Gutsy Bartoli deserves place in the spotlight

Andy Murray may be Great Britain's new darling, but Marion Bartoli was the real face of an unusual Wimbledon 2013.

The moment to savour!
Alison Chin

By Alison Chin

The fans would perhaps never revere her the same way they do Serena Williams, nor would she ever boast the mass appeal of Maria Sharapova or divide opinion like Victoria Azarenka. No matter though, because Marion Bartoli, the winner of 2013 Wimbledon Championships, has earned her place in the sun.

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For a competition steeped in tradition and regarded by many as the most important Grand Slam of the year, the 127th edition of Wimbledon was certainly not one that went by without hiccups.

Rafael Nadal, buoyed from his French Open win, was beaten by the little-known Steve Darcis in the opening round, while defending champions Roger Federer and Williams failed to make the cut a few days after, all against a backdrop of accusations that the green lawns of the All England Club were "dangerous".

It certainly was not the tournament purists were hoping for, but it was a good platform for an unconventional woman to prove she would be there to nick the spoils when the laws of the tennis world turned on its head.

Centre Court was a venue of unfinished business for Bartoli. In the 2007 semi-finals, she pulled off a giant-killing display against Justine Henin-Hardenne, but Venus Williams proved too tough a prospect for the then-22-year old newcomer.

Six years later, Bartoli is no longer the fresh-faced upstart she once was, striding out onto Centre Court vastly more experienced than her final opponent Sabine Lisicki, and it showed.  For all the composure the German challenger displayed in her run to take down Serena Williams and Agnieszka Radwanska, she found Bartoli relentless in her quest for the Wimbledon title this time round.

The Frenchwoman had not exactly endeared herself to the crowd on her way to that match-up, something the fresh-faced Lisicki had done, which explained why most of the spectators present were rooting for the blonde Troisdorf native. Unfortunately for Lisicki fans, Bartoli was used to performing under unwelcome circumstances, having spent much of her childhood enduring gruelling and at times torturous training from her father, a doctor who boasted no prior tennis coaching experience.

"I remember it was freezing cold during some of those practice sessions, about minus five degrees. During the winter we had five months of snow and courts iced over. My dad had to put sand down so I didn't slip on court," she recalled.

"We'd practise between 9pm and midnight sometimes, and then I'd do my homework in the car."

Under the watchful eyes of Walter Bartoli, Marion went on to develop an unusual two-handed forehand and backhand swing akin to her idol Monica Seles, attached herself to court fences via stretch bands and placed balls on the heels of her shoes during training to ensure that she was always on her toes. It was an unprecedented training regime that led to alienation by the French tennis federation, but one that nonetheless helped her soar up the WTA rankings.

However, with the exception of her Wimbledon final appearance in 2007 and a handful of minor WTA titles, 28-year old Bartoli had little to show for her efforts. Hence, she made a plucky decision early this year to part ways with the only coach she had known for most her life.

The world number seven went through a series of new instructors, sticking with none of them until she came under the tutelage of compatriot Amelie Mauresmo, who aided Bartoli in becoming more focused on court.

"I met along this tough path some amazing people, and I am so pleased I have been able to have them on my side. She [Mauresmo] is helping me with the way I need to deal with my stress and energy off court," she revealed.

"Sometimes I was losing too much energy being too focused for too long, especially a lot of times before matches. When I was going on court I was already tired. So she's really helping me to cool down when I'm off court. We have some great fun. Everything is perfect again."

Perfect indeed. Bartoli started her Wimbledon campaign on court 14, far away from Centre Court, but as rivals fell around her, she persisted in her trudge to the final, winning 14 straight sets without ever having to fall back on a tie-break.

"I was with the physios before the [final] match, and they saw me when I was really hitting rock bottom. They saw me today and I was smiling, listening to music, singing through the locker room before the game," she shared after her 6-1 6-4 triumph over Lisicki.

"That was not supposed to be the perfect routine before going to play the Wimbledon final, but I was so happy so why not show it?"

She might not have taken on a heavyweight in the final, but the manner in which she dominated her German opponent is not a display that many would soon forget. Making sure to take the ball early, Bartoli dictated Lisicki's movement at will, compensating for her less powerful return with intelligence and determination. All the traits of a top notch athlete and a deserving Wimbledon winner were on show in that match.

Serving up an ace to seal her place in history, Bartoli sank to her knees in disbelief moments after her win, soaking in applause that has been so hard to come by in her career. She leapt into the stands to celebrate, and for once, not just with her father, but with Mauresmo and other French players.

After spending years out in the cold, looking in from the outside, Bartoli has finally taken her place in the limelight.

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