Bartoli's first Grand Slam win a fitting end for wacky Wimbledon

Saturday July 6th, 2013

Marion Bartoli didn't drop a single set en route to winning the Wimbledon title over Sabine Lisicki.
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Marion Bartoli stands at the baseline waiting to serve. When the ball arrives she does ... nothing. No bounces, no multiple tosses, no inspecting the thing like it's a melon at the market. Bartoli just goes into her elaborate service motion, addresses the ball with her extra long racket which accommodates her unique double-fisted strokes and delivers.

If you have a thing for symbolism, this is Bartoli, a 28-year-old French woman, writ small. Even her non-quirks are quirky, thoroughly at odds with convention. What players, even at the recreational level, don't bounce the ball before serving? Bartoli doesn't mess around. Just give her the damn ball.

"There's zero hesitation," Lindsay Davenport said. "She just totally goes after it and doesn't stop."

Today on Centre Court, Bartoli went after the Wimbledon title, the first major of her curious career. Against a nervous Sabine Lisicki of Germany, Bartoli didn't stop until she had served it out with an ace. Game, set, match, 6-1, 6-4.

And -- again, with the symbolism -- it was a fitting end to a wacky tournament. Why not have a first-time winner at an event that saw Rafael Nadal lose on the first day, Roger Federer lose on the third day, the prohibitive women's favorite Serena Williams squander a 3-0 third-set lead and nine of the top 10 women's seeds fall before the semifinals?

In fact, the last few weeks all but demanded that a 28-year-old WTA outlier, the underdog before the final, win the trophy. Bartoli didn't beat any opponents ranked higher than her in this tournament, had failed to win more than two matches at any 2013 tournament prior to this event, and had just recently parted ways with her longtime coach (who happens to be her father). It was all of a piece with this tournament.

In 2007, Bartoli reached the Wimbledon final and faced the 23rd seed, Venus Williams. She lost that match, and has spent the ensuing six years trying to get back in that position. Today she faced Lisicki, another 23rd seed, and fared much better. After a nervous first game, she settled in. She moved Lisicki around the court, taking the ball early, and dictating points. She was successful on all but two of her 11 net approaches. She won a good many points with confounding angles that made one think of Monica Seles, the two-fisted slugger on whom Bartoli's game is based.

"You feel like you're not walking anymore on earth," Bartoli said. "You feel like you're flying. It was perfect day."

Bartoli also benefited from facing an opponent with a crippling case of stagefright. Here, we now take the equivalent of a station break and pause to express some sympathy for Lisicki.

For six rounds, she was a world-beater, taking out three former Grand Slam champions, including the No. 1 seed Serena Williams. In the semifinals, she absolutely met the occasion on Centre Court, playing unflustered tennis in the third set and winning 9-7 over No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska.

Today, the occasion on Centre Court absolutely got the better of her. She sent a series of miscast shots well beyond the parameters of the court. Her concussive serve deserted her for much of the match, as she held serve only three times in eight games. By the second set, tears popping out her eyes from disappointment midpoint, she looked searchingly for answers that never came.

"I hope we get the chance one more time," she said after the match, before she was overcome with swirls of emotion.

Bartoli, too, was overcome with emotion. ("This is what I've dreamed of since I was a girl, she said, "Now that it's here, I don't believe it.") When the match ended, she ran up to her section of the players' box. She hugged her dad, Walter Bartoli, who had been absent all tournament but came to the final.

Walter is the chief architect and source of his daughter's success; but he's also the source of her insularity on tour, some of peculiarities that define her, and the feuds that, say, prevented her from playing for France's Olympic team last summer. When the daughter finally decided to cut the cord a few months ago, it marked a defining moment in her career.

"It's pretty much private," Bartoli said the other day. "It was tough times to deal with, but I believe, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

As Walter sat in the back row of the box, Bartoli's new team sat in front of him, cheering her on. There was the genial former Wimbledon champion Amelie Mauresmo, Bartoli's hitting partner Thomas Drouet (who in the only-in-the-funhouse-mirror-of-tennis coincidence was the same man who had been assaulted recently by Bernard Tomic's father), and Kristin Mladenovic, a young French player. More than one WTA observer remarked that it was the first time they had seen Bartoli around so many other people her age.

Yesterday, Bartioli remarked that, "I am so smiley this week." An hour after the match, as she went from interview to interview, her smile had more wattage than ever. She was a Wimbledon champ, and her career had -- in the course of 14 sets of tennis -- been redefined.

"Maybe one day," she mused, "I'll be able to make sense of it."

It was an elegant thought. And a potential motto for the entire tournament.

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