ROGERS CUP

DOU­BLES TROU­BLE,

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - GRE­GORY STRONG

TORONTO — The old-school Eu­ge­nie Bouchard re­turned to the court Thurs­day at the Rogers Cup ten­nis tour­na­ment.

Her smile was back and there was spring in her step. She looked like the player who en­joyed a break­out sea­son in 2014. The only thing miss­ing was a vic­tory. Bouchard, who has been un­able to shake a long sin­gles slump, teamed with Karolina Pliskova for a rol­lick­ing dou­bles match at the Aviva Centre’s grand­stand court. They pushed Ger­many’s Anna-Lena Groene­feld and Kveta Peschke of the Czech Re­pub­lic to the brink be­fore drop­ping a 7-5, 1-6, 11-9 de­ci­sion.

The re­sult didn’t seem to bother the Cana­dian or her part­ner in the slight­est.

Bouchard was clearly hav­ing fun play­ing a loose, care­free style while Pliskova — the world No. 1 in sin­gles — joined her for the ride.

“I think that’s some­thing maybe I can try to use in my sin­gles, just put less pres­sure on my­self,” Bouchard said. “It’s more fun to play that way as well.”

Pliskova had de­feated Ja­panese qual­i­fier Naomi Osaka, 6-2, 6-7 (4), 1-0, a few hours ear­lier to lock up a spot in the sin­gles quar­ter-fi­nals. Osaka was forced to re­tire due to an ab­dom­i­nal in­jury.

The Czech star will next play sixth-seeded Caro­line Woz­ni­acki of Denmark, who de­feated 10th-seeded Ag­nieszka Rad­wan­ska of Poland, 6-3, 6-1.

Sec­ond-seeded Si­mona Halep of Ro­ma­nia needed only 59 min­utes to breeze by Barbora Strycova of the Czech Re­pub­lic, 6-1, 6-0, while Amer­i­can Sloane Stephens up­set third-seeded Ger­man An­gelique Ker­ber, 6-2, 6-2.

Caro­line Gar­cia of France ad­vanced with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Amer­i­can Catherine Bel­lis and Lucie Sa­farova of the Czech Re­pub­lic moved on with a 6-3, 6-7 (3), 6-2 vic­tory over Eka­te­rina Makarova of Rus­sia.

With lit­tle time to form an on-court rap­port, Bouchard and Pliskova re­lied on their in­stincts against their eighth-seeded op­po­nents.

The six-foot-one Pliskova has an im­pos­ing serve and the ground strokes to match. Bouchard, from West­mount, Que., picked her spots ef­fec­tively with strong net play and sev­eral win­ners from the back­court.

Bouchard and Pliskova ap­peared set to ad­vance to the quar­ter-fi­nals, but Groene­feld and Peschke fought off three match points in the tiebreak be­fore nail­ing down the win.

Bouchard reached the No. 5 spot in the world sin­gles rank­ings in 2014 but she cur­rently holds the No. 70 po­si­tion. The lat­est first-round loss came to Donna Ve­kic of Croa­tia ear­lier this week.

Her sin­gles matches have been marked by fre­quent looks of ex­as­per­a­tion and the oc­ca­sional racket smash. She’s not afraid to show her frus­tra­tion.

Bouchard was like a free spirit on the dou­bles court though, ap­pear­ing en­er­gized and fresh. It looked as if she had re­dis­cov­ered her love for the sport. “That’s how I like to play dou­bles,” she said. “I mean I’m ob­vi­ously a sin­gles player but I think play­ing dou­bles once in a while can help my game.

“But also go­ing out, swing­ing, be­ing re­laxed — that’s how (Pliskova) likes to play as well — so we were on the same page.”

Bouchard has played dou­bles at four other events this sea­son and used a dif­fer­ent part­ner each time.

Pliskova sent her a text to see if she’d like to team up this week and the Cana­dian jumped at the op­por­tu­nity.

In other dou­bles play, Ottawa’s Gabriela Dabrowski and Latvia’s Je­lena Ostapenko de­feated Ger­many’s Ju­lia Go­erges and Ukraine’s Olga Savchuk, 4-6, 6-2, 10-3. The top-seeded dou­bles team of Makarova and Rus­sia’s Elena Ves­nina beat Bianca An­dreescu of Mis­sis­sauga and Mon­treal-based Carson Brans­tine, 6-1, 6-1.

Play con­tin­ues at the $2.74-mil­lion US tour­na­ment through Sun­day.

NATHAN DENETTE, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Karolina Pliskova serves against Naomi Osaka in a sin­gles match at the Rogers Cup in Toronto on Thurs­day. Pliskova won, 6-2, 6-7 (4), 1-0, af­ter Osaka re­tired due to an ab­dom­i­nal in­jury.

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