Eugenie Bouchard opens up about having 'really bad' menstrual cramps while playing tennis: 'Completely out of our control'

The Canadian tennis star opened up about her childhood, facing criticism and experiencing sexism on the "Not Alone" podcast.

Eugenie Bouchard is opening up about tennis, sexism and her personal life on the
Eugenie Bouchard is opening up about tennis, sexism and her personal life on the "Not Alone" podcast. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)

Eugenie Bouchard might be one of the biggest names in the tennis world, even despite her recent transition to pickleball. Still, achieving that greatness didn't come without years of sacrifice in her childhood, enduring pain as a woman and facing sexist criticism.

On the "Not Alone" podcast, the Canadian tennis star spoke about everything from feeling like she missed out on a normal upbringing to experiencing the mental draining aspects of her sport. Speaking on an episode released on Tuesday, Bouchard got candid about her life and everything she's been through despite only being 30 years old.

Below, check out everything we've learned from the Montreal-born athlete's conversation with podcast host Valeria Lopvetsky.

😮 Bouchard feels 'emotionally stunted' due to starting tennis so young

Bouchard explained she decided at age nine — noting that's a very young age to make a life decision and doesn't recommend it — that she wanted to play tennis professionally. She made the decision after qualifying for a 12 and under tournament, which happened to be a big deal at that age.

While that meant she could play tennis often and travel the world for her job, she also shared it "completely" robbed her from having a childhood: "To try become great at something, you have to sacrifice a lot. So I definitely did not have a normal childhood. ... You have to do crazy things if you want to try to achieve something crazy."

Eugenie Bouchard of Canada hits a return ball against Danielle Collins of the United States of America during the National Bank Open previews at Stade IGA on Aug. 5, 2023 in Montreal.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
Bouchard has been playing tennis since she was nine years old. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

She recalled having to reject invitations to family events, parties and even sleepovers with friends as a kid as she'd have to wake up early the next day to prioritize tennis. In turn, she explained she's "probably emotionally stunted" due to that lack of social experiences.

"It's actually something I've talked to my therapist about because he's like, 'You act like when you're on the court, sometimes you act like that off the court.' I'm still aggressive and tough and disciplined off the court when it's time to be social and nice and like more soft and relaxed. I have a hard time sometimes turning that switch on and off because I've literally been like fast track like that for my whole life."

🤷‍♀️ Bouchard says 'it's just luck' for women, periods & tennis games

Periods can't be rescheduled, and nor can tennis matches in tournaments. Bouchard shared there's "no chance" a woman athlete can get her game time swapped, even if she's dealing with severe cramps and pain due to her menstrual cycle: "We cannot control the schedule, so it's just luck."

She recalled one time a day before a U.S. Open in New York she was suffering "really bad period cramps and pain." Luckily, she was only practicing that day, otherwise it would've been a difficult match. She did have to play right away the following day, but she chalked it up to something women athletes simply have to deal with.

Moreover, she shared some of the women who've played Wimbledon in the past have been worried about competing while wearing an all-white uniform, a dress code that was in place for nearly 150 years. While that made many player self-conscious on the court, the antiquated rule was finally changed in 2022, where female players can now wear coloured undershorts during matches.

Eugenie Bouchard during her defeat in the womens singles final on Centre Court today during Wimbledon 2014 day 12 at the All England Lawn Tennis Club on July 5th 2014 in London (Photo by Tom Jenkins/Getty Images)
In 2014, Bouchard was the first Canadian-born player representing Canada to reach the final of a major singles tournament. (Photo by Tom Jenkins/Getty Images)

👧 Looking back, Bouchard would tell herself 'do what you want'

Bouchard entered her 30s on Feb. 25, and while entering a fresh decade of her life is exciting, she's reflecting on the experiences she had during her 20s. For one, she recalled being forced to quickly grow up and being "fast-tracked" to adulthood as she started her career so early.

However, the most important message she'd tell her younger self is that she shouldn't dwell on comments from other people. It was something she admitted she let take control of her thoughts too often.

"Being in the public eye, you can hear lots of stuff about yourself, and I feel like at times when it was negative, I let myself listen to it too much or let it infiltrate too much, and actually you start to believe it, [the] brainwashing works," she shared. "It you start hearing something over and over again, you start to think, 'Well, wow, it must be true.'

"I would just want to remind myself, 'Only care about the opinions of the people close to you, and let everything else go.' Why should you care about someone else who you don't even know that person?"

She also recalled that while she was on the court, she often considered the feelings of the people watching her play. But in reality, she said there's no reason to take those judgements so personally; for the most part, people tuning in to her match are only watching for a few minutes before they change the channel.

"Meanwhile, you're on the court thinking, 'Oh my God, people care so much,'" she said. "That's what I would say the lesson as well would be like, 'Nobody cares. Life is short. Do what you want to do. They don't care about you.'"

🎾 Mental health is more important than ever for tennis players

Thinking about the mental health aspect of the sport, Bouchard shared there's fortunately been a lot of development in accepting that tennis is mental as much as it is physical. On the WTA Tour, she explained players are provided mental health counsellors if needed. Moreover, many players have their own personal psychologists.

"When you travel on tour, everyone has their own little team," she said. "So, it's not like a team sport, it's very individual, but everyone has their own mini team. ... I think everyone realizes you need that support. You need that village, mini village, to help you because it's such a tough sport to go through on your own."

Additionally, she explained that mental game transfer off the court, as well. While you might be fighting on the court, you often keep that same mindset while in the locker room you share with your opponents: "You're just constantly surrounded by your competitors everywhere. So it's like you're always on when you go to the tournament site. It's mentally draining."

🧑‍🧒 Bouchard is grateful for her family's sacrifices

When it comes to growing up as a tennis professional, Bouchard said "people have no idea" what it's like for families. She recalled for 15 years, her mother would take her to training in the morning, drive her to school, pick her up after classes, take her to after-school practice and then bring her back home for dinner, homework and rest. That was all on top of taking care of Bouchard's three siblings, being a wife and even living her own life.

"I would say most athletes have one or two parents that are very committed like that, and I think you need that to make it," Bouchard noted. "You need someone, because a coach — of course — will help. But you need someone with that personal investment who really has the passion. No one will have that for a kid except for their own parent."

At age 12, she moved to Florida with her mom to train at an academy. Eventually, the rest of the family made their way down, and it was a sacrifice everyone chipped in towards to help Bouchard get to where she is today. Now, she said she's "very, very grateful" for her family's willingness to help.

👙 Looking back, Bouchard would've done more photo shoots

In 2017, Bouchard hit back at online trolls who had criticism to share after the then-22-year-old posed for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit. At the time, numerous people had been telling her to focus on tennis rather than doing photo shoots. Looking back, Bouchard shared she wished she'd accepted more of these opportunities.

"I mean, why stop myself? There are things I said no to that I regret," Bouchard shared. "Why stop myself from trying to be everything I can be?"

While tennis is Bouchard's "one true love," the athlete shared stepping into other fields like fashion was always on her to-do list — and it turned out she really enjoyed these ventures, too: "It was definitely part of who I am, because I think it's great. Why keep myself in a box? Why not try to become bigger or better or transcend tennis or explore other fields?"

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