Significant progress at The Championships can prove a nerve-shredding business for many competitors, but not for France's Marion Bartoli. Been there, done that. At the 2007 Championships, seeded No.18, she knocked out the world No.1 and hot favourite Justine Henin in the semi-finals, recovering from an apparently impossible deficit of 6-1, 5-3 to capture 10 of the next 11 games.
Victory over Venus Williams in the final proved a step too far for the hyperactive, part-Catalan woman who hits double-handed on both sides, but she will be devoting her considerable energy to going one better this year than in 2007, which should be warning enough for her semi-final opponent, the Belgian Kirsten Flipkens.
Bartoli has risen to be France's top-ranked woman through the consistency, skill and sheer force of her play. She has been ranked inside the top 20 every week since June 2007, peaking at seventh 18 months ago, and she will break back into the top 10 when the WTA's post-Wimbledon rankings are announced next week.
Clear indication of her fear-nothing attitude is that she has defeated two other current No.1s in addition to Henin, beating Jelena Jankovic at the 2009 Australian Open and Victoria Azarenka in Miami last year. Progress here has come after a battle for most of the season against injury and illness. In Miami she was forced to retire with a damaged left foot, then her participation in the Rome tournament was cut short by a right ankle injury.
“My body was cracking up all over the place,” she said after defeating Sloane Stephens in Tuesday's quarter-finals. “My ankle was hurting me still at the French Open.” As a result her grass court preparation for Wimbledon was cut short when she withdrew from the Birmingham event and then was forced out of Eastbourne by a viral illness after winning one round.
“But it was still in the back of my head that I could do well here. Every time, for some reason, I am back here I have a smile on my face. I felt great right away.” Great is how she has played, too. Five matches have been won, all in straight sets, with the opposition bewitched, bothered and frequently bewildered by her non-stop attacking policy – a policy which also encompasses the moments between points when she leaps, pirouettes and unleashes vicious practice swishes of the racket.
Her style and indomitable attitude was drilled into her by her father, Walter, who set aside his duties and career as a doctor to travel the world as her coach.
That partnership was dissolved at the US Open last September, she says by mutual consent. “Was it a tough decision?” she said. “Of course, but we both felt it was time for me to try for better results on court, to go back where I want to go, which is the final of a Grand Slam. If it happens, great. My dad and I had a great relationship but you have to be brave and move on. It was time to try something different.”
Her time post-Dad was not without hiccups. She took on board Jana Novotna as a coach at Indian Wells in March, only to terminate the relationship immediately afterwards, then hired Gerard Bremond for the Monterrey event.
That, too, was terminated in short order and since then she is taking the advice of her hitting partner, Thomas Drouet, former practice partner of Australia's Bernard Tomic, plus Amelie Mauresmo, coach of the French Fed Cup squad, and whoever else from the French Tennis Federation feels like sitting in her courtside box.
And still, since this is the first of her 11 Wimbledons without him, she phones her father every day for a chat. “He has always been my strength, encouraging me to focus mentally and stay strong no matter what is happening.”
Dr Walter Bartoli will be waiting for that call tomorrow, confident that the news from Wimbledon's semi-finals will be good.
20:08It brings me no pleasure but it's time to bring the curtain down for another year. Seemed somehow appropriate to leave the last word to Roger Federer. Thanks a billion for reading. What a fortnight, what a final, fast forward to 2015 please...
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