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Marion Bartoli does it her way

Marion Bartoli progresses into the semi-finals of The Championships.
by Ronald Atkin
Tuesday 2 July 2013

It is beyond dispute that Marion Bartoli is a tennis player with a difference but her 6-4, 7-5 quarter-final victory over Sloane Stephens was a strange affair, even by the French woman's unusual standards.

With the first set poised at 5-4 and deuce to Bartoli, rain swept over No.1 Court, causing a delay of almost two and a half hours. As the rain set in the 28-year-old 15th seed annoyed the crowd by appealing, quite reasonably, to a supervisor at courtside that conditions were unplayable, for which she was roundly booed.

When the players eventually got back on court Bartoli was resoundingly booed again, responding with a Gallic shrug that seemed to ask 'Why me?' and for the whole of a second set which contained nine breaks of serve, eight of them in succession, Bartoli was up against not only a bright 20-year-old American opponent but a crowd who were prepared to applaud her errors, a rarity at The Championships.

That she overcame both was a credit to her.

Bartoli first announced herself at The Championships in spectacular fashion in 2007, knocking out the top seed Justine Henin before losing to Venus Williams in the final.

This is her 11th Wimbledon, during which time she has developed a strange style in which, apart from playing double-handed on both sides, she comes close to expending more energy preparing to play than in actually performing.

Currently without a full-time coach after years spent under the tutelage of her doctor father, Walter, she is a human firecracker, preparing for action by jumping on the spot, accelerating into a Lippizaner prance varied by a shimmy and including practice racket swishes uncomfortably close to the line judges at the back of the court.

When it came to hitting the ball for real, she was equally spectacular, driving deep and hard, and then discomforting Stephens by standing inside the baseline to receive the American serve. As a result Stephens committed 19 unforced errors, most of them overhit forehands.

Bartoli was solid on serve in the opening set until she had to fight off two break points in a ninth game which went to deuce four times. Leading 5-4, she had two set points, both of which she failed to convert as the weather worsened.

On the resumption, Bartoli was in rampant mood, collecting the two points needed to wrap up the first set and then sweeping seven of the next eight points to lead 2-0 in the second.

That second game marked the start of a bizarre passage of play featuring eight consecutive breaks of serve, in which she served for the match at 5-3 only to drop serve on the third break point to Stephens. At 5-5, on course for her third Grand Slam semi-final, she finally steadied the ship, holding serve to love and then breaking Stephens to love to claim a deserved victory.

Bartoli claimed the booing "didn't matter much to me", but added, "It's normal for them to cheer for the underdog and I feel I did pretty well with that. It's part of the game, you just have to deal with that. It was just a matter of staying focused and being able to do the job."

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