LISTEN TO EUGENIE BOUCHARD TALK WITH ELLIOT SMITH ABOVE
Eugenie Bouchard will arrive in New Zealand for the ASB Classic at the crossroads of her career.
Whatever happens in Auckland won't make or break her season but 2019 is shaping as a pivotal year for the Canadian.
She's only 24 but time moves fast on the WTA tour. Starting her seventh campaign as a full-time professional, recent years have been a comparative struggle for the 2014 Wimbledon finalist.
She's now ranked No 87 in the world but spent most of this year outside the top 100 and slipped as low as 194 in June.
It was a seismic change. From playing in front of packed centre court crowds at grand slams, she was now fighting her way through three rounds of qualifying just to make the main draw at majors, and relying on occasional wildcards at other WTA events.
To her credit, she embraced the hard road and enjoyed a mini-renaissance in the second half of the year, reaching the last four in Gstaad in Switzerland, winning five matches at the US Open to reach the round of 64 and making the semifinals in Luxembourg. Now she has to keep the comeback going.
"I feel good," Bouchard told the Radio Sport Breakfast when asked about her outlook for 2019. "I have a new coach I like, I've been working hard. There [are] no guarantees for results but I definitely want to push myself and do whatever I can. I feel like I ended the season well, so I want to bring that momentum into 2019."
Bouchard's career trajectory has played out many times on the WTA tour. Women come on to the professional scene younger than men and, as witnessed with Caroline Wozniacki, Maria Sharapova, Ana Ivanovic, Nicole Vaidisova and many others, can make a strong early impression. The difficult part after making the ascent is maintaining the magic once pressure, expectation and scrutiny begin to increase.
Bouchard exploded on to the scene in 2014, when she reached the Wimbledon final, the last four at Roland Garros and Melbourne and climbed to the dizzy heights of No 5 in the world, but admits she struggled with that success.
"For a year after that, my life changed," said Bouchard. "I was suddenly in the public eye and I felt tremendous pressure to keep up my level, keep up the results. But since then, I have learned a lot. I feel like I have gone through this rollercoaster of life within my career and I feel like pressure is ultimately just what you put on yourself. So I need to have a clear mind, not put pressure on myself and just try to play free. And you know, who cares what people say?"
Bouchard is also determined to revert to her naturally aggressive game, after years of outside voices (and several coaches).
"I feel at times, I got confused with what my game is," said Bouchard. "I had some coaching changes, I felt pressure from results, I had some injuries, so I felt like I wasn't always true to my game. I like to be aggressive and take control of the points and I felt like maybe at times the past couple of years I wasn't. It was important for me to really focus on playing the best way for me, and that is being that aggressive baseliner, hitting my shots but having that consistency and always trying to take time away from my opponents. Going back to basics and how I play my best instinctively is going to help me the most."
Despite her dive in the rankings, Bouchard remains one of the WTA tour's most recognisable figures.
It's partly due to her glamorous off-court lifestyle, where she has been a regular Sports Illustrated swimsuit model and enjoys holidays with other celebrities at Sir Richard Branson's exclusive Necker Island.
She hit the headlines for her famous Twitter date with a random fan, who she agreed to go to dinner with after losing a Superbowl bet. It's also because of her prolific social media activity, with 1.8 million Instagram fans.
Bouchard arrives in Auckland on Christmas Day and will be a celebrity fashion judge at Ellerslie's Boxing Day races but is focused on preparing for the ASB Classic.
"The field is super strong, especially being at the beginning of the year where even more unexpected things happen," said Bouchard. "It will be interesting. Those who train hard in the off-season maybe will be rewarded. I've got to keep working hard for the next week or so and then get ready to play."
Career high ranking: 5
Career prize money:
Wimbledon final (2014)
Australian Open semifinal (2014), French Open semifinal (2014)