By Kamakshi Tandon
Special to TennisReporters.net
WIMBLEDON – No WTA player has played more Grand Slams before winning her first, but when the moment finally arrived for Marion Bartoli, it turned out to be worth waiting for.
She stepped up to the court, went into her famously strange serve motion and served an ace on the line to complete a 6-1, 6-4 victory over Sabine Lisicki in the Wimbledon final.
“I could have seen it in slow motion,” said Bartoli. “I could see the ball landing, the chalk come out, it’s an ace, and I just win Wimbledon.”
Bartoli was playing her 47th major, the new record for first-time Grand Slam champions — Jana Novotna had played 43 when she won Wimbledon in 1998 to end her winless streak at the majors, and Francesca Schiavone 39 when she won the 2010 French Open.
After exchanging a hug at the net with Lisicki, Bartoli made the now familiar climb players take up to the Friends Box to greet their teams — and in this case, the big news was that there was a team there to greet her back. Her father, Walter, for so long her lone courtside support, was present, but had only flown in for the final and was just one of a whole phalanx cheering her on during Saturday.
Until this year, Bartoli had been coached since childhood by her father, a doctor who helped develop her unorthodox, two-fisted game and devised the unconventional training techniques and contraptions that raised a lot of eyebrows within the game. But the two decided to end the professional aspect of their relationship this season, with Bartoli saying her father felt her had taken her as far as he could.
The most immediate effect of the change was her return to the Fed Cup team in February, ending a long standoff over the French federation’s refusal to allow private coaches — including Walter — at Fed Cup ties. The connections made during that week would prove significant later, but Bartoli then bounced from coach to coach over the next couple of months before returning temporarily to her father. Over the past few weeks, however, she put together a group of people that kept her relaxed and laughing all the way to an unexpected, improbable Wimbledon title.
Hitting partner Thomas Drouet acquired his position through a rather unusual route. The Frenchman left a position with Bernard Tomic in May after accusing Tomic’s father, John, of headbutting him and breaking his nose, and arrived at the French Open later that month without a job. Reading in the paper that longtime acquaintance Bartoli was looking for someone to work with, he made a phone call and was invited to a tryout.
“Everything went well from the first moment and we decide to work together,” he said after the final on Saturday. “And now — perfect.”
Unlike many coaches whose first instinct might be to ‘fix’ Bartoli’s unusual methods, Drouet has no desire to meddle, which may explain his successful integration into her circle. “This is very unique but you can see that it works,’ he said. “She worked very hard with her father for 20 years — I don’t want to change. I just want to add my experience, what I see — and make a good mix of this.”
Having known Bartoli for 18 years also helps. “We are the same age so we have fun together,” he said. “We work hard and then when it’s finished we have fun.”
With little momentum coming in, Bartoli reached the third round of the French Open, but then fell ill during the grass season. Days before Wimbledon, she began taking the assistance of physio Antonin Mouchet and physical trainer Nicolas Perrotte, both of the French federation. During the tournament, she also had Fed Cup captain Amelie Mauresmo in her corner, and had meals with teammates like Kristina Mladenovic, who was also in her box for the final.
Mauresmo has played a big role in bringing Bartoli closer to her compatriots. “Hard work, intensity, fun and easy going, these things can go together,” said the two-time former Grand Slam champion. “That’s what I’m trying to put in in Fed Cup and also around her.”
She sees the team that coalesced around Bartoli as playing a big part in her run to the title. “How things got together, with everyone being a specialist in their areas made a big difference,” said Mauresmo.
Bartoli was relaxed before the final, drinking coffee in Wimbledon village in the morning and then blaring loud music in the locker room before going on court. She danced to Bob Sinclar’s ‘Summer Moonlight.”
“That was not supposed to be the perfect routine before going to play the Wimbledon final,” said Bartoli, but added, “I was so happy, why not showing it?
Her mood was a strong contrast with earlier in the year. “I was with the physio before the match, and they saw me when I was really hitting rock bottom,” she said. “They tell me, I remember you in Miami, how you felt after the match when you got injured with Andrea Petkovic. It’s so nice to see you like that no matter what happens in the final. But going through those hard moments makes this one even better.”
It also helped her get off to a good start in the final, as she went up 6-1, 5-1 against a visibly nervous Lisicki. She cracked the ball of both wings, attacked the German’s huge serve and even surprised herself with her shotmaking.
“I played shots I thought I wouldn’t be able to play — a one-handed, left-handed backhand almost winner around the net post. I did an underspin forehand with two hands that I never even tried in practice. Hearing Billie Jean King’s [who was sitting in the Royal Box behind her] comments when I hit a great shot. She said ‘Did you see that shot, Did you see that shot?’ Yes, I can play great tennis.”
But the German then began to play better, closing the gap to 5-4. Though a clear opportunity to choke, Bartoli kept calm, ignored a bleeding blister on her toe and served out the match with that chalk-raising ace.
Despite the throng of faces as Bartoli made her way to the box, a special hug was still reserved for her father — the culmination of a 22-year journey.
“For a tennis player, you start to play like at five or six years old. When you decide to turn pro, your dream is to win a Grand Slam,” she said. “You dream about it every single day. You think about it every single day. You went through pain, you went through tears, you went through low moments, and actually it happened, once it happened.”
The very low moments came off court during March and April due to what she says is a “very private problem.” Her results were horrific and after she lost to CoCo Vandeweghe in Monterey loss – which she called her worst performance ever – she went back home and asked her father for help, albeit temporarily.
“It was extremely tough for me,” Bartoli said. “I went back to my dad just a bit because I was feeling so lost I felt like I couldn’t focus on court. That’s unusual for me, but the whole situation outside of court was too hard to deal with and I couldn’t enjoy waking up every day and being on court. I had so many things going on, but I felt somehow the wheel had to turn and look at me today – I will have cramps from smiling so much. That’s the beauty of life.”
And it happened at a particularly unexpected moment, with Bartoli struggling for most of the season and barely noticed among a Wimbledon field packed with strong favorites like Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka. But they all tumbled and she, without facing anyone in the top 10, was standing as the Wimbledon champion. Could she have scripted it better? “That was the perfect day,” she said. “It was sunny. It was beautiful. Centre Court, Wimbledon — it was packed. I won in two sets. I didn’t drop a set for the whole championship. Even in my perfect dream I couldn’t have dreamed a perfect moment like that.”