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Eugenie Bouchard going through pain to rediscover Wimbledon form

For Eugenie Bouchard, a sun-buttered Wimbledon finalist last summer, these recent weeks have sometimes felt like a spiral into "pain and suffering". Such has been the Canadian's dispiriting form - she arrived back in England having lost nine of her last 10 matches - there have been moments this year when she has found herself doubting her game, as well as her decision to change her coach during the off-season.

And yet, as she disclosed in an exclusive interview with ESPN, when she does find her "level" again, any success will be "much more rewarding". To help with that process of rediscovery, she has been revisiting videos of her run to the final at the All England Club, to make a technical assessment of what she was doing well last summer, and also, you suspect, to remind herself of what she is capable of. Which is plenty - here is a 21-year-old who, in addition to finishing as the runner-up to Petra Kvitova at Wimbledon, also made the last four at the Australian Open and Roland Garros last season. That talent hasn't gone away.

"Have I learned a lot about myself during this time? Totally, and also a lot about life. I've learned that it's not a straight road to the top and there are going to be setbacks along the way," said Bouchard, who is playing at this week's Aegon Classic in Birmingham, after accepting a wildcard.

"You have to be patient and you have to keep believing in what you're doing. And keep believing in yourself, no matter what is happening. And then eventually you'll get there. That's what I have been trying to do, to keep working hard and trying to keep positive and trying to do the right thing. I'm hoping that it's going to turn around. Of course, I'm looking forward to hopefully getting my level back. If and when I do, it's going to be that much more rewarding as I'll know all the pain and suffering that has led to that moment, and everything that has gone into it."

What Bouchard hadn't appreciated, she said, was that she would have to go through a "a big period of adaptation" after changing coaches. Bouchard's partnership with Nick Saviano, who had coached her since she was 12-years-old, ended during the close-season. She turned to Sam Sumyk, who had been working with Victoria Azarenka. In addition, Bouchard has been adjusting to working with a new management company and a new fitness trainer. Much to deal with, amid all those destabilising defeats, and Bouchard said it hasn't always been easy to stay positive.

"It's going to be that much more rewarding as I'll know all the pain and suffering that has led to that moment, and everything that has gone into it" Eugenie Bouchard

"I had an injury when I was out for a month and I hate being forced not to play. And I've had a couple of changes - including my coaching changes - and I didn't realise that I had to adapt. That was a big adaptation period and I didn't realise that I had to go through that. There were definitely moments when I wasn't sure whether I made the right decision. I wasn't sure about my game and I wanted to get those good feelings back," said Bouchard, who is also due to play in Eastbourne next week before then returning to Wimbledon.

And on top of those changes, there are the extra pressures and expectations that come from making a first grand slam final (an industry publication, Sports Pro magazine, regards her as the most marketable athlete in the world). There haven't been too many occasions this season when her fanbase, known as the Genie Army, have shown their appreciation in their customary way: with gifts of soft toys. After a first-round defeat at Roland Garros, she dropped out of the top 10.

Rewatching her matches from last summer's Wimbledon - and in particular her semi-final victory over Romania's Simona Halep - seems to have been beneficial. "I've recently looked back and seen how I was playing and what were the things that I was doing well. I've especially looked back at the semi-final match; that was a good one," said Bouchard. "I just love being at Wimbledon and I love the atmosphere, and I was just playing really good tennis there last summer. I wasn't thinking about the fact I was winning and doing so well. I was really staying in the moment, staying focused on each match and just doing my thing. I kept my head down and I wasn't focused on anything else apart from the tennis, and I think that helped."

Grass suits Bouchard's game. "I take the ball early. On grass, the ball bounces so low, and it's fast, and I like to play aggressive tennis," she said. Perhaps there have been some changes to her tennis this season - on all surfaces - but nothing too fundamental. She has remained an attacking player. "My new coach didn't want me to be so close to the baseline and also wanted me to put more spin on the ball. I think I've changed a few things. But they aren't big changes. I don't want to lose sight of who I am, and what kind of player I am, but I'm still going to keep my aggressive game from now on. I want to go back to playing how I was."

Like many others, Bouchard regards 33-year-old Serena Williams, who is now just two slams short of Steffi Graf's professional-era record of 22 majors, as the greatest female player of all time. "She has been so dominant over the course of a decade and she has consistently come back and won grand slams. The field is getting tougher and tougher, and she is still winning. That's amazing. Of course, those records from way back when are great, but it's now a different era . To be able to do this, in today's game, is unbelievable," said Bouchard. "I don't want to play for as long as she has. I won't play past 30. Why? I want to - I don't know - start a family, live life."

Once she finds her "level" again, Bouchard will surely achieve much in her 20s.

Mark Hodgkinson is the author of 'Game, Set and Match: Secret Weapons of the World's Top Tennis Players' (Bloomsbury).