MONTREAL — Without a doubt, Eugenie Bouchard still holds a certain allure for the people of Montreal and Quebec.
This was clear thanks to the thousands of people cheering her on at IGA Stadium's centre court on Saturday.
However, there was an obstacle in her path: Danielle Collins.
In a three-set duel, Bouchard had some good moments but not enough to book a ticket to the second round of the National Bank Open women's singles qualifiers on Saturday.
In her first match on the IGA Stadium centre court since 2018, Bouchard was defeated in three sets — 6-1, 1-6, 6-1 — by Collins, a 49th-ranked American who reached the Australian Open final in 2022.
The momentum shifted throughout the match, and all three sets were quick. The first set lasted 29 minutes, and the next two each took 27.
After giving hope to the spectators by equalizing the match at one set each, Bouchard lost her composure in the third.
Before holding serve in the sixth game of the set, Bouchard only managed six points in the previous five games, which she lost in just 17 minutes.
After the match, Bouchard said her opponent's game took her by surprise and she needed some time to adjust.
"She hits with a lot of power. It took me some time to manage it," she said. "But at least I could fight, try to stay in the points even when she hit good shots, and try to take control of the points as well, which I did much better in the second set.
"There were good moments for me in this match."
For the 29-year-old from Montreal, who once reached a career-high ranking of No. 5 in 2014 but is now 223rd, it was another disappointing outing at IGA Stadium, where she holds a career record of three wins and seven losses.
Despite that, she was smiling after the match and said she experienced some beautiful moments in the loss.
"Since it's been a long time, I forgot a bit about what it's like to play in front of the fans in Montreal," she said. "It's very special, there's something I feel here that I don't in any other tournament in the world.
"There was a moment in the second set where we played a few good points in a row, and it was crazy. I couldn't hear my thoughts in my head, the fans were screaming so loud. There were special moments today."
It's uncertain if it's officially the Bouchard effect, but the National Bank Open announced a record attendance for the first day of qualifiers in Montreal at a WTA tournament with 25,991 people.
Furthermore, all tickets for Saturday's session at centre court were sold out.
"It's a fantastic start for our tournament. We've never had so many people at IGA Stadium on the first day of qualifiers," said Montreal tournament director Valérie Tétreault. "The attendance we had today shows how much Montreal is a tennis city."
All six Canadians fell short of advancing to the second round of qualifying.
The first to fall was Carol Zhao of Richmond Hill, Ont., who lost 6-3, 6-3 to Spain’s Cristina Bucsa.
Later, 18-year-old Marina Stakusic of Mississauga, Ont., ranked 414th in the world with only seven career matches at the WTA level, came close to causing an upset against American Alycia Parks, the 48th-ranked player in the world.
Despite conceding the first set, Parks managed to turn things around and eventually won 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 despite her impressive total of 17 double faults.
A third Canadian elimination followed, as Bianca Fernandez, Leylah's younger sister, lost in straight sets, 6-1, 6-3 against Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko, the 46th-ranked player in the world and the top seed in the qualifying draw.
Later in the day, Toronto's Katherine Sebov, the highest-ranked of the six Canadian players in the qualifying draw at No. 144, lost in three sets to American Peyton Stearns, while 19-year-old Mia Kupres of Edmonton also lost in three sets against Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 5, 2023.
Michel Lamarche, The Canadian Press