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Marion Bartoli steadies the ship but needs a crew

Marion Bartoli celebrates.
by Alix Ramsay
Wednesday 26 June 2013

Short of a plague of locusts, it is hard to see what else could have happened on Day Three of The Championships to make it any more newsworthy. As the star names either limped towards the exit or were pushed there by young upstarts who seized their moment with both hands, we needed someone to rely on. Someone who could steady the ship. We needed Marion Bartoli.

Now, with all due respect to Miss B, steady and reliable are not words normally associated with her career. She is a woman of considerable talent and dogged determination but steady? Reliable? Consistent? Well, not really.

The No.15 seed has never knowingly followed the herd. They may have uniform groundstrokes, regulation serves and an all-purpose, suits-any-surface game, but that is not for our Marion. Oh, sure, she can play on any surface and usually plays pretty much the same game wherever she goes, but her game is built on a collection of shots, quirks and tics that you will not find in any coaching manual.

For a start, she plays double-fisted on both flanks but, worryingly, that is one of the more orthodox parts of the package. It is what she does in between shots that can stop traffic – the woman simply never stops moving. She sprints to the baseline, she bounces up and down as if on springs, she squats down on her haunches, she leaps up again, she swishes her racket as she practises a swift forehand and a service swing – most players would be exhausted before they played a point if they had to go through all of that. But it is the racket swishing that is the most alarming: this is like shadow boxing with rackets. She spends most of her non-playing moments looking as if she is being pursued by a particularly angry wasp (or maybe she is preparing for the arrival of those locusts).

Off the court, Bartoli’s professional life is as unconventional as her game. It was her father Walter, who first taught her how to play tennis and who coached her in her formative years (and they only ended a short while ago). Walter’s credentials for this highly technical role are somewhat unusual – he is a doctor. Still, having seen Monica Seles win the French Open, he helped young Marion base her game on that of the former world No.1, hence the double fisted backhand and forehand.

However, nothing stays the same for long in Bartoli’s life and seeking new inspiration, she decided to wave Dad goodbye earlier this year. Ideally, she would like to work with Amelie Mauresmo – who watched as she beat Christina McHale 7-5, 6-4 – but unfortunately Mauresmo is otherwise engaged as the French Fed Cup coach. So, in March, Bartoli turned to Jana Novotna for a bit of advice. That coaching relationship lasted for the duration of her challenge in Indian Wells, which was not long as she lost in the fourth round. A couple of weeks later, she turned to Gerald Bremond for help. That lasted a week.

Coming to SW19, she has engaged the services of Thomas Drouet, the former hitting partner of Bernard Tomic, and is picking the brains of those members of the French Tennis Federation’s coaching staff who happen to be in town. Her long-term plan is to hire a physio next and then she will decide whether she fancies hiring a coach. Or not. With Marion, you can never tell.

The only incontrovertible fact about Bartoli that we have to work with is that she is into the third round following that win over McHale. It was anything but easy and it took a little under two hours but despite the odd little habits and the perpetual motion, Bartoli was too strong, too solid and, yes, too reliable for McHale. It really had been a funny old day.

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