Under The Bleachers: What A Difference A Year Makes

Above: Canadian tennis stars Milos Raonic and Genie Bouchard

Heading into this year, there was a sense that this might be the year when one of Canada’s young, shining tennis stars breaks through and picks up a Grand Slam title. After all, Genie Bouchard was coming off an amazing year in 2014, having advanced to the semis at the Australian Open and French Open before making it to the finals at Wimbledon and Milos Raonic made the “Final Four” at the All England Tennis Club and was moving closer to the Top 5 as the year came to a close.

But with the French Open beginning on Sunday, the two ultra-talented Canadians are surrounded by question marks, not high hopes.

Raonic may not even step on the clay at Roland-Garros. Shortly after he climbed into the Top 5 in the ATP Tour rankings, the Thornhill native announced his withdraw from the Rome Masters tour stop in order to have surgery on a pinched nerve in his foot. That procedure took place on May 13 making a return at the French, where he’s projected to be the No. 6 seed, a longshot.

Bouchard will be there, but how far she’ll advance in the field is a question no one seems capable of answering at this point.

When she’s on here game, as she was last year run up until the US Open, the No. 6 ranked 21-year-old is a force on the courts – a player that looks capable of winning every tournament she enters without batting an eye. Unfortunately, she’s looked like anything but as of late.

Bouchard hasn’t been beyond the second round since early March, when she lost to qualifier Lesia Tsurenko at Indian Wells. She was bounced in the first round of her next two tournaments, dropped a pair of matches playing for Canada’s Fed Cup team and got turned back by Carla Suarez Navarro after winning the opening set of their Round of 16 match-up in Rome.

After riding a wave of outstanding play throughout most of last year, the Montreal native has struggled mightily this season and even though she played exceptionally well at the French last year – and is strong on all surfaces overall – there is little reason for optimism heading into this year’s tournament.

Such are the ebbs and flows of life on tour.

For Raonic, his ascension to No. 4 in the ATP Tour Rankings should have signaled the start of the next stage of his career – the point where semifinal appearances are expected, tournament wins are no longer surprises and the outcome against the likes of Djokovic, Federer and Murray are no longer formalities. Instead, he was forced under the knife, immediately slipped back down to No. 6 and will need to get back on the court to show he’s healthy and capable of contending before returning to Wimbledon in July.

Strange as this may sound given her struggles, a return to form for Bouchard in the short term is more likely as the only thing she’s battling is herself. As much as this year has been disappointing to date, all it takes is a couple quality wins to build some momentum and she showed over the previous two years how good she can be when she’s on form and playing with confidence.

Overall, this is still an exciting time for Canadian tennis, even if spirits are down at this very moment. Hopefully Bouchard can deliver a strong showing in Paris, Raonic can make a full and speedy recovery and this country’s brightest stars can once again share the spotlight at Wimbledown later this year.

UPDATE: Milos Raonic has withdrawn from the French Open after failing to recover from a foot injury.

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