I wish I was starting the new year with a more positive post. Alas, this topic has been on my mind for some time, and “Genie” Bouchard’s first round loss at the Brisbane International made this the time to put some of it into words.
Three days ago, Eugenie Bouchard hit the headlines for posting a scantily-clad image of herself on Instagram. Two days later, she barely made headlines as she lost her first match of the season to America’s Shelby Rogers.
Some may consider the three-set result – which really was not that close, with the Canadian going down 6-2 2-6 6-1 – an upset. Perhaps WTA themselves – clinging to the hope that the blonde crowd-puller remains relevant – find the loss surprising, just days after it was reported that the 22-year-old is ‘targeting a return to the top ten’. The reality, however, is that the former Wimbledon finalist – a feat of Bouchard’s that seems surreal even now – was definitely not the favourite heading into this match. Ranked higher at no. 46, Bouchard may have the most WTA finals of the pair last season – two – but world no. 59 Rogers was alone in reaching a Grand Slam quarter-final.
But we digress. The point is that, if you had taken a glance at Bouchard’s recent social media posts, you might have got an inkling of how her beginning of 2017 was going to go. Let us select a span of the past six weeks. In that time, Shelby Rogers has posted 13 times on Instagram. Of those 13 posts – and this is despite the off-season – nine of the 24-year-old’s updates featured tennis or training. Nevertheless, of the whopping 39 of Bouchard’s pictures within this time-frame, only two featured tennis or training. Nine were selfies (not counting the many photos that were full-length shots of the posing woman herself.) And let us just say that of the 26 images featuring Canada’s hope, she left little to the imagination in more than a couple.
Why the heck are we analysing Bouchard’s Instagram posts? Are they not her own business, anyway? (Answer: No, they are not. Every image becomes our business, too, the moment she decides to share it with us.)
The other day, someone mentioned to me that you would have to examine Bouchard’s Instagram page for about an hour to realise that she was actually a tennis player, and not a model. When the Canadian sued the USTA for a fall she suffered at the US Open in 2015, the organisation hit back by – basically – saying that the struggling starlet couldn’t be that hurt judging by her Instagram.
This is not the first time that social media has suggested answers to questions over the cause of a player’s struggles. Ironically, Bouchard’s ex-bestie and fellow social media lover Laura Robson – a long-time fan favourite thanks to relatable twitter updates – has been another culprit over a lengthy period of time. A tweet that stands out in particular was one she shared the day prior to her first round French Open match last May – a tournament which she entered via a protected ranking.
Robson tweeted: “Staring at my laptop in silence because I wasn’t physically or emotionally ready for that episode of Game of Thrones. #done”
And clear as day, I remember sitting there thinking: “And you won’t be physically or emotionally ready for your match tomorrow, either.”
This appeared to be confirmed when – in one of countless losses in 2016 – Robson was whipped aside 6-2 6-2 by Andrea Petkovic. The German herself, despite being a Roland Garros semifinalist in 2014, was enduring a season to forget.
It has been over one and a half years since Laura Robson – an incredibly talented former world no. 27, and a winner of junior Wimbledon at the age of 14 – made her long-awaited comeback to tour following wrist surgery. And still she languishes at world no. 221. Injury cannot be blamed forever. And, for some time, I have been among those who have abandoned that excuse to the dust.
Before this is judged as ridiculously harsh, I’m not saying that tennis players are not allowed to have a life. Nor am I suggesting that they aren’t allowed to post anything non-tennis-related on their personal online platforms. Even if I wanted to say this, I would have no right. What I am saying, however, is that you can tell a lot about how a player is going to perform by what they choose to share with the world, and when they share it, and how often they choose to do so.
When I interviewed Monica Puig for the first time in 2015, I told her that of all the rising stars on the WTA tour, she appeared to have the best work ethic. Embarrassed, she laughed and covered her face. But it was true that – while she perhaps lacked the lethal, raw talent of Robson, the form and accomplishments of Sloane Stephens, and the hype surrounding Bouchard – her utter drive and passion for tennis shone through in every snapshot of a workout or training session. They were even coupled with her own hashtag: #PicaPower. It has been said that “what grips the heart wags the tongue”, and the rising youngster has left the world in little doubt as to what her priorities are.
“I do put a lot of passion and a lot of tender love and care into everything I do out on the court, because I really love this sport,” Puig confirmed on that occasion.
The Puerto Rican was not the first pick of many for notable tennis glory. And yet it was she who blasted her way to an Olympic gold medal that has written her name decisively into the history books – whilst her contemporaries apparently struggled to even know where to begin on their road to maiden major triumph. And while Puig’s run was magical, it was also founded on nothing but sheer hard work, graft and determination. These were qualities shown on her social media channels. And these were the things we, later, saw bear fruit on court.
For some, social media – and comments placed there – might be a very flippant thing. Nevertheless, any top tennis star should have had drilled into them by their surrounding team how important these channels are. They are the one media connection with the public and the fans that the player has complete and total control over. Each individual player – when it comes to Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram, or something else – has the tool to utilise how they are seen, analysed and perceived by their worldwide followers.
Maybe Eugenie Bouchard – who is ‘now as famous for her modelling and tantrums as her tennis’ – needs to make a decision about what she really wants to achieve in this sport. Because the path to the heights leaves little room for more than a racquet, a ball and a tennis court.
Thanks for reading! Feel free to share your thoughts on anything either strongly or loosely linked to this in the comments section.