After spending 17 months on the sidelines nursing a shoulder injury that required surgery, Eugenie Bouchard returned to competition last August at a WTA 125 tournament in Vancouver.

“My first, first match, I felt like the ball was coming at me so fast,” Bouchard recently told wtatennis.com, reflecting on those early days of her comeback.

“I was playing a girl ranked 200, and obviously no disrespect to her, but I literally thought I was playing Serena. Her ball was coming so fast at me, I was like, ‘Oh my God.’

“And that’s the thing you lose the most, that reaction speed and quickness. So that’s why I tried to play so many tournaments in a row because I was like, I just need matches right now.”

The 2014 Wimbledon finalist entered nine tournaments in three months and went from being unranked to 327 in the world within that period.

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Recently in Dubai, where she took part in an exhibition event called the World Tennis League, Bouchard, 28, was pleased to report she is feeling fit and healthy and is ready for her official 2023 season. On Monday, she will play her first qualifying match for the Australian Open.  

“I played three months straight from August until November, and I didn’t have any issues with my shoulder. After playing a lot, sometimes you’ll get a little bit tight, but it’s very normal and expected. I’m really looking forward to a full 2023 schedule,” Bouchard said.

The road to recovery was long and tough, but it also gave her a chance to do things she rarely got a chance to do while competing on tour.

“I got to feel a bit more like a normal person in my 20s, which I never really felt,” she said.

“It I got to spend more time with family, do trips and fun activities I’ve never done. I went to Coachella for the first time, silly things that you always miss because of tennis. Small things like that were fun.

“But then obviously the negative was just the waiting to play and having that impatience. And realizing how much you miss it, which is actually a positive thing.

“I was happy to be able to do some broadcasting and stay involved in tennis in that sense and find something else that I enjoy doing. It could be something I do later on. But right now I just want to get back on court.”

Did she learn anything new about herself during such an extended period away from the court?

“It was a very long road, and I’m just happy with how I stayed with it,” she said.

“Maybe it was better I almost didn’t know how long it would be. Because if somebody would tell me at the beginning, this is what you’re going to go through, it’s almost so daunting, it’s like a big mountain to climb.

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“But I’m happy I just kept doing rehab and going to the gym, day in, day out, even when the road seemed so tough. I guess that persistence was nice.”

In Dubai, Bouchard was around a host of top players she would have seen more of these past couple of years had she not been injured.

She played mixed doubles alongside ATP No.11 Holger Rune against Bianca Andreescu and Nick Kyrgios on opening day at Coca Cola Arena, and said she made good use of her time in the Emirates before jetting off to New Zealand.

“It's so great because there are so many top players here and it’s like a Premier exhibition, so even just to warm up with some of the girls, to practice with them, and play doubles, anything I can get right now, I’m just so happy to be able to get,” Bouchard said.

Looking ahead, Bouchard has Tim Blenkiron as her traveling coach, and will still spend some weeks training with Nick Saviano back in Florida.

After Auckland, she will fly to Melbourne to take part in Australian Open qualifying, as she looks to feature in the main draw of a Grand Slam for the first time since Roland Garros 2020.

“I’m super excited because I haven’t been to Australia in like three years, because even before I was injured, when I played [in 2021], they held Australian Open qualies in Dubai and then I didn’t make it to the main draw, so it’s been a while and I really love playing in Australia.”

The former World No.5 is clear on what her goals are for this upcoming campaign and is in a hurry to make up for lost time.

“I want to get back up there as soon as possible,” Bouchard said. “I have a protected ranking right now, Australia will be my second Slam that I can use it. So for French I’ve got to be at least, whatever to be in qualies, hopefully closer to main draw. Just as soon as possible.”