Marion Bartoli may have quirks, but her game is top-notch

Thursday July 4th, 2013

Marion Bartoli played a near-perfect match in the semifinals, beating Kirsten Flipkens 6-1, 6-2.
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

WIMBLEDON, England -- One of you readers had me nodding in agreement when you likened 80's bands to tennis players. The same way Journey, Styx, Foreigner, and Kansas were hard to distinguish, it can sometimes be tough to differentiate among tennis players.

Who is the large ATP player who hits a big, flat ball without much net clearance, runs around his backhand, puts up nice results, but can't quite bring the noise against the Big Four? The list is so long it can be serialized.

Who is the tall, long-legged woman who pounds powerful, unimaginative shots from the baseline, and prefers moving laterally as opposed to heading towards the net? The line forms over there.

However, that large group of women's players includes Sabine ("Boom Boom") Lisicki, a German who outfought, Agnieszka Radwanska today on Centre Court in one of the better women's matches you'll see.

This creeping homogeneity among tennis players is why so many are partial to the outliers. We root for Taylor Townsend -- a winner in the girls draw today -- a compactly built American lefty who chips and charges, likes to volley and relishes the challenge of both clay and grass. Same goes for the diminutive American 15-year-old, Stefan Kozlov, who lost in three sets today, but plays with terrific imagination. It's why Kirsten Flipkens, the Belgian journeywoman with an expert volley, won so many here fans before wilting today. But in the Eccentricity Rankings, no one comes close to France's Marion Bartoli.

In the high school that is the WTA Tour, Bartoli is Ally Sheedy, Audrey Tatou and Zooey Deschanel rolled into one. She is an endearing eccentric -- "delightfully unique," "lovably kooky" "admirably eccentric" were alternative terms per Twitter crowd sourcing -- and doesn't care who is giggling or gawking behind or back. She is here to win matches, not win the cool kids' endorsement.

Bartoli, bless her, is so weird that she's caught the eye of Dirk Nowtizki, and she was at her weirdest today. Jonas Bjorkman caught her doing this drill during her warmup, which you'll never see another player doing.

An hour before what ranks among the biggest matches of her career, she took a half-hour nap. ("It's working extremely well; I don't see why I should change that.") During the match, she went through her usual routine of kangaroo hops and shuffles before her opponent served. One point, she turned her back to the court and took a mid-game practice swing, nearly beheading a nearby ball boy. All part of the Marion Experience.

In between her unique mannerisms, Bartoli played a near-perfect match. Flipkens was frozen by the occasion, and Bartoli never gave her the opportunity to thaw. She brought her opponent to the net and hit lobs with the arc of a rainbow over her head. She broke up rallies with her two-handed forehand slices. She broke up Flipkens' rhythm with her rituals.

After finishing off Flipkens, 6-1, 6-2, Bartoli gave a typically eccentric interview. She discussed her napping. She discussed her art. (What style would she use to paint a picture of her run to the final? "Spirit of love...Then the bright sun, smiley for the two weeks I've had so far.") That routine as the opponent prepares to serve? "Well, usually you have 20 seconds between each point."

Bartoli turned serious, though, when asked whether it was "inevitable" she'd be back in a Grand Slam final for the first time in six years. "I felt I deserved it."

She did. And now Marion the Contrarian, tennis' ultimate outsider, is a match from winning Wimbledon.


Happy July Fourth to the American contingent.

Two questions for you. First, so many guys in the golf word quietly pull for Tiger or Phil or Rory because they feel their columns and essays will be more memorable and evergreen when they deal with historic victories. A win for Andy Murray would certainly qualify as historic, but with Roger and Rafa, Sharapova and Serena out at Wimbledon, does the tournament lose a little of its luster for you?

Second, after Sabine Lisicki signed my 8-year-old son's giant tennis ball and exchanged groundies with him during Arthur Ashe Kids Day last year, our house is pulling for her. I have a feeling we're the only ones in the neighborhood still watching the women's draw. What do you think?
-- DD, New York

Honestly, I'm pretty indifferent to results. Sure, Federer-Nadal is fun to cover. But so is, say, a hard-serving Pole who's overcome with emotion that he cries after big wins, or a quirky Frenchwoman who naps before her matches. If you were from Country X and the prospect of a your natonal player winning might have serious impact on your career, I could see taking a rooting interest. As a American we don't have the luxury at the moment. So you root for the best story.

In regards to Lisicki, we've said this before, but these small acts of kindness have such an outsized effect. I've seen it with my kids, too. A baseball player takes a nanosecond to sign my son's ball, and five years later, he's still pulling for him. My daughter brags to her friends that "I met Serena Williams," which means that Serena Williams once scribbled her name on some item of my daughter's (and has surely since lost). But this brief interaction clearly has a big effect.

What did you make of Roger Federer's post-Wimbledon schedule? I understand that he is short on matches and is probably still recovering from a shocking loss at Wimbledon, but if he wanted more matches under his belt, wouldn't it have been better for him to ask for a wildcard at Newport and maybe play another U.S. Open series in addition to the Canadian Open and Cincinnati? Why go back to your least favorite surface?
-- Ahmed Mahmoud, Cairo

• Glad someone in Cairo is watching tennis this week. Without being too crass, you're leaving out this metric: size of appearance fee.

John McEnroe alluded to one of my pet peeves in the grand sport of tennis during the Li Na vs. Agnieszka Radwanska match. After Li had a second ball barely roll over the net for a legitimate point, she raised her hands as to say to her opponent, "Sorry." McEnroe, who ever speaks the truth, said, "There's the least authentic gesture in tennis." I love the game of tennis, and I love its history and traditions -- for the most part. But this whole disingenuous idea of apologizing for the ball rolling over the net is ridiculous.
-- Jeffrey L Johnson, Fort Worth

• We call it a faux-ology.

This is a moot point, but this was Radwanska's only shot at winning a major, right?a
-- YC, Los Angeles

• Nah, I wouldn't say that. Sure, a tournament in which the three players ahead of you are out by the fourth round creates opportunities. But one of the great virtues of tennis is that it only takes seven matches to win one of these. This represented a big chance for Radwanska. But it being her "only" chance is too harsh.

Andy Murray won a five-se match coming back from being down 0-2, and the BBC asks him if his coach will give him the "riot act" treatment?
-- Deepak, Beverly Hills, Calif.

• This is referring to this disastrous interview with the BBC, a major national con-TROV-er-sy.

Shots, Miscellany

• John Thrasher of New York, NY: I'm not sure if you're aware since you're behind the camera across the pond, but I have to say the Watch ESPN app on the Apple TV (which was just released a few weeks ago) has completely changed my TV watching experience of Wimbledon, and likely future slams. After a long day of work, I can come home and watch pretty much any televised match from the day on demand that I may have missed, including juniors and invitational doubles! Bravo ESPN!

• Lacey Greenville, SC: As Wimbledon comes to a close, I want to give ESPN huge kudos for continuing to stream multiple courts on I've been able to actually see the much-discussed Taylor Townsend play (great game, great personality!) and I even had the time to stream women's invitational doubles with some hacks named Navratilova and Shriver. Absolutely hilarious stuff from those two, from Pam mock-diving after a volley about three seconds after it hit the ground to their simultaneous incredulous reactions when they got a call they didn't agree with. Juniors matches, doubles matches and special events are the kinds of things that tennis fans don't get to see unless they have the privilege of attending a major event.

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