Simmons: Irrelevant yet relevant, Bouchard is entering Kournikova territory

By Steve Simmons, Toronto Sun

TORONTO — Maybe this is all Genie Bouchard can be anymore.

Maybe that one unlikely and improbable run of greatness and good fortune in 2014 — short as it may have been — was the exception and not the rule.

She may not be more than just another pretty face on the WTA Tour. And the imposing truth is that she is just another tennis player. A name you wouldn’t know if she wasn’t Canadian, and wasn’t a celebrity, and wasn’t impossible to not notice.

If she was a star for a moment, she isn’t anymore. Not a contender, not a Milos Raonic with a big serve and some possibilities and an injury to be named later. She’s a name we know — as famous a face as any Canadian woman not named Celine Dion — a player whose time and significance quite possibly has come and gone.

Maybe she could have been a contender. Maybe she could have been listed among the new breed of faceless and semi-anonymous names atop the WTA leaderboard. Except she isn’t one — she can’t be anonymous.

She won’t allow that. We won’t allow it. And really, that’s the great contradiction here. She is now entering Anna Kournikova status of sorts on the tennis tour.

Centre court is her Cheers, everyone knows her name. What they may not know anymore is her game, her memorable victories, what distinguishes her or makes her unique or the great galvanizing moments that make marvelous careers.

She has morphed into the the early-tournament loser that’s most identifiable. The rest of the first-round losers this week — who cares.

On Tuesday, it was a straight-sets defeat in singles play against Croatia’s Donna Vekic, who most of us couldn’t pick out of a police lineup. There wasn’t much to remember in Bouchard's 6-3, 6-4 loss, except a whole lot of inconsistency and flaws evident almost everywhere.

She didn’t win enough points Tuesday afternoon at the Aviva Centre at York University. She couldn’t even win her replay challenges.

Honest, there was not much to grab onto Tuesday, not much to say if only she improved her serve or her return or her forehand or her volleying (which she avoids) or her backhand or her on court movement, everything would change.

But it’s not one, it’s all of that — and probably a whole lot more.

She is now famous more for being famous than anything she accomplishes on the court, with a giant presence on social media, which, frankly, belies everything she has become as a player.

Online, on Twitter and Instagram and probably other places, she is confident and cheeky and charismatic and drop-dead impossible to ignore. She seems to be the queen of the selfie, with a wonderful sense of whimsy and fun and funny and silly and occasionally self-deprecating.

She hits for the cycle online. And in the look-at-me world in which we live, we can’t stop looking. Few are more engaging on your phone or mine. She makes us smile and laugh and takes us along for the ride, even when she’s making bets with anonymous college students that lead to dates online.

Her persona online is everything she is no longer on the tennis court, pushing the envelope — where her ranking of 70th in the world will likely drop again this week — and she is heading in a direction of being the most irrelevant relevant tennis player on the globe.

She was once rated as high as fifth in the world, a rarefied place really, the highest any Canadian woman has known. May ever know. Carling Bassett was Top 10 once upon a time. Hurricane Helen Kelesi was Top 20. Eight different Canadian women have been Top 50.

At just 23, Bouchard was and now is, having not sunk to the have-to-qualify for tournament stage but in the odd twist that is professional tennis, she lost to a qualifier Tuesday who is actually ranked higher than her in the world.

Which leaves what?

Bouchard can pose for photos, smile on cue for the cameras, including her own. She can do pre-tournament promotions alongside Connor McDavid and Aaron Sanchez. She can promote chicken fingers. She can make headlines for criticizing Maria Sharapova, who has won all four majors, the French Open twice.

Genie Bouchard can sell the Rogers Cup, a tournament desperately in need of sell, without names we care about, names that matter. What she can’t do, really, is win one.