Fans who still long for the days when the kind of enmity and confrontations for which Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe were famous might have reason to rejoice, thanks to Eugenie Bouchard.
The Canadian, who burst on the scene like a supernova in 2014 only to be swallowed by the undertow of her own success, has made no secret of her contempt for Maria Sharapova. On Monday at the Madrid combined event -- a top drawer WTA Premier Mandatory tournament -- Bouchard backed up her outspoken criticism of the 30-year-old Russian star by knocking her out in the second round.
It was a statement match, and it put teeth into the statements she's been making about Sharapova, who returned to the tour from a 15-month doping suspension and then immediately offered wild cards into at least four events by promoters eager to sell tickets.
Bouchard, 23, was the most voluble of the many critics (others included Agnieszka Radwanska and former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki) who emerged to challenge Sharapova. Bouchard called Sharapova a "cheater" and suggested that she should have been banned for life.
Was it trash-talking or speaking truth to power?
After her 2-hour, 51-minute physical and mental triumph over Sharapova, Bouchard told reporters:
"I was actually quite inspired before the match because I had a lot of players coming up to me privately wishing me good luck, players I don't normally speak to, getting a lot of texts from people in the tennis world that were just rooting for me. So I wanted to do it for myself, but also all these people."
Sharapova refused to answer Bouchard. The Russian told the media she was "way above" responding to Bouchard and added, "My tennis speaks for itself, and that's what I focus on."
Sharapova's strategy has been to deal with all uncomfortable questions related to doping with an icy look and a suggestion to move on. Her proxies have been more aggressive. Max Eisenbud, her business manager, was recently slapped on the wrist by the WTA for insulting comments he made about Radwanska and Wozniacki.
With Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka out on maternity leave, and Venus Williams approaching 37, the tour has been extremely eager to cash in on Sharapova's box-office appeal. But the players aren't marching in lock-step with the "Welcome back, Maria" bandwagon.
WTA CEO Steve Simon, who declared "Sharapova made an honest mistake" before anyone really knew the particulars of her case, has done everything in his power to support her. But he's been barely paying lip service to the scores of players who felt they may have been cheated out of wins because of the benefits Sharapova gained from her long use of meldonium before and after it was on the prohibited list.
Bouchard, and others, have now reminded Simon.
Tennis players have a not-so-great tradition of studiously avoiding controversy. The chief taboo may be the reluctance to criticize fellow players. That sacred cow is being turned hamburger. The backlash against the wild-card giveaway to Sharapova has become a grassroots brush fire.
Is it a coincidence the flames are being fanned by Bouchard? She's a social-media star. She may be ranked No. 60 and still searching for her A-game, but advertisers put her right up there with Sharapova as a marketable commodity. That means the WTA can't just brush her off as a disgruntled spear carrier. The WTA leaders must be having conniptions, but maybe this is just what tennis needs.
Perhaps the WTA will benefit from having strong, independent voices that aren't afraid to buck the party line. The WTA is no longer about two Grand Slam finalists sharing a bagel, as Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova once did. But it shouldn't be about media-savvy automatons lobbing insincere compliments at each other, either.
There's a touch of Connors vs. McEnroe in the air, and maybe that's not such a bad thing.