Saturday, July 6, 2013

Ah oui!--Bartoli wins Wimbledon

For those of us who never stopped believing that Marion Bartoli would win Wimbledon, today was a day of excitement and sweet validation. Just as Francesca Schiavone set out to win the French Open in 2010, Bartoli--ignoring all other stumbles in her 2013 season--set out to win Wimbledon. She calmed her erratic serve, she sharpened her-already excellent volley, and--perhaps most important--she added much more anticipation and speed to her forward movement.

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.


Chuck said...

Bravo to Marion Bartoli who so richly deserved this Wimbledon title. She seems like such a lovely person and is a fierce competitor. I really enjoy watching her and I hope this win propels her to more success!

Allez Marion!

Eric said...

It's only fitting that Bartoli wins a wacky Wimbledon. It's just so perfect.

I had such a great time learning more about Bartoli through the two weeks. She's so classy and thoughtful and considerate of others. How she addressed Flipkens and Lisicki -- she's competitive and wants to win but she also spares a thought for her colleagues. Women supporting women. I hope everyone was watching. And learning.

After Kvitova went out, I thought Bartoli would win. It was further cemented when Chris Evert said definitively that Lisicki was the favorite. (I also thought Lisicki's run was like Stosur's 2010 French OPen while it was happening.) The day Chris Evert said Serena would definitely win, I thought in my heart that Serena would lose the next day. And she did. And then before the semis, Evert once again predicted Radwanska would win. Loss. You get the pattern. So naturally, I knew her final prediction would doom Lisicki.

Nice posts Diane!

Craig said...

Great post, Diane. Even among us superfans, it was hard at times to 'never stop believing' that Wimbledon could happen.. but she knew that this was the do-able year, and she wasn't willing to let the chance slip. Totally amazing and thrilled for her.

Diane said...

I hope so, too, Chuck. And yes, Marion is a delightful person.

Eric, you should start tracking Evert's "accuracy" at predicting the winners! I'm glad she was in the booth, though; she lends the warmth that has (for me) always been a hallmark of her commentating.

Thank you, and thanks to you, too, Craig!

Anonymous said...

Congrats to Marion. Enjoyed how she knew this was her moment to win and she did.

svente said...

After the semifinals, a friend said to me "Lisicki is either going to run over Bartoli or it'll be 12-14 Bartoli in the 3rd"

I said... "I don't think so!"

And I said that for the reasons you mentioned. I'm psyched for Bartoli and a pox on the nonsense comment from John Inverdale. It is indeed fitting she won one of the wackiest Wimbledon's in years!

Diane said...

In Marion's Tennis Channel post-match interview, she was asked at what point she realized that Lisicki was "off" (my word, not the interviewer's--I forget what that was). Marion said she knew when they walked onto the court!

Anonymous said...

I will try this again. Do you think those comments are appropriate?
I think it's an outrageous that someone can write that way about any woman, and Wimbledon Champion in particular!

Diane said...

Anon, the article is disgusting. But misogyny is tolerated and even encouraged in our culture(s), so it doesn't surprise me.

What's interesting is how lacking in logic it is--the reaches he had to make in order to justify his own bigotry (but that's what bigotry is all about). Just think--if Marion were a man, she'd be praised for knowing to get someone new to help her so she could better value the presence of her father.

Anonymous said...

It seemed like you started to say why Bartoli was a bad matchup for Lisicki but then just went on to describe the match (very well, of course). Mentally, you're right--the occasion was too big for Lisicki, while Bartoli had been there before & was ready to make the most of it. But are there tennis reasons why SL's game should make more of an impact against Serena and Aga than against Bartoli? Maybe the Bartoli return, which was on fire.

And while the Couch piece was mostly despicable, I do think women's tennis is a bit thin on the ground at the moment. Serena really is still in a league by herself. One wants a dynamic of competition at the very top, like Graf-Seles, or Evert-Navratilova, or, say, the men's trio of Djokovic-Murray-Nadal (RF is fading pretty fast). But maybe Sharapova *is* getting closer; we didn't get to see it this Wimbledon, which makes the US Open even more potentially interesting.

Diane said...

I really didn't think Lisicki's chances against Bartoli were that good because context is--if not everything--almost everything. I didn't think Lisicki could take out Aga, but once she did, I had trouble imagining her holding her nerve against someone like Bartoli. It didn't hurt that Marion has cut way down on her serving inconsistency.

After Lisicki won her quarterfinal, someone on ESPN predicted she would take the title, and Chris Evert said something to the effect of "Hmm...she still has to do this two more times." Exactly.

And to address the last part of your post: Attention Petra, Vika and Maria (and especially Petra)--start bringing it again!

bill said...

Great post, Diane, for a great final. Sabine looked rattled all through the first set. I was glad that she gathered herself to make a contest of it in the second. Marion was superb - an apt comparison to Francesca in the French Open. She is a brilliant champion.

Diane said...

Thanks, Bill.

I'm proud of Marion, and Sabine is such a good grass player, she is quite likely to get another shot at the title.

Sabey said...

Diane thanks again for the wonderful, thoughtful commentary. Bartoli is a gracious and deserving winner and I could not have been happier for her. It has been so distressing to read/hear the sexist drivel directed at her from the BBC to Fox sports to comments left on virtually every sports website. It seems a segment of the population thinks that women's tennis exists to stimulate male viewers. No wonder they object to equal pay for players.

Diane said...

Hmm, Blogger just ate the comment I left for you, Sabey. Oh, well.

Thanks for your kind words.

And in order for things to change (which I don't think they ever will), female athletes would have to be thought of as athletes first, as male athletes are, and women's sports would have to be considered not a second-class (to male sports) activity.

And if I can have a Vika moment--good luck with that.

Also, Marion is hardly an unattractive woman; she just isn't tall, thin and blonde.