Eugenie Bouchard is into the quarter-finals at the ASB Classic, but she'll need some serious improvements to go any further.
A scrappy 6-7, 6-4, 6-4 victory over world number 174 Bibiane Schoofs was the desired result for the Canadian star, but it was not the performance she would have been after as she plots her comeback to the top in 2019.
To come from a set down to claim a tough victory was a fighting display, and any win would be well received by the former Wimbledon finalist as she attempts to rise back through the rankings. However, even taking into account Bouchard's slide – now world number 87 after a stint as low as 194 – this was not a match she was expected to struggle in.
A quarter-final clash with defending champion Julia Goerges now awaits. The pair met in Bouchard's last WTA Tour event in October, with Goerges prevailing in three sets, and the world number 14 will undoubtedly be a tougher opponent than the admittedly impressive Schoofs.
The 2018 ASB Classic doubles champion with Sara Errani, Schoofs would be the definition of a journeywoman in the singles game. The 30-year-old has had some success in doubles, but her singles record is unremarkable, having never made a Grand Slam and beating just one top 100 player since 2012.
She needed to grind through three rounds of qualifying to begin her Auckland campaign, and then earned a break when eighth seed Alison van Uytvanck retired in their first round encounter.
Her performance on centre court belied her resume though, displaying an excellent return game that frustrated Bouchard, and coming from 5-3 down to stunningly take the first set. Serving for the set, Bouchard thought she had wrapped it up with an ace, walking off the court, but a Schoofs challenge proved prescient, and she came storming back to eventually claim it in a tiebreak.
The Dutchwoman was making few mistakes, and luring Bouchard – who was struggling with her approach shots - to the net, before unleashing passing shots – to the left, right, and over top of the 24-year-old.
However, her first set comeback was merely the start of a back-and-forth encounter. You could have found better service in remote places of Siberia, such was the ease at which both players broke serve. There were five breaks in a row in the second set, until Bouchard – showing glimpses of the power and stroke-making which made her world number five – finally held to send it to a deciding set.
A deciding set where little changed. Three straight breaks of serve started proceedings, but Bouchard finally broke the resistance of Schoofs, scrapping her way to a victory that was by no means pretty, but still valuable, as she claws her way back to the top of the sport.
"That was a really tough match," said Bouchard after the two and a half hour marathon.
"I don't think I played my best at times, I don't think I had a good attitude at times - I got too emotional - but I'm glad I got myself together in the third, and just kept fighting, no matter what."
With Goerges next up, after a 6-4 6-4 victory over compatriot Mona Barthel, the tough tests won't stop for Bouchard.