WIMBLEDON – Give partial credit to anyone you want to for Marion Bartoli reaching the Wimbledon final again: Fed Cup captain Amelie Mauresmo, who is helping advise her in Paris, her hitting partner Thomas Drouet (he of John Tomic head-butting infamy) who has been with her for about six weeks now, or the French Tennis Federation physio and trainers who are aiding her cause, too.
Of course, a load of credit needs to go to her father Walter, who taught her the game and has been with her just about every second of her career except for a few critical months in 2013.
But most of the credit should go Marion herself, who is a very driven person who never gave up on her Grand Slam hopes, even though time and time again over the years she has fallen short against other elite players. She’s been a very good player over her career, but not a great one and if she can beat Sabine Lisicki in the final and win this Wimbledon, she will have earned the accolade, at least for this year.
Throughout most of her career, Bartoli has seemed to be engaged in some kind of combat. She is very smart person for someone who did not receive much of a formal education. She is engaging and she always tries to be honest, although there are things about her life that perhaps she should have met head on earlier her career, such as that it’s not easy to mature as player or person when you have a parent around your 24/7, and that was the case with Marion and Walter.
Because of that, she never socialized much with the other players. She isn’t the only player who was in that situation, but players like Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams who also don’t hang around a ton with other players travel with large teams who keep them company. Bartoli did not. so there were times when you would see her alone. And when Walter stopped coaching her, she admitted to being lonely.
“There are moments when I feel very lonely and there are some very tough days and I am getting back to my hotel room and I turn around and say ‘Dad’ and there is no one anymore,” she told me back in March. But then she added hopefully: “In a way it helps me on court mentally.”
From a media perspective, the now 28-year-old has been one of the most cooperative players on the tour over the past decade. She is opinionated and gives a lot of herself and most of what she says is insightful.
But having a high IQ and being open doesn’t always translate to on court success. She is not the most athletically gifted player out there, even though she is terrific ball striker and has improved her movement over the years. She hits with two hands off both sides so she still can be had on the move and while her first serve is pretty formidable despite her odd motion, her second serve can be attacked. Her hyper-aggressive return is simply legendary when she gets t the ball in her wheelhouse.
“I had nothing to do against her,” said the hobbled Flipkens after her 6-1, 6-2 defeat. “She played an amazingly well match. I tried my slices. She didn’t have any problem with that. I tried the drop shot. She got it. I played a passing, she came to the net. I tried a lob. I tried everything, actually. I was trying to give myself 100%, but it didn’t work out.”
Really, it looked like a nightmare year for Bartoli in the spring. After she reached the quarterfinals of the US Open for the first time back in the fall, Walter was very satisfied that she had managed to do it for the first time. She had also reached the final eight of the other three majors so the circle was complete. He was done and wanted to spend more time at home
She was very excited about the prospect of striking out on her own, but it looked better on the outside than it did in reality. She hired Jana Novotna to coach her and the Czech was gone after one tournament, Indian Wells. She then hired Gerard Bremond away from the Patrick Mouratoglou Academy and he lasted all of one tournament, Monterrey. There she said she played her worst match ever as a pro in a loss to Coco Vandeweghe. She returned home, said her father knew she needed help and he tried again, but his heart wasn’t in it and he needed a rest. So after Roland Garros, she let allowed him to stay home again.
Other than the fact that she is a terrific grass court player, how Bartoli has managed to reach the final when so much turmoil has been going on in her life this year is slightly befuddling, but she isn’t that surprised. She is used to making mid match adjustments on court and seemed to have done the same in her off court life.
“I believe as a sportsperson you cannot have always some highs, and you have to go through some low moments to enjoy even more the highs,” she said. “But, yes, I’ve been having some tough moments ‑ most out of the court than on the court, to be honest with you. But I think carry on the same attitude every single day on the practice court and in the gym and whatever helped me to really bounce back and to come back in the great shape that I am right now. Obviously it shows that determination and truth for every single day always pays off.”
Perhaps more importantly, Bartoli seemed to believe it was her destiny to return to the final. In 2007, she stunned Justine Henin in the semis and due to earlier rain delays then had to come back a day later and face Venus Williams and went down.
Six years later, she believes she is much better all around player. Does she see her return to the final as inevitable? No, but all those late hours she put in after losing matches when others were back in their hotels rooms did yield a reward. That’s another shot at Wimbledon glory. “I felt I deserved it,” she said.
Grass court specialist: Lisicki outlast Radwanksa to reach final
There have been way too many occasions over the past few years when some analysts and ex-players have said the grass has slowed way down, but if that is the case how to explain the fact that Sabine Lisicki – who has only twice reached the fourth round of other Slams – has reached the final? The reason she has is because she serves huge, returns big when the balls are in her strike zone and can rip groundstrokes. No discredit to the German, who showed tremendous heart in outlasting Aga Radwanska 6-4 2-6 9-7 in an epic semifinal, but she is by no means a terrific all around player yet. She has reached the quarterfinals or better or Wimbledon four times precisely because she is a big server, and attacking lass who can bend low and whack winners.
The 23-year-old Lisicki has improved since she reached the semis in 2011, especially mentally. Radwanska did not play her best, but she played well enough to best most players and even after she was broken back when serving for the match at 5-4 in the third set, Lisicki didn’t bend and fired away. She has taken down a slew of very good to great player en route to the final: Francesca Schiavone, Elena Vesnina, Sam Stosur, Serena Williams, Kaia Kanepi and now Radwanska. That’s about as difficult of a road as anyone could have traveled. And only a player with grass court skills could have managed it. Perhaps when she leaves Wimbledon, she’ll take all that newfound confidence and develop more skills of other surfaces.
“I had a tough draw, but I think it made me ready for each and every single match that I had to play the next round>” she said.
Having Francesca in the first round and Vesnina, the Eastbourne champion, all those matches were different challenges. They made me ready to play against Serena, as well. I just keep going from there. I gained so much confidence also in my shots and playing long rallies. I feel great out there. I was fighting for every point. I fought my heart out.”