Canadian tennis star Eugenie Bouchard says 'stability' is what she needs when it comes to mental health

The athlete, 30, opened up about her mental health journey and career on "The Mental Game" podcast.

Eugenie Bouchard of Team Canada speaks to the media during a press conference prior to the Billie Jean King Cup Finals at Estadio de La Cartuja on Nov. 05, 2023 in Seville, Spain. (Photo by Matt McNulty/Getty Images for ITF)
Eugenie Bouchard got vulnerable about her mental health journey on "The Mental Game" podcast. (Photo by Matt McNulty/Getty Images for ITF)

Eugenie Bouchard is opening up about the difficulties of her mental health journey while being a professional tennis player.

The Canadian athlete was the latest guest on "The Mental Game" podcast, where she got candid with host Brandon Saho about the importance of being in control over her thoughts and how that's changed throughout her career.

"As an athlete, I'm so used to taking care of my physical body," the Montreal-native shared in the podcast episode released Tuesday. "And in recent years, everyone being more open about mental health, I've become more aware myself of just how I feel mentally. I think the first word that comes to mind for me is stability."

Bouchard said she understands people can't be happy all of the time, but finding a middle ground between happiness and sadness — and essentially being in control of your emotions — is important.

The 30-year-old has been dedicated to tennis for years, joking she's been "chained to a tennis court for 20 years" and that there's no secret formula to success in the sport besides sacrifice and hard work. She went pro at age 15 but still played junior tournaments until she turned 18.

"What was good was that I had success as a junior but not crazy young," she explained.

"I think sometimes having success so young is actually tough for the brain to handle. I've seen it myself with some peers. You think you've already made it and then you get to the pros and you're not even as motivated maybe or you think you should already be good enough."

A couple of years later the then-20-year-old played Wimbledon in 2014, where she saw major success as the first Canadian women's singles tennis player to reach a Grand Slam final until she lost to Petra Kvitova.

"That was really tough for me, especially because to get to the final, I actually hadn't lost a set," she shared. "So, I was really winning all of my matches, quite in a straightforward way, and then I got my butt kicked in a straightforward way in the final. It was tough. I didn't feel like I deserved to win at all. ... A lot of tears after that one."

The following year, she said she started feeling like she began bottling up her emotions and things became difficult.

"I really felt so much pressure and expectations and I wasn't living up to it," she added. "I started getting tough questions in the press, hate on social media, tough headlines in the news, and that's when it started being hard for me."

Eugenie Bouchard poses the runners-up trophy after losing to Petra Kvitova in the ladies singles final on centre court during day twelve of the Wimbledon Championships at Wimbledon on July 5, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage)
After losing to Petra Kvitova at Wimbledon in 2014, Bouchard says she remembered going to her coach and crying into his shoulder. (Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage)

Back then, she said she was encouraged to keep her wall up and show no signs of weakness during press conferences. But during interviews, she recalled being continuously asked questions about losing several matches in a row, being too focused on photoshoots rather than tennis practice and why she kept losing games.

"It started affecting me because I wasn't going to seek out what people were writing on social media, but I was forced to do press conferences ... and I'm forced to hear the question," she said.

"So, it's being brought to my attention, it's being forced in my face no matter what. So then through that is how I put together in my head what people are thinking about me. When you hear something a lot of times, you almost start to believe it yourself. I look back and something I regret is I let that infiltrate into my mind."

She said she'd take her losses really hard, oftentimes secluding herself in her hotel room for 24 or 48 hours after a failed game. It was what she called a "vicious cycle" that dragged on week after week. But now, she's grateful athletes are opening up more about their mental health, and people seem to be appreciative of their vulnerability.

For her, she said it took effort to let her negative thoughts pass through and control her thoughts, something said takes discipline and work like building muscles in your body. Moreover, she said some of the physical injuries she experienced taught her more about the mental side of her body.

"Taking that time to rehab something I've physically really had to rehab made me work on my mind, as well, like the patience of having to be out, making me grateful and appreciative of everything I have," she shared.

Bouchard said her experiences with therapy have greatly helped, noting she sometimes dreads when a session is coming up: "Every single time I'm done, I always feel better — every single time. ... I just love being able to talk about vulnerable things, embarrassing things, emotional things."

And while tennis has often been her coping mechanism to get through a tough day, she shared journaling is one of her favourite things to do for her mental health.

"I think it's really important to get you out of your head and onto paper," she said. "I realized if I could just write the thoughts down, they will stop like swirling in my head."

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