Bartoli grand enough to be champion
By HOWARD FENDRICH
LONDON — Ever since she was a kid, practicing until midnight with her father, Marion Bartoli went about playing tennis her own way.
The two-handed strokes for backhands, forehands, even volleys. The hopping in place and practice swings between points, which help her focus. The unusual setup for serves — no ball-bouncing, arms crossed, right wrist resting on her left thumb before the toss.
Whatever works, right? This unique Wimbledon, appropriately enough, produced a unique champion in the ambidextrous Bartoli, the 15th-seeded Frenchwoman who won her first Grand Slam title by beating 23rd-seeded Sabine Lisicki of Germany 6-1, 6-4 Saturday in an error-filled, one-sided final that was far from a classic.
“It’s always been a part of my personality to be different. I think being just like the other one is kind of boring. I really embrace the fact of being a bit different and doing something that not everyone is,” said the 28-year-old Bartoli, who plays tennis right-handed but signs autographs with her left. “I actually love that part of my game, being able to have something different.”
She certainly stands alone.
This was Bartoli’s 47th Grand Slam tournament, the most ever played by a woman before earning a championship.
She is the only woman in the 45-year Open era to win Wimbledon playing two-fisted shots off both wings (Monica Seles, Bartoli’s inspiration for that unusual style, collected her nine major titles elsewhere).
Until Saturday, it had been more than 1½ years since Bartoli won a tournament at any level.
Until these last two weeks, Bartoli’s record in 2013 was 14-12, and she had failed to make it past the quarterfinals anywhere.
Asked how to explain how she went from that sort of mediocre season to winning seven matches in a row at Wimbledon, never dropping a set, Bartoli briefly closed her eyes, then laughed heartily.
“Well,” Bartoli said, spreading her arms wide, “that’s me!”
Unlike Lisicki, a first-time major finalist who was admittedly overwhelmed by the occasion and teared up in the second set, Bartoli already had been on this stage, with the same stakes. Back in 2007, Bartoli won only five games during a two-set loss to Venus Williams in the Wimbledon final.
“I know how it feels, Sabine,” Bartoli said during the on-court trophy ceremony. “And I’m sure, believe me, you’ll be there one more time. I have no doubt about it.”
Bartoli became the first woman in the Open era to win Wimbledon without facing anyone seeded in the top 10 — her highest-rated opponent was No. 17 Sloane Stephens of the United States in the quarterfinals. That’s in part because of all of the injuries and surprises, including exits for No. 2 Victoria Azarenka, No. 3 Maria Sharapova, No. 5 Sara Errani, No. 7 Angelique Kerber, No. 9 Caroline Wozniacki and No. 10 Maria Kirilenko by the end of the second round.
Lisicki, meanwhile, used her game built for grass — fast serves, stinging returns, superb court coverage — to end defending champion and top-seeded Serena Williams’ 34-match winning streak in the fourth round. Lisicki also eliminated past major champions Francesca Schiavone and Sam Stosur, along with No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska, last year’s runner-up.
But Lisicki was an entirely different player Saturday, rattled by every little thing, even the walk downstairs from the locker room to Centre Court and the final-afternoon ritual of players carrying bouquets of flowers when they enter the arena.
“Everything is a little bit different. You’ve been here for two weeks; the feeling, atmosphere, gets different,” said Lisicki, who is based in Bradenton, Fla., and marked her rare winners Saturday with yells of “Yes!” or “Come on!”
“I felt fine this morning, but it’s an occasion that you don’t get every day,” she said. “So it’s something completely new for me. But I will learn and take away so much from it.”
When play began under a sunny sky, it was Bartoli who looked jittery, double-faulting twice in a row to drop the opening game.
Then it was Lisicki’s turn to serve, and she returned the favor, double-faulting on break point — her last serve barely reaching the bottom of the net — to make it 1-all.
From there, Bartoli took over, winning 11 of 12 games, and doing exactly what her father, a doctor who taught his daughter how to play, used to hope and imagine could happen in such an important match. Standing inside the baseline — another sign of individuality — Bartoli got back serves that topped 110 mph. She won the point on 9 of 11 trips to the net. She dictated the flow of baseline exchanges, thinking one or two moves ahead, the way one tries to do in chess, her father’s favorite pastime.
“I was doing everything well,” Bartoli said. “I was moving well. I was returning well. I mean, I really played a wonderful match.”
Soon after her final ace, she was climbing atop an overhang to get to the guest box for hugs with her father, Walter, and other members of her entourage, including French Fed Cup captain Amelie Mauresmo (the last player from France to win a Grand Slam title, at Wimbledon in 2006) and hitting partner Thomas Drouet (who began working with Bartoli in May.
“She fooled a lot of people during this fortnight,” Mauresmo said.
All of Bartoli’s idiosyncrasies were on display Saturday. The raised fist to celebrate pretty much every point she won. The sprints to the sideline at changeovers. And, most importantly of all, those flat forehands and backhands, putting her racket on balls while they’re still low to the ground.
At 7½, she watched Seles beat Steffi Graf in the 1992 French Open final, and Bartoli decided — with Dad’s encouragement — to adopt the double-handed technique. Her father devised all sorts of original training methods, including taping tennis balls to the heels of her shoes so she’d be forced to stay on her toes. He also used balls of varying colors and sizes to work on hand-eye coordination.
“All the pros were saying that I was completely crazy when they used to see me working with Marion,” said Walter Bartoli, who got to town Friday. “But I kept believing in myself — and Marion.”
Good thing, too.
No matter what else happens, she will always be the winner of the 2013 title at the All England Club.
“Just hearing ‘Wimbledon champion,’ that kind of sounds good to me,” Bartoli said, rocking forward in her chair and chuckling. “I wanted that so badly. … It was like: Dare to dream. I kept dreaming. I kept my head up. I kept working hard. And it just happened.”
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