NEW YORK – Another match, another Arthur Ashe Stadium assignment for Canada's Genie Bouchard, this one on Saturday night at 7 p.m. as she faces No. 30 seed Barbora Zahlavova Strycova of the Czech Republic in her third-round match.
The surprising part of that is that it's a night match, which on Labour Day weekend is the less-prestigious spot. Look at the men's night-session match: No. 16 seed Tommy Robredo of Spain versus unseeded up-and-coming teenager Nick Kyrgios of Australia.
CBS takes over the daytime coverage from the American Tennis Channel and ESPN over the long weekend, and gets its pick of the matches it wants to broadcast during its 11 a.m. - 6 p.m. window. The word was that CBS wanted Bouchard, who might be more recognizable to North American audiences than higher-ranked Europeans Simona Halep (No. 2), Petra Kvitova (No. 4) and Agnieszka Radwanska (No. 5).
Two of those three are already eliminated anyway. Two-time Wimbledon champion Kvitova, the No. 3 seed, had her first-round match on Arthur Ashe and her second-round match on the much-smaller Grandstand. Kvitova's third-round match Saturday will be on Louis Armstrong Stadium, the second-largest court. Bouchard is the No. 7 seed; her opening match was on Louis Armstrong, and the next two on the biggest stage.
In the end, CBS decided to fill the 11 a.m. slot Saturday with American Nicole Gibbs, a virtual unknown, against No. 11 seed Flavia Pennetta of Italy. Serena WIlliams is the second women's match on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Here's another comparison: Bouchard's countryman Milos Raonic, the No. 5 seed on the men's side, played his first two matches on Louis Armstrong Stadium and will play his third-rounder against Victor Estrella Burgos of the Dominican Republic on the Grandstand court.
This high-profile exposure comes at the perfect time for Bouchard, who is at a bit of a fork in the road on the steep curve of her young career.
Her representation contract with agency Lagardère is expiring; industry giant IMG (which represents Sharapova, among others) has made public its intention to pursue her to add to its stable of players. IMG also signed Kvitova right before the U.S. Open.
Bouchard's current Lagardère agent Sam Duvall has been on site (he also represents Canadian Vasek Pospisil, among others), but he has been a rather subtle presence. Throughout the season at the Grand Slams, Duvall has been in her players' box for matches and even in attendance at most of her press conferences. That has most definitely not been the case here; Duvall was conspiciously absent from the entourage when Bouchard made her Arthur Ashe Stadium debut Thursday night.
Sharapova agent Max Eisenbud, who has made Sharapova and Li Na wealthy beyond their wildest dreams, wouldn't comment to Busted Racquet about the talk that an announcement of a change in representation for Bouchard was imminent – reportedly within the next month, perhaps even during this U.S. Open.
As well, the deal Bouchard signed with Nike several years ago when they lured her away from adidas, a terrific bargain these days with Bouchard's rapid rise to prominence, is up at the end of the year.
There's a fair amount of buzz about that around the grounds at the U.S. Open. We've heard that Nike offered Bouchard a new deal before the Austraian Open – before her first Grand Slam semi-final appearance and everything that followed – at some $1.5 million per year on a multi-year deal. That's a lot more than she was getting, and a knowledgeable tennis source told Eh Game that it would have kicked in immediately at that increased rate, not be tacked on to the end of the current deal.
Bouchard turned it down, the source said – confident that given where she was planning to be in the short-term, she would quickly outgrow it. That is serious self-belief right there. Recently, we heard that offer was greatly increased – perhaps as much as doubled, for a five-year period – and that also was turned down by the Bouchard camp.
If the numbers being bandied about are even close to the truth, these are big dollars – although nowhere near what Sharapova (eight years and a reported $70 million, signed in 2010), Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal (10 years, up to a possible $100 million each) are getting during a period where Nike's tennis business isn't exactly at peak profitability.
But it's the major leagues. And every time Bouchard gets onto the biggest tennis court in the world, she's showing her current and future sponsors that she's worth it.