Eugenie Bouchard is on the cusp of a long-overdue revival in Prague where she won her first clay-court match on the WTA Tour since 2018 by upsetting 8th-seeded Veronika Kudermetova, 6-0 6-3, in an impressive 76 minutes on Monday.
I feel that the first set was tough in almost every game. It’s not like it was a walk in the park. I’m proud of myself for battling in every single game. It ended up going my way most of the time. I stayed on it every point and didn't make too many loose errors. I played solid and aggressive, which is what I try to aim for. Eugenie Bouchard
With rain hindering play for much of the day, most of the players and staff in Prague endured a long wait, entertained by the debut of ‘Scooter Man’, who took to the electronic wheel for an innovative way of sweeping a clay court.
Only one main-draw match was completed and that was Bouchard’s upset of the No 8 seed from Russia.
Wildcarded into the main draw, Bouchard has come off 3 weeks of World TeamTennis play in West Virginia and is the only player to have travelled to Europe from north American to compete in the Prague Open.
The World No 330 came into the tournament winless on clay since Gstaad 2018, but reprised the straight-sets victory she had over her Russian opponent on that occasion in the Czech Republic.
Little over half an hour was required for the 26-year-old to seal the opening set without the loss of a game, and although that perfect record was lost at the beginning of the second, she had no problems progressing to round 2, where Katerina Siniakova or Tamara Zidansek waits.
“I feel that the first set was tough in almost every game. It’s not like it was a walk in the park,” the Canadian said. “I’m proud of myself for battling in every single game.
“It ended up going my way most of the time. I stayed on it every point and didn’t make too many loose errors. I played solid and aggressive, which is what I try to aim for.
“My rhythm was off on my serve in the first set, so I need to look at that. I felt better with it in the second set, so I’m happy I could find a solution.”
Bouchard struck 13 winners to only 10 unforced errors, confessing that she was unsure what she might bring to court after a long absence from competitive tennis.
“It’s hard to know what to expect. I haven’t played a real match since January. I’ve played a couple of exhibitions, which helped a lot, but it’s still different, it’s not a real tournament. I didn’t set any expectations,” she added.
“I’m grateful to have a job and to have this opportunity. You appreciate things more when they’re taken away from you.”
After the swift opener, the second set proved to be more competitive, although Kudermetova was left to rue her lack of accuracy at key times, failing to find the court with two make-able shots, resulting in a break.
It proved to be the decisive moment of the match as Bouchard started to look at ease on serve, delivering here first 3 aces of the match as she raced to a 5-2 advantage.
Another ace followed as she sealed the match by holding to 15, firing a forehand winner into the open court as a fitting conclusion to a convincing performance.
The WTA rankings were officially unfrozen on Monday after the first tour-level event of tennis’ return took place in Palermo, where Fiona Ferro won and made her Top 50 debut.
The 23-year-old Frenchwoman rose from No 53 to 44, jumping past her previous career-high of 52, which she set in February just a few weeks before the rankings were frozen in March.
Ferro also became the new French No 2, moving past Caroline Garcia, who is ranked No 47, and she is now only two spots away from French No 1 Kristina Mladenovic, who currently sits at 42.
“I don’t really like to have ranking goals, because in the past it used to put too much pressure on me,” Ferro said in her post-match press conference. “So this result doesn’t really change anything—I’m still going to work as hard as I was before, and I’ll try to work hard to get some more trophies.”
Ferro won’t have to wait long to go for another WTA trophy, as she is playing the Prague Open this week, where World No 2 Simona Halep is the top seed.
Another player who made a noteworthy move on the WTA rankings on Monday was Anett Kontaveit, who moved back into the Top 20, from 22 to No 20, after reaching the final in Palermo.
Kontaveit, who reached her first Grand Slam quarter-final at the Australian Open earlier this year, set a career-high ranking of No.14 last year, making her the highest-ranked Estonian in WTA history.
Petra Martic, who reached the semi-finals in Palermo before falling to Kontaveit, inched up from No 15 to No 14, a return to her previous career-high ranking, which she set in January.
Another effect of the WTA rankings being unfrozen is Ashleigh Barty’s reign at No 1 officially continues now.
She had previously spent 35 career weeks at the top spot: 7 from June 24 to August 11, 2019, and 28 from September 9, 2019 to March 22, 2020, when the rankings were frozen.
The Australian spends her 36th career week at No 1 on the WTA rankings this week.