I am really torn about this predicament that Tennis Canada is in. They have a world-class tennis player in Eugenie Bouchard whom they want to see progress as far and as high as possible on the world stage to promote tennis in Canada. On the other hand, Canada, for the first time, is in the top tier of the world’s best team tennis competition (the Federation Cup) and in order to stay there, Canada needs its best performers to participate. Bouchard and Tennis Canada are in a no-win situation.
Canada has had success before in Fed Cup, reaching the quarterfinals on three separate occasions (1964, 1967 and 1987) and the semifinals once (1988) but that was before the format was changed in 1995 and tweaked again in 2005 to create a separate World Group 1 of eight nations and a World Group 2 of the next top eight nations. Since this format change, Canada has never been in World Group 1. 2015 marks the first year Canada has been one of the top eight nations in World Group 1.
So this is a big deal. Though Canada is seeded at the bottom of the group and plays the defending champs the Czech Republic in round one, their team is missing their A team. If Bouchard were to have played, a victory (and an upset) would have been clearly in play. Now, it is up to the (mostly) inexperienced Canadian team to show their mettle. If Canada wins this tie, it will be a major upset. The highly-experienced doubles players Sharon Fichman and Gabriela Dabrowski are valuable to Canada’s team. It’s the singles that will produce either a surprise win or a loss.
Bouchard played a lot last year. She has a ton of points to defend. After she played Fed Cup and advanced Canada to the playoff round February, she was off on a plane to another tournament and arrived there in not-so-good tournament condition – jet-lagged and tired. She lost early and she continued to lose early for a short period of time after. It is going to take a lot of fortitude to say “no” to a lot of non-tournament-tennis-related activities if Bouchard is professionally serious about becoming the best that she can be. That includes saying “no” to Fed Cup, when it is better for her to rest/train/practice and not jump on the next available plane after Fed Cup to be at a tournament that starts on Monday.
For her career, it also includes saying “no” to tournaments so that she can pace herself, re-energize her batteries, train, practice and enjoy non-tennis activities that are so important when all you do is eat, sleep and breathe tennis. The last thing Canada needs is a burnt out, tired and listless tennis player – just when she is at the cusp of greatness.
The only unfortunate circumstance about Bouchard’s decision not to play Fed Cup was her flippant response to the obvious question “Are you going to play Fed Cup?” Instead of answering the question concretely, the answer was immaturely wishy-washy. I’m chalking this attitude up to the intense pressure Bouchard must have been under to play Fed Cup and the response was a result of that pressure. After all, the tie is being played in (almost) her backyard.
In the end, not playing Fed Cup is best for Bouchard, Tennis Canada and Canadian tennis fans. It is a decision made that has everyone’s long-term goals in mind. Her decision may irk some people and be deemed self-important, but it will quickly be forgotten. People have very short memories. They will become even shorter once Bouchard wins or challenges for the best titles in tennis. These people need reminding that it was Bouchard that put Canada through to World Group 1. She was also there when Canada was toiling in zonal playoffs.
I don’t believe that Bouchard will never play Fed Cup again. This is just one of those times when the timing of it conflicts with her own plans for her career. It is in everyone’s interests (Bouchard, Tennis Canada, Canada, fans) that she continue to progress and grow her career. Fed Cup is a team competition, but it is really just a blip on the radar for the entire year of tennis filled with majors and premier tournaments that hold much more importance and status in the tennis world – and more importantly, to the general sports world audience and in the media as a whole.
Having said that, if Canada pulls off the upset or even gets a sniff at the overall Fed Cup title this year or in the years to come, Bouchard will be under pressure to make herself available – and I think she will. The temptation of Canada at the cusp of winning the world team title in tennis would be just too great to ignore. For now, the earlier rounds will have to be contested by seasoned and untried talents who also want to be in Bouchard’s position one day.
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