WASHINGTON, D.C. – With the Citi Open tennis tournament boasting a wide open field in the women’s draw this week, it wouldn’t surprise many if rising Canadian player Eugenie Bouchard, the youngest and lowest-ranked in the draw, grabbed at the opportunity to do well here. (Photo gallery at bottom.)
At just 18-years-old, Bouchard has already hit a ranking of No. 300 – and that’s not even playing the WTA Tour full-time. She splits her time between the junior circuit, the ITF and occasional WTA Tour events, but is looking to fully transition into the pros soon.
On this quest, Bouchard is one of three wildcards in the main draw of the Citi Open, and finds herself in the second round after routing world No. 123 Karin Knapp, 6-2, 7-6(4). After her win, she conducted a candid interview with a small group of reporters, indulging us on her trip to the White House, her joy at bonding with Roger Federer over his twins during the Wimbledon ball last month, and her thoughts on her on-court progress.
Having played the inaugural Citi Open tournament last year in College Park, MD, Bouchard is no stranger to this city. She took advantage of the tournament site change and enjoyed the city upon her arrival.
“Last year, we weren’t downtown like we are now, and think it’s really cool to be here,” gushed Bouchard. “Last night we went to the White House and took pictures in front of it.” She went on to admit that she loves American politics and was hoping for a President Obama sighting when a traffic blockade went up on her way to the hotel Saturday. Unfortunately, the President was overseas, but there’s always next year.
On July 7, 2012, Bouchard made history by becoming the first Canadian Grand Slam winner when she won the girls’ singles title at Junior Wimbledon, and she admitted that it was a “great feeling.”
“I worked really hard. I won the warm-up tournament in Roehampton, and I was feeling really good on the grass. To win my first Grand Slam title, even though it was juniors, and also to make history, was really cool to [do] at the same time. It gave me a lot of confidence being one of the best juniors in the world, and now, trying to transition that into the pros. I did well after that as I won the $25,000 in Granby, Canada.”
When asked about how important it was for her to stick with the junior circuit as an 18-year-old, Bouchard spoke honestly about the pressures.
“It’s the question people always ask me. I think it’s really good, because it’s a different kind of pressure. In the pros, you’re the underdog all the time. In the juniors – being the oldest one and one of the top ones – everyone is out to get you from the first round. It’s tough and it’s harder than people think…. I think it’s good for me to deal with that and play with that pressure, and I think it will help me for me career as well because hopefully, I want to be in that position in the pros. …There’s nothing wrong with saying you won Wimbledon Juniors even if you’re 18.”
Bouchard had already tasted Wimbledon gold last year when she won the girls’ doubles title, and was able to defend it this year, but the ensuing Wimbledon Ball for all the winners brought it own surprise. When asked if she attended, she replied excitedly.
“Of course, that’s the best part of Wimbledon! I did it the year before because I won the doubles, but this year, it was unbelievable. I talked to Roger [Federer] — actually talked to him for 5 minutes!”
When asked what the two conversed about, Bouchard was quick to paint the picture. Bouchard, along with the boys’ singles winner and fellow Canadian Filip Peliwo, were greeted by a friendly Federer who was more than willing to take a photo with them, congratulate them and talk about their future endeavors.
“Filip [Peliwo], who won the boy’s singles title, and I got a picture with Roger. He came up and we expected him to take a picture and leave. But we took the picture, and he [starting talking to us]. ‘Congrats, you guys. What’s next? What’s your pro ranking?’ He was asking about what we’re doing. And I told him I’m playing all these tournaments, and I’m No. 300. And he’s said, ‘When I won Junior Wimbledon, I was No. 300 as well.’ And I was like, ‘That’s a sign – it’s meant to be!’’
Not one to cut the story short, Bouchard went on to say how excited she was talking to him about his twin girls, as she is a twin herself.
“And then we talked about his twins because I’m a twin. I told him ‘I love your twins, they’re so cute. They’re always dressed the same!’ And he said, ‘If you don’t dress them the same, they’re going to fight!’ … We totally bonded over twins. It was amazing. He was the nicest guy. Serena left right after the ceremony on the stage, but Roger stuck around and took pictures with everyone.”
With so man great opportunities to meet your idols, it’s easy to forget how much hard work goes into each athlete’s training. Tracing back to Bouchard’s roots in Montreal, Canada, she spoke about how Tennis Canada has assisted in her tennis progress and development since she began training at their National Center in 2008.
“Before , I was in Florida, then I went to train at the National Center in Montreal when I was 15. I think the biggest thing that they are able to provide is so much funding, so we can travel all around the world and play all these top tournaments. That really gives us the chance to win them – to go to Wimbledon and win the title. Obviously, because tennis is an international sport, you really need to get out of Canada, and they helped the most with that.”
In a few short weeks, Bouchard will be making her way to the Rogers Cup in Montreal, a tournament she considers as a homecoming. She grew up playing 10&under tennis there, will have plenty of family and friends present for support, and with a team that strong, she will be looking to make another deep dent in her rankings.
Only time will tell, but with Bouchard’s strong baseline game, efficient serve, and optimistic demeanor, she is sure to go far in her young flourishing tennis career.
Roger Federer is a man of many talents, and giving honest and stirring interviews is no exception. On Tuesday evening at the Manhattan Hotel in Rotterdam, Federer participated in a JURA coffee sponsorship event, where he was interviewed in front of exclusive guests before participating in a media conference. Federer reminisced on his top three grand slam wins, spoke on overcoming obstacles and becoming mentally strong, elaborated on his love for tennis, and gave his thoughts on retirement.
Roger Federer sat, calm and relaxed, fielding questions that brought guests and journalists to both laughter and astonishment on several occasions. Dissecting a champion’s brain is no easy task, but Federer always brings new inspirations to the table.
After former ATP professional and current Rotterdam tournament director Richard Krajicek was presented with a limited edition Roger Federer coffee machine from JURA as a token of appreciation, Federer was quick to recall Krajicek’s everlasting presence in tennis. It seems that any bad blood between the two that occurred at the end of last year when Federer opposed Krajicek’s candidacy for the ATP CEO position has washed away.
“I remember when [Krajicek] won Wimbledon [in 1996] … and he beat one of my heros back then, Pete Sampras, along the way. It’s great to see him again and still around tennis because I think it’s nice when legends and great players are still seen within the sport.”
In going back to his own history with Sampras, the only meeting between the two occurred at the 2001 Wimbledon where Federer prevailed in five sets over his hero. In those days, serve-and-volley style dominated the game. But today, the courts and technology have been built so that courts are slower, balls heavier, rallies longer, and this has all been done, as some speculate, to increase the entertainment factor for tennis fans.
“To some degree I wish that we had serve-and-volleyers in the game, but players just move and return and serve so well today that it really makes it difficult to come to the net, and then you get into the habit of playing from the baseline mostly. It’s really gotten different since I started because I did play Sampras, Krajicek, Henman and that generation, and I do miss that.” Federer then joked: “[The baseline style] doesn’t worry me too much yet, but if it stays like this for another 20 years, then I will start to worry!”
Federer was also quick to point out that “there is definitely not the outright clay-court specialist anymore or a true grass-court specialist. I think they have all merged together and today, you have to be able to play on any surface. You saw that in Davis Cup as well, as sometimes a home court advantage and choosing your own surface [as Federer’s Swiss team did], is not such an advantage anymore. We lost 5-0 this past weekend; Germany picked clay as well at home and lost 5-0 as well, so I think today players can really play on all surfaces.”
As a junior, Federer was often seen in tears following defeat and in recalling what made the difference for him during those early years, he concluded that “the biggest improvement that I have been able to make is the mental part. I used to be quite crazy when I was younger, and I eventually got my act together and started to understand why it’s so important to work hard. Once I started to work extremely hard, all of a sudden, I had this really fluid game and I was able to unlock my potential — which I knew was big but I didn’t know it was this great. I’m really amazed overall how well I’ve done.”
To hear Federer say those words reaffirms that nothing in life comes easy, even for a champion that holds countless records, including 16 grand slams and 70 career titles. People may be gifted and talented, but without the proper supplement of training and support, the world may have quickly ended up in short supply of grand slam tennis champions.
“You always have to re-invent yourself; come up with different ideas of how you can improve as a person and as a player. For me, it’s been a great evolution through the rankings from back in ’98 when I was a junior to today, and [how] the game has changed tremendously… I never thought I could play such good tennis. I really had to put in a lot of hard work. Sometimes it doesn’t look like it because it’s all so fluid and people give me so many compliments. But I did put in the hard work and there’s no way around that in the professional game of tennis.”
As he alluded to earlier, Federer credits his success to equal parts mental strength, fitness and technique, and talks about “tennis as an emotional sport” when you are just starting out in the smaller Futures and Challenger tournaments. To transition overnight to playing top players on a center court is “not so easy … as that can play a lot of tricks on your mind, and fighting your own demons is a difficult thing. I had them as well when I was younger … afraid of the unknown and [asking yourself questions] ‘How confident are you?’ and ‘Are you doing the right things?’ A lot of open questions is sometimes a difficult thing to handle — especially if you bring in the pressure, the travels and the tiredness of it all … I think if you work hard, are smart and have enough breaks, the right tournaments and schedule, the results will follow. That is my personal opinion.”
It looks like Federer has taken his own advice in conquering his “demons” and is one of the most celebrated athletes in the world. But some opponents still stump the Swiss maestro, including Rafael Nadal whom he holds a 9-18 losing record against, and Novak Djokovic, the current world number 1.
“I think the ranking doesn’t lie in our sport. I think Novak has had the best year in the last 360 somewhat days of all of us, otherwise he wouldn’t have won so many matches in a row. I think the big difference at this very moment is that he has more confidence than we do … But maybe I do struggle more against Nadal and maybe he’s the toughest competitor out there, but the other guys are equally strong, if not better at the moment, like Novak.”
And what of his current streak of not winning a major since the 2010 Australian Open?
“I think it’s in the details. I don’t think I have done a whole lot wrong. Obviously, things have changed in the last few years since having a family but I don’t put that down to less success. I just think I was extremely close but wasn’t able to push luck on my side. I had an extremely tough last year at the Grand Slam level to be honest; I think I could have won [the matches I played in].” (Click here to see video of Federer answering this question.)
Never one to deflate himself, Federer took the opportunity to sit back and recall his three fondest memories of his best grand slam wins, with the first one being his first slam final win at the tender age of 21, at the 2003 Wimbledon Championships against Australian Mark Philppoussis.
“Maybe the first one just because it’s got to be!” Federer remarked. After losing in the first rounds of both the 2002 French Open and Wimbledon, and then following it up with another first round exit at the 2003 French Open, “critics were coming up and saying ‘This guy has talent, but he’ll probably never do it.’ And thank God I won Wimbledon months later,” he joked. “It was a huge relief. After that, everything seemed to hold much easier and clearer because I knew where my strengths are, where my weaknesses are and managing them. It was the ultimate dream achieved for me, winning Wimbledon, where Becker, Edberg, Sampras, all of my heroes, won so many times.”
His next memory was unexpectedly the 2005 US Open final where he beat Andre Agassi, the American’s last slam final appearance. “Playing under the lights, in New York, it’s somehow special and electrifying … The crowds were the toughest that I ever had to endure because I think people thought that Agassi was maybe going to retire if he would have beaten me … It was such a tough match to come through and the emotions were different. It proved to me that I was a worthy number 1 in the world and a good grand slam match player.”
Federer then recalled his win at the 2009 French Open “just because I chased it for so long.” But it doesn’t end there. “The French Open has to be in there, but for some reason, I also have to put in when I was going for my fifth Wimbledon [in 2007] or the ultimate grand slam record at 15 against [Andy] Roddick in 2009 [at Wimbledon where Federer won 16-14 in the fifth set]. Those two matches had something mystical about them. Borg and Sampras were sitting there and all of my heroes were there. There was “record” pressure all around me and I was sort of a character in a play. So, for me to get that Cinderella finish was amazing.”
Being in a fairytale has its disadvantages, but Federer will never admit it. With the ruggedness and brutality of today’s game, it’s rare that a player is not nursing an injury or battling exhaustion from traveling. And after 13 years on the professional tour, Federer still rarely turns down the opportunity to be an outspoken promoter of tennis, even when his schedule is packed with commitments.
“I like when there is an excitement and a buzz for tennis. I am happy when I can promote tennis in a different part of the world than just Switzerland … so I don’t mind all of the stress I have [from doing these events], I really don’t. I was aware that it was going to happen and I was prepared for it … It’s just a natural thing for me today and it gives me an opportunity to also give great stories, meet great people and I don’t mind that part of my job which is part of the joy.”
Outside of his family and friends, another aspect of his life that brings him great joy is his Foundation with the simple mission “I am Tomorrow’s Future,” and he talked about how his involvement will grow once he is no longer playing professional tennis.
“I think the involvement in a few years’ time is going to be a whole lot different. I will have a lot more time to travel and see the projects, go and do more fundraising potentially, and meet more influential people in the field of philanthropy.”
He then touched on the charity his mother instilled in his heart, and also the influence Andre Agassi played in starting his Foundation.
“My mom has always reminded me that when I do have the opportunity to give back in some shape or form, it doesn’t always need to be financially, it can also be something you donate, like time, going to a project, and helping other projects. I also remember Andre Agassi always saying that he should have started his Foundation a whole lot earlier. That quote resonated with me and I thought I would like to start somewhat early and see how it goes.”
And in many ways, Federer’s and Agassi’s Foundations have similar purposes of granting children the help to reach their full potential.
“My dream has always been to support kids ages 5 to 14 in some shape or form, [especially] through education … I am a believer that education is not something you can take away from someone, but can be translated to other people in a very positive way. We have many different projects we support all around Africa, some in South Africa, some in Zimbabwe, in Ethiopia, Malawi and Tanzania as well. We have had many different countries we have been looking at and we will be expanding more over time and as we are able to raise more money.”
But there is still time before Federer will devote himself more exclusively to his charities and retire his tennis racquet. Recently, Serena Williams stated that she no longer “loves” tennis and Federer agrees that “love of the game is not enough. You need to have the fire and wanting to become better or achieve more.” But unlike Williams in many ways, he is not afraid to show his dedication to the game by stating that playing is still “clearly on my agenda. I would like to re-live the great moments I’ve had, such as Wimbledon. Everybody says, ‘What’s the point of winning another Wimbledon?’ That’s exactly the point. I want to be there hopefully one more time, holding up the trophy, going through the goosebumps before match point, trying to show how good I still am for my team, my country, myself. There’s too many reasons not to be playing, and I’m in physically really good shape today and I feel better than I have in quite a few years.”
That is precisely the reason he is committed to playing an unusually tough schedule this year, including Davis Cup last week, Rotterdam (a tournament he has not played since winning it in 2005), Dubai, and the Summer London Olympics.
“I have a tough schedule that shows I’m very eager and trying to also maybe get back to world number 1. There are still so many things to achieve … Some of the media think ‘What else is there to achieve?’ Well, there’s always more to do in something that you really enjoy. So for me, there’s no reason to even think about how, and when, and what retirement will look like, or how it’s all going to happen. Because I think the moment you start asking yourself those questions, that means the end is near. The body will tell me, and my family, we’ll decide when it’s time for me to hang up the racquet. For the time being, I really enjoy it too much to stop.”
(Roger Federer interview transcript, press conference photo, and YouTube video courtesy of Tennis Grandstand writer, Lisa-Marie Burrows, who is in Rotterdam for the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament as media.)