, 6-4 in a near-three-hour thriller at the Caja Magica on Monday night.
The Canadian world No60 claimed her first win in five attempts against Sharapova, who was playing her sixth match since her return from a 15-month doping suspension.
The build-up of the contest saw Bouchard fire strong words at her opponent, saying she was a “cheater” who shouldn’t be allowed back in the sport. The 23-year-old also said she’d have some extra motivation to beat Sharapova, who refused to engage in a war of words.
But the sub-plot created lots of buzz ahead of the clash and the pair did not disappoint as they played one of the best tennis matches we’ve seen all year.
In a tight showdown that witnessed a combined 36 break points, it was Bouchard who played better when it mattered the most.
Bouchard had to save a break point to hold for 1-all. A nervy forehand unforced error from Sharapova saw her face two break points in game five but the Russian survived both, the latter with a massive backhand cross court winner.
A stunning running forehand cross court winner gave Sharapova game point and she held to inch ahead 3-2.
It was Bouchard’s turn to get in trouble and the Canadian found herself down 0-40. Sharapova broke on her second opportunity with a signature forehand return winner to open up a 4-2 gap.
A failed drop shot attempt from Sharapova – her 10th unforced error of the match thus far – saw her face break point the next game. She saved it but Bouchard still broke on her third chance in a nine-minute game to make it 3-4.
Bouchard took three games on the trot to go up a break and serve for the set at 5-4. But Sharapova had other plans and begged her back.
A marathon 12-minute game saw Sharapova get broken as Bouchard once again got the opportunity to serve for the set, this time at 6-5.
An incredible forehand down the line forehand winner from Sharapova saw her get break point but Bouchard found her serve when she needed it and shook it off. The world No60 finally closed it out with some big serving after 70 minutes of sheer battle.
Sharapova saved a break point in game three of the second set by moving Bouchard left and right before finishing off with the backhand cross court winner. She hung on and was helped by a pep talk from her coach Sven Groeneveld, who asked her to be “the aggressor”.
A bad double fault from Bouchard gave Sharapova three break points and the Canadian double-faulted again to hand over the break and go down 2-4. Bouchard, who hadn’t played at this high level of intensity for a long time, looked like she ran out of steam and Sharapova pounced on the opportunity.
The five-time grand slam champion got her hands on two set points on the Bouchard serve and Sharapova sealed it with a brilliant combo of a sharp-angled forehand followed by a down the line drive winner to level the match.
Some unreal movement from Sharapova saw her cover every inch of the court to get break point in Bouchard’s first service game of the decider. But the 23-year-old dug deep to hold for 1-1.
Bouchard’s fighting spirit was back and she got three break points on the Sharapova serve the next game. Somehow Sharapova got out of trouble, and then saved five break points two games later to hold for 3-2.
But Bouchard broke at love in game seven to inch ahead 4-3.
But her lead did not last as Sharapova earned two break points immediately, courtesy of a backhand down the line winner and she leveled for 4-4. The break-fest continued though as Bouchard capitalised on a sloppy game from her opponent and broke to give herself the chance to serve for the match.
Bouchard saved two break points and got her first match point on a long backhand from Sharapova.
The Russian saved it on a wild point that saw a net cord force Bouchard to sprint to the net, then deal with a lob, before Sharapova found the winner.
The Canadian got a second match point and this time did not falter, slamming across a forehand winner to seal a memorable victory. Bouchard bounced off the ground in celebration before the pair shared a formal handshake at the net.
Andy Murray’s reign as world No1 this season may not have necessarily gone according to plan but that’s not stopping the Brit from having high expectations for the remainder of 2017.
Murray, who opens his Madrid campaign on Tuesday against Romanian wildcard Marius Copil, has suffered a few early losses this year, in Melbourne, Indian Wells and Monte Carlo, and has had to deal with an elbow problem in recent weeks.
He made a last-minute change to his schedule and played the Barcelona tournament, where he fell in the semi-finals to Dominic Thiem.
While he did not walk away with the trophy, Murray feels he’s in good shape for a decent shot at a second Madrid crown.
“Barcelona went really well for me. Got three matches in three days. It would have been nice, obviously, to have played an extra one or two. It would have been perfect,” Murray told reporters in Madrid.
“But I had the long match with Ramos on the Friday. It was like three hours. Then to come out and play again the next day, I actually felt pretty good. I played some decent stuff there. Obviously could have been a bit better.
“But practice here the last few days has been very good. I’m happy with how I’m playing. I’m starting to move better, feel like I served well the last few days, which is an important part of my game.
“Last year I served well. My results improved a lot because of that. Obviously haven’t served so well in Barcelona, Monte Carlo. It’s not easy at this level to win matches if you’re getting broken a lot. Hopefully I serve a bit better this week.”
The soon-to-be 30-year-old won Madrid in 2015 and reached the final last year before going on to capture the Rome title and placing runner-up at Roland Garros.
He has managed to master a surface he had struggled with in the past and believes he can replicate his great form on clay from the last two seasons over the next five weeks.
“Expectations are high. I want to do well the next few weeks. In many ways, it’s the most important part of the year. There’s a lot of big tournaments that come very quickly, one after the other,” added Murray.
The Scot maintains though that it remains a surface that requires the most adjustment from himself.
“At the beginning of the clay season, it’s always a bit trickier for me than the other surfaces just because the movement isn’t as natural on this surface for me as it is on the hard courts and the grass courts. It takes me time. I need to work on that each year when I come back onto it a lot before I feel comfortable doing it,” he explained.
“The last couple of years, once I’ve got that part of my game right, then I feel like clay does actually suit my game well. You know, the results the last couple of years would suggest that.”
Murray started his year by making the Doha final, which he lost to Djokovic, before exiting the Australian Open in the fourth round at the hands of Mischa Zverev.
He won the Dubai title, before losing his opener at Indian Wells, and missed Miami with an elbow problem. A third round defeat to Albert Ramos-Vinolas in Monte Carlo saw his clay season get off to a rocky start, but he avenged the defeat to the Spaniard the following week in Barcelona, where he made the semis.
“To be honest, the one (early loss) that was disappointing for me was Australia, because it was a slam, a tournament where I’d had really good runs for a number of years in a row. I felt good going into it. That one was disappointing to me,” reflected Murray.
“I think Indian Wells, I’ve struggled there in the past. I’ve lost maybe some matches there that I wouldn’t have been expected to. I haven’t played well there. I mean, that’s happened to me. That’s not just been this year that that’s been the case.
“Then, yeah, since then I’ve obviously had the elbow issue. It was touch-and-go whether I was going to be able to play Monte Carlo.
“I mean, the one disappointment for me this year has been the Australian Open really. That’s one that I thought about, spoke a lot to my team about at the time. Yeah, I tried to learn from that one.
“But now I’ve been wanting the last three, four weeks to get myself back in match shape, feeling fit and healthy again. And I do. I’m hoping now my results start to pick up.”