Bartoli does it on her own terms

Bartoli does it on her own terms

Bartoli does it on her own terms

The Frenchwoman’s success may not trigger a revolution but it does give hope to the children who chase their dreams across the world.

While the celebration of Andy Murray continued across the English Channel, Marion Bartoli, the other Wimbledon singles champion this year, was back on the French side.
‘La Reine de Wimbledon’ (The Queen of Wimbledon), read an advertisement for a French Sunday paper that was still posted in a newspaper kiosk in the 16th Arrondissement.

On Tuesday night, she took questions and compliments on French radio as the RMC host in Paris kept replaying the audio clip of her ace on match point against Sabine Lisicki.

“I have no sense of vindication,” Bartoli said. “I only feel I have managed to reach the goal of my career, of a life, of a child who was 6 or 7 years old in a little club in a village of 2,000 people who dreamed that one day perhaps she will lift up this trophy. And when you’ve dreamed for more than 20 years and trained for that and then you have made it, that is a moment that will stay engraved in your memory. It is happiness in pure form.”

Bartoli’s deeply surprising victory was uplifting. It was touching, and it was also good listening, because with her intelligence and sensitivity, she was more than capable of putting words to the moment and of deflecting insensitive remarks with a sharp wit instead of outrage.

But don’t think for a minute that it was a French revolution.
Her double-handed groundstrokes off both sides are not now going to become a staple of future champions, and Bartoli herself — back to No 7 in the rankings at age 28 — is not suddenly in a position to rule the power-and-leverage game that is still women’s tennis.

Serena Williams will be back in action soon. So will Maria Sharapova and, if her sore hip and knee cooperate, Victoria Azarenka. So will all the other young, hungry and more athletically gifted talents on the rise.

But that is no slight on Bartoli, who, even without a solid season behind her, saw her opportunity and seized it with panache and without dropping a set.

“I think in the middle of the tournament, when all the favorites had lost, I think she told herself, 'This is my chance, this is really my chance,”' said Gilbert Ysern, the French Open tournament director, who was in the stands for the final. “And I think it shows her strength that she was able to know it and then do it. That’s also a talent.”

Bartoli, as has been noted, is a bespoke Wimbledon champion. Her game is full of quirks and artisanal touches: a product of independent reflection rather than the herd-academy mentality; a product of working with her father and coach, Walter, outside the French national system, too.

But she did have powerful outside influences, above all Monica Seles, the double-handed Yugoslavian who did revolutionise the women’s game in the early 1990s by striking the ball early and aggressively off both the forehand and the backhand (and, less fortuitously, by popularising the grunt, more accurately described as the shriek).
Bartoli’s father copied Seles’s two-handed forehand after he and his then 7-year-old daughter watched Seles beat Steffi Graf in a thriller of a 1992 French Open final.

“The first time at age 5 and a half, when I took a racket in my hands and my father fed me some balls, I made 50 backhands in a row, didn’t miss a single one,” Bartoli said in a recent interview. “But my forehand, I had no strength in my arm and the wrist. With one hand, I did nothing but miss.”

The second hand — à la Seles — would solve the problem, and Bartoli said she still would not be able to hit an effective one-handed forehand, even as an adult. But from Bartoli’s arrhythmic, straight take-back on her serve, to her waggle of the racket before a return to her avant-garde training methods, she has clearly become Bartoli and nobody but Bartoli, which is quite refreshing, even if some of her tics have lost her a few fans along the way.

Tennis needed a true surprise about now, and Bartoli, the thoughtful and proud Frenchwoman with Corsican roots, was arguably the biggest surprise Wimbledon women’s champion since 17-year-old Maria Sharapova — then seeded 13th — stormed the castle in 2004.

But Sharapova was clearly a player on the rise before that tournament. Bartoli, a former finalist at Wimbledon, was not clearly a player on the rebound.

“I can really express my game much better on grass, but it’s true that my level changed fast,” Bartoli said. “And it even surprised me, to be honest, how fast it changed.” Her victory made her only the fourth French player to win a Grand Slam singles title in the Open era after Yannick Noah, Mary Pierce and Amélie Mauresmo, who is now Bartoli’s Fed Cup captain and, for the moment, adviser-in-chief.

It is unlikely Bartoli’s victory will create a new tennis boom in France, however, and that is not because she has long lived in tax-friendly Switzerland. Wimbledon is not broadcast on free-to-air channels in France, and though Bartoli’s victory did give the pay network Canal Plus its best rating ever for a women’s tennis match, the peak audience was only 1.2 million in a country of about 65 million.

Compare that with the 17.3 million Britons who watched Murray win Wimbledon.
“We won’t have a spectacular boost in participation, but I think her victory will help,” Ysern said. “When Amelie won Wimbledon in 2006, we had a 4 percent rise in girls under-18 joining clubs in one year.”

Bartoli’s run also stirred up memories of Francesca Schiavone’s festive romp at age 30 to the 2010 French Open title. Schiavone, an Italian, was seeded 17th that year, two spots higher than the 15th-seeded Bartoli was at this Wimbledon.

But Schiavone at least had won a tournament on clay earlier in 2010 and had to the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 11th seeds on her way to the title. Bartoli had not come close to winning any tournament this year, and the highest-seeded player she had to beat was the No 17 Sloane Stephens. In fact, Bartoli has not beaten a top 10 player at any tournament since last September.

No, this was indeed the chance of a tennis lifetime; a wide-open window in a locked and shuttered house. And it was quite a delight to see Bartoli running free after her convincing victory over Lisicki, loping across the Centre Court grass in the direction of her friends and family and father Walter, whom she had pushed away as coach in recent weeks in favour of a new team effort but whom she embraced once the title had been won.

It has been a season of quick shifts and big mood swings. After an earlier split with her father, Bartoli hired Jana Novotna, the former Wimbledon champion, to coach her. That lasted 10 days. Other experiments did not work out better, and she gradually spiraled downward: putting on weight; losing confidence.

Bartoli has not spoken publicly about the personal problems that she said had made this season such a difficult one, but the breakup of her parents’ marriage — which Walter Bartoli did discuss with the French media in London — could not have been easy to handle.

It is far from certain that Walter Bartoli will remain an outsider in her tennis career, but he was definitely an outsider at Wimbledon as Bartoli built her own team.
“What helped her to go all the way in this tournament was to take her own destiny in her hands,” Walter Bartoli told the French newspaper L’Equipe. “To make her own decisions and to take responsibility for her own choices and to put less of the blame on me, saying, 'It’s your fault.”'

The result certainly looked liberating in London, and what was also affirming about the big-surprise ending was that it made you suddenly feel better about all those speeches that children who want to be champions hear on the fields and courts of the world. Yes, the odds are very much against them, but yes, they just might do something magical one day if they put in the hours, have the passion and keep the belief.

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox

Check out all newsletters

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox