Saturday, July 6, 2013
Ah oui!--Bartoli wins Wimbledon
And while the sports media still doesn't get it--Bartoli had a pretty good match-up in Sabine Lisicki. The German player, for all her considerable talent, has trouble keeping her nerves in check. Consider that this was the first time she was in a major final, which is unnerving for anyone, now that they don't make them like Evert and Hingis anymore. Consider that she has a huge serve, but it isn't under the kind of control that we see from Serena Williams or that we used to see from Lindsay Davenport.
I thought of that 2010 French Open final more than once today. Sam Stosur, like Lisicki, had taken out the really big names to reach the final. It was hers to lose, according to most, and she lost it. Lisicki also performed wonderfully by taking out both Serena Williams and Agnieszka Radwanska. The Wimbledon title appeared to be hers to lose. In some ways, it was, but part of that impression arose because no one was paying any attention to Bartoli.
It's true that Bartoli had a much easier draw than Lisicki had, and Lisicki deserved every bit of praise that she received for her work in the last two weeks. Frankly, I was a bit surprised that the German star made it all the way to the final; I expected her to lose to Radwanska.
I saw Lisicki win Charleston in 2009, and she mowed through the field with such confidence and abandon that it was easy, even in the early rounds, to predict that she would go all the way. But that was the last time I saw Lisicki look that free. A series of injuries stopped her momentum, and I think she may have also been suddenly struck with the notion of her potential. Developing consciousness like that can be problematic to anyone, and especially someone with the obviously emotional nature Lisicki possesses.
Today's championship match was mostly about Bartoli, whose fighting spirit is one of her great advantages. Bartoli had been to the Wimbledon final before. She had lost the Wimbledon final before. She already knew her opponent would be the crowd favorite. She had the 2006 Wimbledon champion--the great Amelie Mauresmo--advising her, and she had a long time to get her ducks in a row.
The final began in a bit of an irregular way, as Lisicki had to re-tie her shoe before stepping onto the court for the coin toss. After getting her shoe tied, she put her digital music player away while Bartoli, the coin toss guest and chair umpire Eva Asderaki waited. Bartoli won the toss and chose to serve.
The Frenchwoman saved two break points in the first game, but then she double-faulted twice to get broken. Lisicki then went down 15-40 on her serve, then she hit an ace, after which she double-faulted, so the breaks were exchanged.
Given the nerves involved, it isn't at all unusual to see an exchange of breaks at the beginning of a big match. Then we just wait to see who settles down first. In this case, it was Bartoli, who held her next serve, then broke Lisicki to go up 3-1. By this time, Bartoli was already playing cat and mouse with the German, and was sharply returning Lisicki's second serve.
In the next game, Bartoli gave us a little Radwanska squat shot (who knew?) to make a winning return, and held for 4-1. She had a break point on Lisicki in the next game, but Lisicki saved it with an ace. Bartoli got a second break point when she successfully returned a drop shot from the German player. She then gave a drop shot to Lisicki, who dropped her right back to get to game point. But then Lisicki double-faulted again, and was soon broken.
That game was a microcosm of the entire problem Sabine Lisicki had during the championship match, and which she tends to have at big moments. Her talent and her untamed nerves go back and forth with a speed that rivals some of the volleying contests we see in doubles. The tennis skills and the strategic skills are there, but the mind does not always settle (kind of like Petra Kvitova, though Kvitova is now in a class of her own).
Up 5-1, Bartoli held to take the first set.
Lisicki left the court between sets, and came back looking more like the player who took out Williams and Radwanska. And really, who didn't believe that a different Sabine was going to show up for the second set? She had a strong hold in the first game. When Bartoli served, the game went to deuce. The Frenchwoman hit an ace that was called out, but she didn't challenge (it was good--just barely), and she wound up with a double fault.
That gave Lisicki a break point, but Bartoli saved it. Bartoli proceeded to double-fault again, but then she saved another break point. There was a third break point, but once again, Bartoli saved it--this time with a very good angled serve followed by a backhand volley. Yet another break opportunity arose when Bartoli--obviously making an effort not to double-fault again--hit a very soft second serve. But Bartoli saved that one, too, with a deep cross-court backhand. Then, finally, she hit a great first serve, got a game point and went on to win the game for 1-all.
That game was instructive, too, because it demonstrated the fight that Bartoli brings to every match. And that game appeared to increase Bartoli's confidence even more, as she fired shots on the run in the next game, and then broke Lisicki with an emphatic volley. Bartoli then held for 3-1.
Lisicki found herself at deuce in the next game, following a double fault. At this point, Bartoli--who had been uncharacteristically restrained throughout the match--began to jump up and down, preparing herself for what was to come. Lisicki responded by bringing out her huge forehand and hitting down the line. But then she double-faulted again. And then her already-tired expression turned to one of obvious concern.
Lisicki then hit a soft second serve, which Bartoli tried to smash back, but the ball wound up going into the net. Lisicki got a game point, but then the game returned to deuce, and then--before you could say "C'est presque fini," Marion Bartoli held for 5-1. She had two match points on Lisicki's serve, both of which Lisicki saved by bringing out her very best serves. A third match point went away when Bartoli dumped a return into the net. Lisicki held for 2-5.
It wasn't quite over, though, and you could sense it. Bartoli could probably sense it, too. Suddenly, her opponent looked different, and a bit dangerous.
And this, too, was to be expected.
When Bartoli served for the match, she double-faulted at 15-all. At 30-all, Lisicki gave her a ball that just skimmed the net. The Frenchwoman got low to return it, but she couldn't get it over, and Lisicki had a break point. Bartoli then engaged Lisicki in an extended rally during which Bartoli repeatedly pounded the ball into the deep ad court corner. One of those shots went long, however, and Bartoli was broken.
Serving at 3-5, Lisicki used her well-known forehand to get a solid hold at 15. Bartoli then had to serve for the match again, only this time, the score was 5-4, not 5-1, and the opponent was looking much more like the player who fought so hard to get to the final. Many a big match has turned around at a moment like this, and lost opportunity has gone on to haunt some players for who knows how long.
But not Marion Bartoli. She wasn't going to let the Venus Rosewater Dish slip out of her hands. She won the first point of the game with a nice, low-angled forehand. In no time, she was at 40-0, and then she hit an ace out wide--and then she was the 2013 Wimbledon champion.
Bartoli won Wimbledon without dropping a set. She was efficient in the final, hitting 15 winners and making 14 unforced errors. She was successful nine of eleven times at the net. She got her first serve in 67% of the time, and she won the point on her first serve 79% of the time. She was broken twice, and she broke her opponent five times.
For most of her career, Bartoli has been coached by her father, Walter. His very unorthodox coaching methods--which include having Bartoli do drills right before a match--have been analyzed and discussed a lot, and he is sometimes known as the "mad scientist" of tennis. If you've ever seen any of the drills Walter Bartoli has given Marion, then you know that they range from clever to bizarrre.
One of the things Walter Bartoli had Marion do at an early age was to play on a small court that was set up so that if she went very far back, she would hit the wall. Young Marion learned to stand on or inside the baseline to receive serve, and it made her a deadly returner.
This year, for the first time, Bartoli decided to be coached by someone other than her father. She chose Jana Novotna (a hint that she was going after the Wimbledon title), but that relationship lasted all of two weeks. The Novotna choice was a surprise, since indications were that Bartoli was going to have Amelie Mauresmo coach her. In the end, Bartoli chose to have a hitting partner and an adviser, and that mentor is Mauresmo, who won Wimbledon in 2006.
Then, of course, there's Marion's on-court self-encouragement techniques, which include serious fist-pumping, wild-eyed and deadly glares, aggressive shadow-swinging, jumping up and down, and a fair amount of yelling. It makes for great theatre (well, some of us think so), but it was almost non-existent today. There were plenty of fist pumps, but they were toned down (for Bartoli), and the shadow-swinging and jumping were kept at a minimum. Had the match gone to a third set, however, I think the Bartoli Show might have gone to main stage proportions.
Known as a loner who marches to her own mysterious drummer, the new Wimbledon champion is nevertheless an engaging, intelligent and witty woman who paints landscapes when she isn't doing drills or playing matches. Her "loner" days may be over, though. She had a team in her box today that incuded father Walter, Mauresmo, and friend Kristina Mladenovic, who got a bit of a shout-out in Bartoli's post-match speech.
Bartoli expressed concern about a big blister she has on her little toe, and the fact that she has to wear very high heels tomorrow night at the champions' dinner. Something tells me that when she enters the room to applause tomorrow night, she won't feel any pain.