CHENNAI, India -- Seventeen months is a long time in a lifespan. It's an even longer time in the career span of an athlete where fortunes change overnight and new challengers are waiting in the wings on a regular basis. But that's how long the layoff had been for Eugenie Bouchard, who was off the tour from March 2021 to August 2022 due to a shoulder injury which later required surgery.
To give you some perspective, when Bouchard played her last tournament before returning to the tour last month, Ons Jabeur, the current World No.2 on the Hologic WTA Tour was ranked No.30, and Carlos Alcaraz, the new World No.1 on the ATP Tour, was ranked No.132. While some may have decided to walk away, for the tennis-loving Bouchard, quitting was never an option, even though the long arduous process of rehabilitation and coming back severely tested her patience.
"It was a very long process, having surgery and doing rehab,” the 2014 Wimbledon runner-up said after her first-round win over Joanne Zuger in Chennai, where she is competing at the new WTA 250 event in the city. “I never had to do anything like that in my career before. Every athlete at some point in their career has a bad injury and I made it to age 27 without a surgery and then I had two.
"It never crossed my mind to stop. I always want to stop on my own terms and I did not want to be forced to stop because of an injury. Now I am at the very beginning of my journey of coming back and hopefully I have many more years of this."
The 28-year-old's comeback has brought her to the hot and humid city of Chennai this week where she has now won two matches to reach the quarterfinals. She will face 2020 French Open semifinalist Nadia Podoroska next. Not surprisingly, Bouchard feels grateful to be in this position.
"I'm proud of myself, of all the work that it took to get here," Bouchard said. "I'm happy I could show myself that I could still do it and also get a little confidence from winning matches. I just want to keep going, one match at a time, one tournament at a time and enjoy that journey of coming back."
Most players in this southern city of India have found the heat and humidity challenging to deal with. After her second-round win over local wild card Karman Kaur Thandi, she told Prakash Amritraj during her on-court interview that she was even sweating out of her shoes.
But facing difficult conditions and adversity is not something that the former World No.5 is afraid of. In fact, she loves a good challenge and even signed up for the doubles draw this week with Yanina Wickmayer to get more matches under her belt. "I know what I signed up for when I decided to become a professional tennis player," she said. "Tough conditions are part of it. I like challenging myself and I like dealing with adversity."
No surprise then that Bouchard is a fan of another tennis star who was always up for a good fight – the American tennis legend Jimmy Connors, someone who she has worked with in the past and now calls 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 a little bit of that in myself.
"I first connected with him in 2015 and he helped me before the US Open. We've been in touch ever since.”
Despite her time away and her slide down the rankings, Bouchard continues to be a big draw among 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 as well.
“I haven't gone a year without playing tennis since I was five years old," she said. "It's hard to be forced to not to do what you love. I was able to do some cool projects off-court such as commentary and other stuff. But my favourite thing is to play tennis so I’m really happy to be back.”
As are the millions of her fans, better known as the GenieArmy, who will be rooting for her as she plots her comeback through the global tour in the coming months.