“It never occurred to me to stop”

CHENNAI, India – Seventeen months is a long time in life. It’s an even longer period in an athlete’s career when fortunes change overnight and new challengers regularly appear in the wings. But that’s how long it took for Eugenie Bouchard, who was sidelined from the tour from March 2021 to August 2022 with a shoulder injury that later required surgery, to be fired.

To give you some perspective, when Bouchard played her final tournament before returning to the tour last month, Ons Jabeur, current world No. 2 on the Hologic WTA Tour, was ranked at No. 30 and Carlos Alcaraz, the new number 1 in the world on the ATP Tour, was ranked 132nd. While some have decided to walk away, for tennis-mad Bouchard, giving up was never an option, even as the long, arduous process of rehabilitation and return tested her patience.

“It was a very long process going through surgery and rehab,” said the 2014 Wimbledon runner-up after her first-round win over Joanne Zuger in Chennai, where she is competing in the new WTA 250 event in the city. “I’ve never had to do anything like this in my career. Every athlete has a bad injury at some point in their career and I made it through to the age of 27 without surgery and then I had two.

“It never crossed my mind to quit. I always want to quit on my own terms and I didn’t want to be forced to quit because of an injury. Now I’m back at the very beginning of my journey and hopefully I’ve done many more years of it .”

Bouchard and Fruhvirtova reach Chennai Quarterfinals

The 28-year-old’s comeback has taken her to the hot and humid city of Chennai this week, where she has now won two games to reach the quarter-finals. Next up is French Open 2020 semi-finalist Nadia Podoroska. Unsurprisingly, Bouchard is grateful to be in this position.

“I’m proud of myself, of all the work it took to get here,” Bouchard said. “I’m happy that I was able to show myself that I can still do it and that I was also able to gain a little self-confidence from winning games. I just want to keep going, one game at a time, one tournament at a time, and enjoy this journey of coming back.”

Most players in this south Indian city have found it difficult to cope with the heat and humidity. After her second-round win over local wildcard Karman Kaur Thandi, she told Prakash Amritraj during her on-pitch interview that she was sweating even from her shoes.

But facing difficult conditions and adversity is nothing the former world No. 5 fears. In fact, she loves a good challenge and even signed up for the doubles draw with Yanina Wickmayer this week to get more matches going. “I know what I signed up for when I decided to become a tennis pro,” she said. “Tough conditions are part of it. I like to challenge myself and deal with adversity.”

It’s no wonder Bouchard is a fan of another tennis star who was always up for a good fight – American tennis legend Jimmy Connors, someone she’s worked with in the past and who is now calling a friend.

“I love Jimmy,” Bouchard said. “I loved him as a player. I love how he had such a big personality and character and he was out there. I see that a little bit in myself.

“I first connected with him in 2015 and he helped me ahead of the US Open. Since then we have been in contact.”

Despite her absence and her slide down the rankings, Bouchard continues to be a huge draw for 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 too.

“I haven’t played a year without tennis since I was five,” she said. “It’s hard to be forced not to do what you love. I’ve been able to do some cool off-court projects, like commentaries and other stuff. But my favorite game is tennis, so I’m really happy to be back.”

As will the millions of her fans, better known as the GenieArmy, who will be cheering her on as she plans her comeback on the world tour in the coming months.

Chennai: Bouchard saves setpoints against Thandi to reach quarterfinals

2022 Chennai

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