Eugenie Bouchard willing to take USTA case to court

Benedict Morelli, the attorney seeking a jury trial in Eugenie Bouchard's lawsuit against the USTA, doesn't believe the matter has to end up in court. But he is not certain the tennis association shares that opinion.

"It's difficult to know if this is war or not," Morelli told ESPN.com. "The USTA has 20 days [from Oct. 14] to respond to the filing. Can this be settled [out of court]? Yes. Will it be? I don't know."

The lawsuit stems from the concussion Bouchard suffered during the US Open following singles and mixed doubles wins on Sept. 4. Returning to an empty physiotherapy room after a late evening news conference, Bouchard slipped and, according to the suit, "suffered a severe head injury." Cleaners had swabbed down the floor with what the suit describes as a "slippery, foreign, and dangerous substance."

Sources at the USTA say Morelli did not approach them about negotiating a settlement before he filed the suit -- a charge he disputed vigorously.

Morelli said that weeks ago his firm sent a letter about the matter to four top officials of the USTA, including Andrea Hirsch, the organization's chief administrative officer and general counsel.

"We do that when there's a potential for publicity," said Morelli, a widely known litigator who was most recently in the news for winning a massive award for comedian Tracy Morgan, who was injured in a 2014 car crash. "But none of them responded. We did get an answer from a law firm. ... If I send a letter to four of your top guys and the response is that your lawyer calls me, I get the message."

Morelli said he then waited a few weeks for the USTA's lawyers to follow up, and when they did not react, he filed the suit five weeks after Bouchard's fall.

Bouchard was still in contention in three US Open events at the time of her fall. She ultimately withdrew from the tournament because of her injury. Bouchard returned to the tour at the China Open at the beginning of October but retired complaining of concussion-related dizziness during her first-round match. It was her final match of the year.

"I am not keeping her off the court," Morelli said, when asked if the 21-year old Bouchard's health or the pending case would keep her from practicing or even playing again in January. "Her doctor has given her the protocols for resuming training. I'm not claiming brain damage. She had a concussion. Everyone responds differently -- some in weeks, some in months. She will be practicing."

The USTA declined to comment on "ongoing litigation" or Morelli's claim that he sent a letter.

Morelli has a reputation for his brilliant courtroom style and winning large awards for his clients, although the initial sums awarded by juries are often whittled down significantly. If the parties end up in court, a jury would decide if the USTA was negligent and what sum (if any) to award Bouchard for the opportunities she missed, including endorsements.

In a trial, the USTA probably would emphasize that Bouchard was in a slump for most of 2015, while Morelli will insist that she was breaking out of one -- pointing to her US Open results.

"If they want to go up against someone and claim that this 21-year old was in a slump when she was in the round of 16 in the US Open, I'm their guy," Morelli said. "Look who won the tournament -- a 33-year-old [Flavia Pennetta] who had never even won a big one before."

It could take a long time to litigate this case like this.

"Her career could be over by the time they figure all that out," said John P. McEnroe, a retired lawyer who managed the careers of his sons John Jr. and Patrick.

Morelli isn't sure it will come to anything like that.

"If the USTA decides it wants to speak with me, I'm here to listen," he said. "If they want to litigate, that's OK too. Because that's what I do. That's why Genie and her mother hired me."