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Proud, grateful and ready for the Challenge: Eugenie Bouchard plots her comeback via Chennai

After being out of action more than 17 months, the former world No 5 is making her return to the sport that she says is her favourite thing to do in the world

Eugenie Bouchard at Roland-Garros in 2020 Eugenie Bouchard at Roland-Garros in 2020 Image Credit: Zuma / Panoramic

Seventeen months is a long time in a lifespan. It’s an even longer time in the career span of an athlete where fortunes change overnight, and new challengers are waiting in the wings on a regular basis. But that’s how long the layoff had been for Eugenie Bouchard, who was off the tour from March 2021 to August 2022 due to a shoulder injury which later required surgery.

To give you some perspective, when Bouchard played her last tournament before returning to the tour last month, Ons Jabeur, the current world No 2 on the WTA Tour was ranked No 30, and Carlos Alcaraz, the new world No 1 in men’s tennis, was ranked No 132. While some may have decided to walk away, for the tennis-loving Bouchard, quitting was never an option, even though the long arduous process of rehabilitation and coming back severely tested her patience.

“It tested my patience a lot. It was a very long process, having surgery and doing rehab,” the 2014 Wimbledon runner-up said after her first-round win in Chennai where she is competing at the new WTA 250 event in the city.

“I never had to do anything like that in my career before. Every athlete at some point in their career has a bad injury and I made it to age 27 without a surgery and then I had two. It never crossed my mind to stop. I always want to stop on my own terms and I did not want to be forced to stop because of an injury. Now I am at the very beginning of my journey of coming back and hopefully I have many more years of this.”

The 28-year-old’s comeback has brought here to the hot and humid city of Chennai this week where she has now won two matches to reach the quarter-finals. Not surprisingly, Bouchard feels proud and grateful to be in this position.

“It feels great. I’m grateful that I can play matches and I have got two in a row now. It’s been a long process to get back to this stage. I’m proud of myself, of all the work that it took to get here. I’m happy I could show myself that I could still do it and also get a little confidence from winning matches. I just want to keep going, one match at a time, one tournament at a time and enjoy that journey of coming back.”

“I like challenging myself and I like dealing with adversity” – Bouchard

Most players in this southern city of India have found the heat and humidity challenging to deal with. Those issues compound for players like Bouchard, who admitted to sweating a lot more than other players and now prefers to keep towels on both sides of the court to ensure she does not waste too much time between points. After her second round win over local wild card Karman Kaur Thandi, she told Prakash Amritraj during her on-court interview that she was even sweating out of her shoes.

But facing difficult conditions and adversity is not something that the former world No 5 is afraid of. In fact, she loves a good challenge and even signed up for the doubles draw this week with Yanina Wickmayer in order to get more matches under her belt. “I know what I signed up for when I decided to become a professional tennis player. tough conditions are part of it. I like challenging myself and I like dealing with adversity,” she said.

No surprise then that Bouchard is a fan of another tennis star who was always up for a good fight – the American tennis legend Jimmy Connors, someone who Bouchard has worked with in the past and she now calls a friend.

“I love Jimmy. I loved him as a player. I love how he had such a big personality & character and he was out there. I see a little bit of that in myself. I first connected with him in 2015 & he helped me before the US Open. We’ve been in touch ever since. I haven’t spoken to him recently but was happy to see his tweet, so I think I’m going to reach out to him. It’s cool to have that support.”

Despite her time away and her slide down the rankings, Bouchard continues to be a big draw among tennis fans around the world with over 2.3 million followers on social media, who sorely missed her during her layoff. The Canadian admits she missed the sport as well.

“I just missed playing tennis. I haven’t gone a year without playing tennis since I was five years old. It’s hard to be forced to not to do what you love. I was able to do some cool projects off-court such as commentary and other stuff. But my favourite thing is to play tennis so I’m really happy to be back.”

As are the millions of her fans, better known as the GenieArmy, who will be rooting for her as she plots her comeback through the global tour in the coming months.

(This article was originally published on the WTA Chennai Open website)

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