By Jane Voigt
An unlikely Wimbledon. An unlikely Wimbledon women’s winner — Marion Bartoli.
She plays the piano, paints left-handed, and is not shy to tell reporters her IQ, 174, or the fact that she is not the best athlete on tour.
That Bartoli is the Wimbledon ladies champion for the first time in 47 slam appearances, stands out like the final strawberry dropped on a pile of fluffy whipped cream. It is the longest wait for any Major champion.
“Honestly, I just can’t believe it,” Bartoli told the BBC’s Sue Barker, in her traditional on-court interviews.
Bartoli’s victory was a triumph for a woman shoved to the periphery of tennis due to differences in career path choices and training. Her body was not sculpted of taut muscles. Her Nike clothes revealed a woman’s figure with a few bumps and rolls. Nike dropped Bartoli last year. She now contracts with Lotto.
Over her 13-year career, her father/coach Dr. Walter Bartoli normally sat alone in player boxes as Marion competed at tournaments. No friends for Marion cheered her on from those boxes. No hitting partner or physio was there to look up to and pump her fist at, which she did today in abundance and loved. Each pump was a significant hash tag of progress, as her father looked as he sat patiently behind Amelie Mauresmo.
“I was laughing again this morning, listening to music and dancing with my team,” Bartoli told ESPN. It emphasized the contrast in career lifestyle inside a new coaching team absent of Dr. Bartoli since last fall.
Marion’s antics between points, all part of her father’s quirky regime, were additional opportunities for criticism from the press and giggles from broadcast journalists calling her matches.
Maria Sharapova shadow swung between points this fortnight, just like Bartoli. Yet commentators did not criticize the six-two beauty in her slim-fitting Nike dress. The double standard, though, was apparent if you watched and listened. John McEnroe labeled Bartoli’s frequent prep swings as ‘peculiar,’ in her semifinal win over Kirsten Flipkens.
Minutes after Bartoli’s victory John Inverdale, calling the match for BBC Radio 5 Live, asked listeners, “Do you think Bartoli’s dad told her when she was little, ‘You’re never going to be a looker? You’ll never be a Sharapova, so you have to be scrappy and fight.'”
BBC later apologized for the needless comment. Dr. Bartoli’s comment on the matter, “I am not angry. She is my beautiful daughter.”
No one can fault Bartoli’s superb grass-court game, although Chris Evert tried to convince viewers it was more suited for clay on ESPN until Pam Shriver straightened out Evert.
Bartoli aggressively and consistently took the ball early, hitting flat and hard. If she resembled Monica Seles, well, all the better. That’s who she emulates and for a purpose: her’s is a tough ball to tame.
“When I was between 12 and 14 years old, I used to practice with a ball machine,” Bartoli said, during a press conference at the 2009 Family Circle Cup. “My dad would just put the ball in the ball machine and watching me, so he had nothing to do, and I was hitting thousand and thousand balls deep in the corner, and every time I was hitting the target, I got a sweet. And, I was really motivated, you know, and that’s why maybe I still love so much chocolates. But I used to practice like that, and I think it stays in my game.”
The next day in Charleston, Bartoli (pictured left at Family Circle Cup. Photo credit Jane Voigt) lost to Lisicki, but did not stop from mentioning her defeat of the German in the opening round of the 2008 Wimbledon. “I got the advantage because we played on Centre Court. And, of course, with my experience it was a lot easier to play. I beat her quite easily 63 61.”
Bartoli’s experience she spoke of came in 2007, her last Wimbledon final. She lost miserably to Venus Williams then.
In 2011, Lisicki avenged her early-round dismissal by Bartoli in the earlier Wimbledon, by defeating her in the quarterfinals.
Today, however, Lisicki did not and could not fire on all cylinders or line up the brain synapses. Additionally, Bartoli’s flat ball scratched at Lisicki’s doubts more and more as the match progressed.
“I felt fine this morning, but it’s an occasion that you don’t get every day,” Lisicki said in her press conference. “The walk on court is different. You walk on with flowers. You walk on together. The feeling, the atmosphere is different.”
The pace of the returns and the speed with which they arrived on Lisicki’s side of the court threw her for a loop. Bartoli re-directed balls with alacrity. Her angles were crisp and employed when necessary. And that ace to close it out.
Her sense of occasion shone through in her comment to Barker, “I have been practicing my serve for so long. At least I saved it [the ace] for the best moment.”
Bartoli defeated Sabine Lisicki, 61 64.
The German had been the projected favorite. Her nerves, as said, suffocated her usual hard-hitting game. She tossed the ball awkwardly, overhit groundstrokes, and used odd tactics, like drop shots, which she would normally keep tucked in her court bag. In the first 12 games, she held serve once. Her fierce asset was broken.
“I think I was overwhelmed by the whole situation,” Lisicki told Barker through tears. “I hope that I get the chance one more time.”
Her distraught attitude bore down on her. At one point she cried during a service game in set two. These were not tears of joy she had displayed in prior rounds, for example, after defeating Serena Williams and Agnieska Radwanska.
“I will learn and take away so much from it,” Lisicki told the press.
Bartoli was compassionate toward Lisicki’s meltdown. “I have been there, Sabine,” she said, looking toward her defeated opponent. “I’m sure you will be here again.” Bartoli reconfirmed her assessment of Lisicki’s title potential, “she will win this one day,” when speaking with Tom Rinaldi of ESPN minutes.
As Bartoli entered the clubhouse, she pointed at her name etched in gold on the list of champions. She ascended the staircase where tennis dignitaries had gathered to congratulate the first-time Wimbledon champion.
The president of the French Tennis Federation, Dr. Jean Gachassin, kissed her cheeks and wrapped his hands around her head the way a proud father would endear a daughter’s achievement. Stacey Allaster, head of the WTA, shook Marion’s hand and smiled sincerely. Billie Jean King had tears in her eyes as she hugged Bartoli.
Although Bartoli forgot to thank Billy Jean King on court, she did not miss the chance to reveal her sentiments with ESPN afterward. “I want to thank Billie Jean King. She is the reason why we are here today. We love you.”
Dr. Bartoli was cornered quickly by the press. Asked how he would celebrate Marion’s first Wimbledon he said, “I will drink some French champagne.”
Marion Bartoli won the ladies singles championship at the 127th Wimbledon without dropping a set, that’s 14 straight. We wonder if she thought about that as she stood on the balcony of the Wimbledon clubhouse and waved to fans that cheered by the thousands.